Stretching the length of the state from the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the northwest to Big Cypress National Preserve in the south, the Florida National Scenic Trail offers more than a thousand miles of primarily primitive hiking. Complete the entire trail in sections over multiple vacations, or whet your appetite for wilderness trekking with a short day hike.
Covering 41.6 linear miles, the Suwannee River section is the only stretch of the Florida Trail that primarily follows a river. The rugged terrain includes seven stream crossings and multiple swampy areas. Look for side-trail detours to see hidden gems such as Disappearing Creek, where the stream water suddenly vanishes into a sinkhole.
Big Cypress National Preserve, Ochopee
Hike the trail’s swampiest, wildest, and most remote sections on the southernmost 45 miles. “Only on the Florida Trail in Big Cypress can a hiker have the opportunity to see the endangered snail kite, American alligator, and Florida panther in their natural habitats,” says Alexander Stigliano, central/south regional representative for the Florida Trail Association, which maintains the entire Florida National Scenic Trail. “The birding here is spectacular too. If you can afford the weight, bring a pair of binoculars.”
Cross Florida Greenway East, Baseline to Marshall Swamp, Silver Springs Shores
If you’re new to wilderness hiking, this five-mile (one way) Florida Trail section near Ocala is a good place to start. Just beyond the halfway point of the Baseline to Marshall Swamp hike, you’ll have walked on paved trails and grassy footpaths, up and down steep embankments, through a sandhill crane habitat and dense forest, and under a canopy of cabbage palms and oaks. And that’s not even the best part. The second half of the hike travels through Marshall Swamp: the deep, dark, and junglelike forest where several Tarzan movies were filmed between 1932 and 1942.
When to Go: Florida’s hiking season is October to April, and January to March is considered the best time for long-distance backpacking.
What to Wear: Water is to the Florida Trail what mountains are to the Appalachian Trail, so prepare to get wet, and bring extra pairs of socks.
Practical Tip: It takes two to three months to thru-hike the entire Florida Trail. If you want to attempt the trek, the Florida Trail Association recommends hiking south to north, beginning in January at the southern terminus in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Download: The Florida Trail Guide App (Guthook Hikes, 2014) is updated regularly to reflect changing trail conditions and includes maps, built-in GPS function, and click-to-dial phone numbers for trail services.
Fun Fact: The Florida Trail is one of only 11 national scenic trails in the United States. National scenic trails (designated as such by congressional statute) are continuous, primarily nonmotorized routes that are a hundred miles or longer and offer outstanding recreational opportunities.