Last spring, nearly 39 million people went hiking or backpacking in the U.S., according to Statista. But it’s probably safe to say many hikers associate the activity with elevations, among hills and mountains. Not many imagine the state of Florida, one of the flattest states in the country.
“Hiking in Florida is very different than hiking in most of the United States,” says the Florida Trail Association. They point out that hikers who come here from the Appalachians, Rockies, and Cascades soon discover that their preconceived ideas about Florida hiking are flipped on their head.
But just because Florida doesn’t have mountains, doesn’t mean your hike is going to a walk in the park, adds the Florida Trail Association which is an obvious advocate of the practice.
Entering fall, this is the very best times to take a hike in the Sunshine State. But where should you go? Stay with us as we direct you to the top 10 hikes in the state of Florida.
This is the state’s very best hiking spot and No. 1 on almost anyone’s list. The trail is almost 1,400 miles long and is a designated National Scenic Trail (by the U.S. Congress). The idea is for hikers and others to see the amazing biodiversity, history and even the culture of the state of Florida. This trail stretches from the Everglades to Pensacola Beach, making it one of only 11 National Scenic Trails across the country.
The trail has gaps where users have to hike along roads, though most of it is protected from urban development. But for the most, it’s well-maintained and offers modern facilities that easily accommodate all ages.
This area goes way back to 1908 when it was established as the first national forest east of the Mississippi. It was also the birthplace of the Florida Trail years later in 1966. Today, it offers nearly 300 miles of backcountry and is easily one of the most popular camping spots in Florida. A lot of hikers prefer the Juniper Prairie Wilderness area, best known for its diverse ecosystem. The only ways to visit it are by canoe or by hiking one of the numerous trails found all over.
This is a popular trail in part because it is near the entrance of the Everglades National Park. Less than half a mile long, the trail goes over a paved walkway and boardwalk. It’s famous for abundant wildlife visible from the trail. Alligators are the most sought-after sight, and there are usually some of them around. A few years ago, national news outlets carried the fight between a gator and a Burmese python. It went on for 24 hours until a larger gator joined the fight. It ended in a draw but attracted national attention to Burmese pythons, which are not native to Florida. In fact, the state sponsors a yearly bounty hunt for the snakes, which are highly invasive. You’re not likely to see a Python but chances are good some alligators will be around. And the walk is an easy one.
A local newspaper (The Orlando Sentinel) called this a hike with a “perfect ending.” At the finish of the 10-mile trail, hikers can jump into the refreshing and always 72-degree fresh water spring. Before the plunge, the trip is a look at an unspoiled Florida the way it was. This is one of the state’s more popular parks with several thousand acres of protected land. Hikers see cypress swamps, and scrubby flatwoods of pine and palmetto. If you go, don’t forget to bring your bathing suit.
You probably didn’t know that Florida has its own share of ghost towns. There was once a pioneer settlement here along the banks of the St. Lucie River until the so-called “Big Freeze” killed it off in the late 18th century. So there’s a history lesson here in a decaying old cemetery and preserved buildings. One of the trails in the 97-acre area describes the location of the 1891 pioneer settlement and cemetery right along the banks of the St. Lucie River. Another trail continues the historic trend by describing the importance of a Native American mound and its uses of native plants found on the trail. A blogger who lives in one of the nearby neighborhoods writes that it is “home to one of the largest AIS Indian mounds in South Florida and dates back to pre-ceramic time in the 1500 & 1600s.”
You know this small city because of the Suwannee River. Stephen Foster made it famous in the song. The city used to be known for spas but today, that reputation is equaled by hiking trails. Many of them follow the Suwannee, of course. One is the eight-mile Foster Hammock Loop Trail in the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park that takes you through high river bluffs and limestone formations. Another equally well-known hiking place is the Big Shoals State Park, which also has limestone bluffs towering about eight stories above the banks of the Suwannee. A good alternative is the seven-mile (round trip) Woodpecker Trail, rich in those types of birds and others as well.
This is a very well-kept park with beautiful flowers beside what many admirers describe as an “alluring lake.” The 272-acre park also has a 2.5-mile loop trail where hikers are shaded by pine flatwoods and oak hammocks. Bloggers describe it as a hidden gem and foot-friendly place for daily, comfortably-sized-walks of one or two hours.
