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Enjoying Florida One Step at a Time


by Darren De Silva

Florida is well known throughout the world as an area offering a huge array of attractions, entertainment and scenery that will captivate all who visit this sunny state. An activity perhaps less associated with Florida is hiking. While the state may not be host to mountainous trails winding through snow covered peaks, Florida offers a surprisingly vast choice of trail types and lengths. A hike along these trails offers one a chance to see magnificent scenery and wander through many different types of ecosystems - coastal praries, hardwood hammocks, pine forests, beaches, cypress and mangrove swamps, rivers, lakes, and crystal clear springs all await.

Everyone from the casual walker wishing to take a 5 minute boardwalk through hardwood hammocks or mangrove systems to the long distance backpacker wishing to take several months on a statewide excursion will find an abundance of trails to suit their needs. Shorter walks can be found just about anywhere in the state, from Everglades National Park to bird sanctuaries and parks found throughout the state. These can often be interesting for the person only desiring a short, comfortable look at many of the natural beauties of Florida. Many such walks will feature other points of interest nearby such as gift stores and information centers. Many provide handicapped access.
Consider a few safeguards offered by the US Forest Service:
Know the conditions. It’s flat, but there is varied and sometimes rugged terrain. Heat and humidity can rapidly cause dehydration. All of the areas in this guide are within the Lightning Capital of the United States.

Start early, particularly in summer. Mornings are cooler and afternoons are not only hotter but prone to storms. If camping, the early birds have a camp set before weather becomes a factor.

While many of the trails are clearly marked, several are located in vast forests where it’s very easy to get lost.

Don’t exceed your physical limits.

Pack fresh water. Florida has an abundance of springs and clear rivers but many of the trails don’t pass near them. Even when they do, the water usually isn’t safe to drink. A good rule of thumb: Bring one gallon per person, per day.

Pack food, such as granola bars, trail mix and jerky, in case something goes wrong and you’re stuck out there for a while.

Talk to the folks in charge of the site.. Phone numbers are provided so you can call ahead for detailed, current maps and exact directions top the trails.

Find out beforehand what special permits or gear you might need.

Take note of wildlife warnings.

Don't hike alone and never separate from your partner or group.

Trails come in several forms:
Designated trails are paved or packed hard.

Wilderness routes are similar to those hiked by American Indians and early explorers.

Sandy beaches (Florida has more coastline than any state except Alaska) for the improvisational walks.

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.

For longer hikes, from an hour or two or even a day, the choices are virtually endless. Depending upon which part of Florida you are visiting, it is possible to enjoy many of the hikes through preserves, parks, water management districts, ranger-led slogs (hiking through wetter areas) and sections or loop trails of the Florida Trail (FT).

Overnight and weekend options tend to limit one to larger tracts of landsuch as the Big Cypress Preserve in the southern end of the state, or along the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST). Permits may be required, so check with officials before overnighting regarding any applicable rules and/or permits.

Longer trips are limited to the FNST, a long distance trail currently in development stretching from Big Cypress Preserve (near Everglades National Park in the southern tip of the state) to the northwest end of the Panhandle. When completed, this will be a 1300-mile trail. Though a few sections are currently bridged with roadwalks there are over 1000 miles of trail as of this writing. Several people have already thru-hiked the entire length of this trail. For such a trip, contact the Florida Trail Association Florida Trail Association (800-343-1662 or

When considering hiking in Florida, prepare for it using simple common sense: sunblock, insect protection (particularly in the wet summer months), drinking water, proper gear, and information on the trail and conditions are important. Some parts of trails on lower land become flooded during the summer months, and though still used, are not for those unwilling to get their feet (and often more) wet. It's always a good idea to check on conditions first.