<--More Absolutely Florida
Hiking and Nature Trails
of South Florida

by Jim and Cynthia Tunstall

A stroll through Jonathan Dickinson State Park takes you through cactus and pine flatwoods such as these.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park, (561-546-2771), in Hobe Sound, is worth the short trip into neighboring Martin County. Its four nature trails total 1.2 miles and there is a 17-mile section of the Florida Trail near the park’s entrance. Vegetation includes cypress canopies along the Loxahatchee River, freshwater creeks, mangrove wetlands and pine flatwoods. The park’s permanent residents include gopher tortoises, woodpeckers, white-tail deer, ospreys, white ibises, herons, egrets, bald eagles and anhingas. The not-so-permanent species are scrub jays, northern bobwhites, sandhill cranes and woodstorks.

Lake Okeechobee
If you’re looking for more structured experiences there are several contained in the area’s public lands.
The whopper is the 110-mile Florida National Scenic Trail leg that circles
Lake Okeechobee. Its creation dates to 1926, when a hurricane leveled Miami, then drew a bead on the lake. By the time the storm was gone, 150 people had died and there was an outcry for something to lessen the risk from future floods. Four years later, the US Army Corps of Engineers began construction on what became the Herbert Hoover Dike, an earthen structure that stands 34 feet high and completely surrounds Okeechobee. It became a trail segment in 1993 and today offers a panoramic view of the lake and its flora and fauna. Access to the trail is literally anywhere there’s access to the lake.

Florida Everglades
State and national parks throughout the
Everglades provide informative walking programs including "slogs" or wet hikes though water and mud, beach walks to observe sea grasses, tidal pools, sponges and wading-bird habitats, woodland hikes, bird-watching and out-island tours to examine fossilized coral or virgin tropical forests.

Wildlife in the
Everglades becomes more difficult to spot in summer. During winter’s dry season, birds and other wildlife congregate in and around the waterholes, conveniently visible from the nature trails. These life-rich holes, cleared out of the Everglades’ limestone bed by the alligators, are a breeding ground for small fish, turtles and snails, which, in turn, become food for alligators, birds and mammals until the rains come.

Florida Keys
Florida Keys trails are accessible throughout the year, but the best time for exploring the Everglades is Florida’s dry season, mid-December through mid-April. The rest of the year brings a chance of torrential downpours that wash out many of the low-lying trails. Precipitation can exceed 50 inches a year. After a rainfall mosquitoes, sandflies and other biting insects thicken the air.

John Pennekamp
One trail starts at the parking lot across from the Visitor’s Center and leads through a tropical hammock, home to raccoons and woodland birds. The other, an elevated mangrove trail that begins in the parking lot across from the Picnic Pavilion, offers a close encounter with an array of wading birds – herons, egrets, ducks, cormorants and coots. The park offers interpretive programs, canoe and kayak rentals, boat rentals, and ocean tours.

Bahia Honda
A nature trail at the far end of the park’s Sandspur Beach, oceanside, follows the shore of a tidal lagoon, then twists through a coastal strand hammock and back along the beach. Guided walks are available to groups by reservation. 305/872-2353. Park tours and boat rentals, 305-872-1127.

Fifty people may explore the key at one time, 25 on the nature trail and 25 in the clearing. Walking shoes and mosquito repellent are recommended. Book a trip at the MM 78.5 boat ramp. 305/664-4815.

Indian Key State Park
Book a guided walking tour at the MM 78.5 boat ramp. 305/664-4815.

Click for Southwest Florida Camping Directory
More Great Links:

Florida Recreation
Florida State Parks
Florida Wildlife

For directions, call Florida Trail Association
800-343-1882 (in Florida) or 352-378-8823
P.O. Box 13708, Gainesville, FL 32604.

Office of Greenways & Trails
850-487-4784, Mail Station 795,
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000.

or try the mapping service below (some remote areas not available)

One warning before you move on:
Any time you venture into a state forest (not a state park) or conservation area there's a chance of encountering hunters. Call or write in advance for hunting seasons as well as a detailed booklet on the district's properties (P.O. Box 1429, Palatka, FL 32178-1429).