Top 10 Hiking Trails in Florida
By Kevin Mims
Editor's Note: Check with the individual state park websites for possible closures related to Hurricane Michael.
With varied terrain and tremendous ecological diversity, Florida provides hikers of all skill levels a perfect backdrop for exercise and adventure. Experience the natural beauty of the Sunshine State as you ramble these 10 footpaths.
1. Blackwater River State Forest
Hike the northernmost section of the Florida National Scenic Trail in Blackwater River State Forest, just a few miles away from its connection point to the Alabama Hiking Trail. Massive red clay bluffs along Juniper Creek provide one of the grandest views found anywhere on the entire Florida Trail. The scenery is spectacular as the path follows along the Blackwater River and its smaller tributaries.
2. Santa Rosa Island Beach Hike
Take a walk back in time at the Florida National Scenic Trail’s northern terminus, located at historic Fort Pickens, which was built in 1834 to defend Pensacola Bay. You’ll hike along the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the only section of any National Scenic Trail that follows an ocean beach. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen!
3. White Springs Area Trails
Some of the most popular and scenic hiking in Florida can be found around the town of White Springs following the Suwannee River. If you’re looking for a weekend hike, pick a spot to camp on the river’s white sandy beaches. For a fantastic day hike it doesn’t get much better than the Florida hiking trails at Big Shoals State Park with views of Florida’s only major whitewater rapids.
4. Torreya State Park
Explore the natural beauty of Torreya State Park along either the seven-mile Torreya Challenge Loop or the six-mile Rock Creek Loop. These trails are challenging making them a perfect choice for more experienced hikers. The endangered Torreya tree can be found here as can the rare Florida yew. From the trail enjoy stunning vistas of the Apalachicola River up to 200 feet below.
5. Ocala North
Those looking for a multi-day backpacking trip can hike one of the first and most popular sections of the Florida National Scenic Trail in the Ocala National Forest. The northern section spans a distance of about 35 miles and passes through a rolling sand scrub habitat. Wildlife is abundant – deer gopher, tortoises, scrub jays and black bears.
6. Little Talbot Island
Don’t let the name fool you – Little Talbot Island State Park has great Florida hiking trails that are big on wildlife viewing. Pass through five ecosystems as you hike the four-mile trail, each offering a unique variety of animal and plant life. An additional quarter-mile nature trail is located at the campground's southern loop – just in case you want to hike a little more.
7. Bulow Plantation Loop
Trails totaling 12 miles are available around the ruins of Bulow Plantation, which was burned during the Second Seminole Indian War in 1836. The seven-mile Bulow Woods Trail connects Bulow Creek State Park to Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park underneath a canopy of some of the oldest and largest live oaks on Florida’s east coast. The 400-year old Fairchild Oak, one of the largest southern live oaks in the South, is not to be missed.
8. Citrus Hiking Loop
With more than 40 miles of Florida hiking trails in a series of loops, the Citrus Hiking Loop in the Withlacoochee State Forest is a favorite for those training for long-distance backpacking. Day hikers can enjoy shorter loop hikes by utilizing cross trails with multiple access points. The terrain can be somewhat challenging, with rolling hills that pass through different habitats.
9. Little Manatee River State Park
Little Manatee River State Park's 6.5-mile loop is perfect for hikers to see a diversity of plants and animals commonly seen in Florida's pine upland communities, including Red Shoulder Hawks, Gopher Tortoise, and White-Tail Deer. Explore the section of trails north of Little Manatee River, where wildlife and birding opportunities are abundant. Hike for nearly three miles along the bluffs of the Little Manatee River, which has been designated as an Outstanding Florida Waterway.
10. Big Cypress National Preserve
Rugged and beautiful, this destination for hiking in Florida is regarded as one of the most unusual in the nation. Big Cypress National Preserve encompasses the southernmost section of the Florida National Scenic Trail, with good access points at the Oasis Visitor Center on Highway 41 and the I-75 rest area near mile marker 63. Depending on rainfall and season, be prepared to hike in knee-deep water though miles of dwarf cypresses festooned with bromeliads and native orchids. Have your camera ready – this is one of the last remaining habitats of the endangered Florida panther.
If You Go
Before setting out on your hike, be sure to check for any route changes or closures on the trail. For Florida National Scenic Trail hikes or hikes that are maintained by chapters of the Florida Trail Association visit www.floridatrail.org. Printed section maps can also be obtained for a fee from the FTA, and always bring a compass. Check for resupply points and water stops before heading out on the trail, and bring adequate amounts of water along with you. For hikes within the boundaries of state parks visit www.floridastateparks.org for additional information.