Must-Do Hikes in Florida
Hillsborough River State Park - Wandering down the nature trail that winds through the hardwood hammocks of one of Florida's oldest state parks, it's hard to believe that the bustling city of Tampa lies just a half-hour's drive away.
Red-tailed hawks circle above the trees as rare river otters play in the rapids (yes, rapids) of the tea-colored water. But while the river may be the heart of this park, the trail system is without a doubt its soul.
In just a few short hours, hikers can escape the pressures of civilization and relax in the tranquility of a wilderness paradise, then return to their former lives, recharged.
That's the beauty of Florida's "must-do" hikes: minimal commitment, maximum benefit.
From northwest Florida to the Everglades, Florida has hundreds of great hikes that can take anywhere from a few hours to a full day to complete.
While it is impossible to list them all here, following are a few of the more spectacular hikes arranged geographically from north to south.
The Ravine Trail at Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is located about halfway between Gainesville and Jacksonville, on Florida's "Central Ridge." The rolling sand hills are dotted with springs that feed other springs. Four marked trails vary in duration from 10 minutes to two hours. This is one of the best places in the state to experience a full moon hike.
Etoniah Creek State Forest's bottomlands, northeast of Gainesville, are favorite haunt of black bear. The Longleaf Pine Trail loop is roughly five miles in length and part of the Florida Forest Service "Trailwalker Program."
Northeast of Milton, Blackwater River State Forest has both loop and linear trails ranging from 4 - 21 miles, many of which can be completed in less than a day. The forest is one of the few places in Florida where you can actually experience an elevation change (it varies from 10 to 290 feet above sea level). The forest is also home to the rare, carnivorous pitcher plant.
Hillsborough River State Park has some of the best "urban" trails in the state. There are five to choose from that total more than seven miles in length. Start at the famous "prayer of the woods" sign, then do your best do "get lost" for a few hours.
Another great wilderness hike that is just a short drive from Tampa can be found in Little Manatee River State Park near Wimauma. The 6.5-mile trail meanders through several habitats. Stop for lunch at the primitive campsite.
South of Orlando, in the Central Highlands, Lake Kissimmee State Park offers three different trail circuits totaling 13 miles in length. Varied terrain - hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods and freshwater marshland - make ideal habitat for white-tailed deer, bobcat and wild pigs.
Lake County Water Authority's Daubenmire Trail in the 2,300-acre Flat Island Preserve has a 4-mile loop trail (with three cross trails) on the outskirts of Leesburg within the Okahumpka Marsh that is a favorite haunt of bird watchers.
The Seabranch Preserve State Park Hiking Trail, south of Stuart in Martin County, meanders through one of the last unspoiled "scrub" habitats in the southeastern United States. The 4.8-mile, double-loop hiking trail, is maintained by the "Tropical Trekkers" and a good choice for the fall.
For another good sub-tropical adventure, visit Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound about 25 miles north of West Palm Beach. The park's Kitching Creek Nature Trail overlooks a meandering creek, while the Hobe Mountain Trail's boardwalk leads to an observation deck.
The more than 2,400 acres of Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park contains one of the largest contiguous tracts of tropical West Indian hardwood hammock in the United States. There are more than six miles of nature trails, most of which are paved and accessible by wheelchair. The park is home to 84 federally listed species of plants and animals.