This area has long been known for its environmental attractions and the main reason to visit this nationally acclaimed wildlife refuge is the birds. Or the great variety of birds evident in hiking the four-mile Indigo Trail, where night herons, white ibis and alligators are common residents. If that hike is not enough, there are two other shorter trails, teeming with wildlife, as well as the Shell Mound Trail that has an interpretive boardwalk. Sanibel has long been famous for its shelling opportunities but even more for its abundant bird life. Interpretive panels along the trails explain native vegetation as well as information about the ancient Calusa Indians who lived here. The refuge is named after Jay Darling, an artist and environmentalist who used the name “Ding” for his cartoons. The best months for birding are here coming up: December through March, but birds are on hand year-round.
The Royal Palm Hammock Nature Trail at this park is a good brisk walk of just under one mile. Its claim to fame? The Royal Palm Hammocks, which are hardwood trees generally found only in the Caribbean. But when you get to the end of this less than one-mile trail, you will find a boardwalk with a scenic overlook of a salt marsh popular with birds. A second hiking adventure is more like a west cypress swamp. A good portion of the 6.5-mile trail is wet much of the year. Because these trails can become watery, they are best for adults and not usually recommended for children. It might take you an estimated four hours to go over the entire trail. The third trail is for hikers and off-road bikers. You will find here a historic road bed called “Old Marco Road” that is easily walkable, and usually dry. You may very well encounter deer and black bears.
It’s one of the state’s oldest parks, first opened in 1931 during the “Great Depression,” but the real reason to visit it today is for its bio-diversity and for what has been preserved. The park features huge, live oaks and cabbage palms, some of them a thousand years-old or more. Birds and other Florida natives can be seen from elevated boardwalks. One popular trail is an easy three-mile loop. but there are several others.
This was the state’s first park. There are a lot of trails, including one that is 16-miles long and paved, most of the way. But the real attraction may be that it’s one of the few places to see more than alligators. The area is home to bison, wild horses, and an estimated 270 species of birds. There’s a 50-foot-high observation tower near the visitor’s center for the best views.
You want a long scenic walk? Maybe not this one in its entirety because at 46 miles, it is perhaps the longest paved rail-trail in the state. But there are many access points for shorter trips and the trail is so flat that it can be enjoyed by all fitness levels. It has many opportunities for viewing plants and wildlife. There are also various other recreational chances. It runs through many small towns and ranches. Walkers and others can stop along the trail for all-day meals. It was named one of the "10 Coolest Places You've Never Been in North America" by the World Wildlife Fund. If you don’t want to walk, bicycles are fine, and there are even sections where horses are allowed.
It’s worth a visit because there are not many more undeveloped barrier islands in Florida. But here you will find five miles of white sandy beaches. Wildlife viewing includes river otters and marsh rabbits that are not found just anywhere. Talbot Island includes seven parks. The best trail may be the four-mile Dune Ridge version that takes hikers through five natural communities, including marshes and an ending stroll along the sandy beach. Swimming is permitted in the Atlantic Ocean at Little Talbot Island except for designated areas. Surfing is also possible and the north beach area is the best place for it. Note: There are no lifeguards. The ranger station at the main entrance has information for all of the seven parks.
Not your usual “walk in the woods” type of place. This is the only state park offering cave tours to the public. The guided tours offered Thursday through Monday last 45 minutes and are rated “moderately strenuous.” The caverns offer limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites (both above and below). Hiking trails also allow bicyclists and horseback riding. There’s even a nearby golf course.
Florida as a state has more than 1,000 miles of oceanfront (a hiking option not found everywhere). So beach walks or hikes here can offer solitude and seashells, with the sights and sounds of the seaside. One of the best places for a beach hike is Anastasia, which has 1,600 acres of rich ecosystems and four miles of pristine beach ideal for oceanfront walking. There’s also a self-guided nature trail through some ancient sand dunes. Be sure to take a few minute for Coquina Quarry, an archaeological site where coquina rock was mined to build the nearby Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.