By Pedal, Paddle or Foot: Florida Distance Trails

By: Kevin Mims

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Whether you're craving a brief escape or weeks immersed in natural wonders, Florida's landscape offers an abundance of winding trails and scenic paths for the adventurous spirit.

There’s a side of Florida you need to see — a side that’s accessible by scenic trails that stretch out for hundreds, and in some cases, more than a thousand miles. These trails pass through some of the most pristine and less-traversed areas of the state and offer solitude for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers alike. Whether you choose to tackle the entire route or a just a few sections, you’ll undoubtedly have the trip of a lifetime.

Florida Trail

Hold the concrete, please — the Florida Trail creates trail corridors roughly through the middle of the state, with the majority of the way on protected natural lands. The southern terminus is located within the boundaries of the Big Cypress National Preserve — follow the dollar-sized orange blazes that mark the path up and around Lake Okeechobee. Take a left at North Florida, traversing a rugged section along the banks of the famed Suwannee River. You’ll hike on the beach in northwest Florida — the only hike of its kind in the National Scenic Trails system — before finally ending up at Fort Pickens near Pensacola. Do this trip in the fall or winter — cooler temperatures mean less bugs and more time around the campfire.

St. Johns River-to-The-Sea Loop

Bikers, rejoice — once completed, the St. Johns River-to-the-Sea Loop will be the longest multi-use trail in the southeast. The route is rideable now, with about 40 miles of traffic-free pathway already created. On the completed 260-mile route, you’ll pedal through old Florida towns, along scenic wildflower-lined back roads and the Atlantic coastline in five northeast counties. On a trip like this, it’s the more, the merrier — join Bike Florida for a fantastic group tour complete with lodging, meals and ride support. You’ll discover historical and natural gems in towns such as St. Augustine, Flagler Beach, Palatka, New Smyrna Beach and De Land — and probably make a new riding friend or two in the process.

Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail

Imagine hopping in your kayak and paddling the entire coast of Florida — it’s possible along the CT, as it’s commonly called. Whether you paddle the whole 1,515-mile trail or just a few sections, be assured that this is one trip for the books. The CT is broken up into 26 unique segments, passing historical and cultural landmarks and through pristine coastal habitats. Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola marks the start of the CT’s first section, and it hugs the shoreline as it makes its way down through the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades. Kayak through paradise along The Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail, then up the east coast, ending at Fort Clinch State Park.

Great State Trails — Just a Bit Shorter

Need to be back on the clock in a week? Less mileage doesn’t always mean you’ll have less of an adventure. Escape the daily grind on these shorter paths:

Suwannee River Wilderness Paddling Trail:
Starting at White Springs, the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail weaves its way 170 miles past high bluffs and over rocky shoals before reaching the Gulf of Mexico at the town of Suwannee. River camps complete with screened platforms and restrooms make for comfortable places to camp as you paddle the trail.

Big “O” Hike: Spend up to nine days with friends on the 109-mile Big “O” Hike around Lake Okeechobee. The event, which takes place during the week of Thanksgiving, turns 20 in 2011. Be sure to stick around for the dinner at the Clewiston Inn if you go. Put on by the Florida Trail Association’s Loxahatchee chapter, it’s part hike, part social event – don’t be surprised if you return year after year.

Cross Florida Greenway Mountain Bike Trails: The off-road biking trails at Santos are so good that they received the first Epic designation for an entire trail system by the International Mountain Biking Association. Ride on more than 30 miles of challenging singletrack, complete with massive drops, freeride sections and a skills area. There’s a campground at the Santos trailhead – stay a few days and have a mountain bike mini-vacation.

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