Florida National Scenic Trail - 1,000 Mile Hiking Trail System
BEST HIKING TRAILS IN FLORIDA
Searching for a rare opportunity to see Florida in its native state? The hiking season is upon us in the Sunshine State, from now until April the Florida National Scenic Trail provides an extraordinary venue for biking, hiking and some of the best bird watching and nature photography opportunities in the United States. The FNST is one of only eleven National Scenic Trails in the US. The 1,000 mile trail runs the entire length of Florida: from Big Cypress National Preserve, near Naples, in the southwestern corner of the state, around Lake Okeechobee, up the Kissimmee River, near Ocala and its National Forest, along the Suwannee River, past the Aucilla River and ends at Gulf Islands National Seashore on the panhandle..
If you are looking for adventurous things to do in Florida, the trail is easily accessed from some of the best Florida retirement cities, Palm Bay, Ocala and Naples. So, put on those hiking boots and start to experience nature only the Sunshine State can offer. Rare plants and wildflowers and a myriad of wildlife sightings can be experienced and photographed during the winter months.
NEAR PALM BAY
- Bull Creek WMA
The Bull Creek Wildlife Management Area is located about 40 minutes from Palm Bay, this section of the Florida Trail provides a 20.5-mile backpacking loop as well as a linear hike. This trail follows the course of Bull Creek and meanders through cypress swamps along Crabgrass Creek, winding through prairie beneath the pines.
- Tosohatchee WMA
Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area is another wonderful part of the Florida Trail to explore. Located about 40 minutes from Palm Bay, the area boasts more than 11 miles of the Florida Trail and side trail loops (60 miles total) A great place for backpackers seeking wildlife in native habitat. White-tailed deer, turkeys, hogs, alligators, all manner of avian life - birds from wading birds to hawks. Spring and Fall wildflowers put on a spectacular show in this part of the Trail.
The Florida Trails beginnings were centered near Ocala at the Ocala National Forest where a group of volunteer hiking enthusiasts started surveying and marking the Trail in the mid 1960's. The Trail gained national recognition in 1983 when it was declared a Scenic Trail by the Federal Government. Still largely maintained by volunteers and managed by numerous municipalities, the heart of the Trail lies in the Ocala National Forest.
- Juniper Prairie Wilderness
A favorite of many Ocala area hikers is the Pat's Island to Hidden Pond hike. Pat's Island is one of two trailheads in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, part of the Ocala National Forest. The Island consists of Tall Longleaf Pines and a Sand Hill habitat in the midst of the largest Sand Scrub Forest in the world. After about 3.5 miles of hiking spring fed Hidden Pond comes into view as a watery oasis in the midst of the Sand Scrub Forest. The total distance of this hike is 8.4 miles and is a bit of a climb as these are rare remnants of an ancient series of Sand Dunes that run down the Peninsula of Florida and are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Other habitats to explore in this massive National Forest include marshes, pine Flatwoods, swamp and Oak Hammocks.
- Payne's Prairie Preserve
Another one of the best hiking trails in Florida is about half an hour south of Ocala is the 3.1 mile long La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. While the first thing that comes to mind about Florida is beaches, the prairies are a fascinating part of the environment of the center of the state. Payne's Prairie has a wealth of wildlife; bison, wild horses, bobcats, otters, deer, alligators, and 270 species of birds have been seen here, boating is allowed on Lake Wauberg but the center of this park is it's 50 foot high observation tower, the panoramic view from the tower is nothing short of breathtaking. Photographers will enjoy the spring wildflower displays as well as the diversity of subject matter.
- Big Cypress National Preserve
Naples, one of the best Florida retirement cities also has some of the wildest hiking trails in Florida nearby at the Big Cypress National Preserve. The Big Cypress National Preserve is part of the Everglades and portions of the trail can be submerged depending on the weather. The rewards of hiking this trail include seeing some of the rare native orchids and bromeliads and the biggest Cypress trees known to mankind. This is where the Florida National Scenic Trail begins or ends depending on your perspective. If you are up to a truly adventurous things to do in Florida, start here and hike to the Gulf Islands National Seashore on the Panhandle, to explore the entire trail it is a thousand mile hike. Just think of the birds, wildflowers and fantastic wildlife you could see along the way.
The Sunshine State beckons all winter long for exploring the best hiking trails in Florida and thinking of more adventurous things to do in Florida. Gather your hiking boots, walking stick, camera and tie the kayak on the station wagon. Time for outdoor fun and exploring the best Florida retirement cities and the great outdoors. Who misses frozen precipitation, anyway.