Florida spans from the most popular vacation destination to untouched marshes and forests. From cities alive with industry to beaches white and pure. Florida is a beautiful mix of people and places. Vacationing in the state can mean a number of things : amusement parks, major cities, camping in the woods, or exploring the greatness of the state through hiking. While there are many hikes throughout the state, I’m only going to be writing about one, the big one, the 1,400 mile Florida Trail.
The Florida Trail
The Florida Trail is a massive, roaming path through the entire state of Florida. It clocks in at about 1,400 mile and is a portion of the Eastern Continental Trail, which goes from Florida to Belle Isle. The Florida Trail is broken up into 15 parts (kind of). Because the trail is basically down the middle of Florida, from North to South, if you’re within the state, you’re only about an hour from any part of the trail. For most, they find a section of the trail that they like and hike it for a few hours. Others travel the entire trail, which, depending on sleep and breaks and exploring, can take several weeks.
Big Cypress is right in the thick of the Everglades, a swamp thick with vegetation, animals, and the sloppy mix that makes a swamp a swamp. The hiking here is laborious at best, and hazardous at worst. While uncommon, it’s possible to find bobcats, bears, panthers, and anacondas roaming about the swamp. That isn’t the only danger, the swamp itself presents its own threat with thick mud, futile footings, perilous paths. But as you labor your way through, you’ll find a blazed trail that is rather beautiful in its awe-inspiring massiveness.
After the lusciousness of the swamp, you’ll find yourself in carved landscape of fields and agriculture. The contrast is unsettling and beautiful, but the chance to camp on a dry field is much better than camping in the soggy swamp.
The next stop is Lake Okeechobee which is split into two sections ; East and West. West is known for better views of sugar cane fields, roaming cattle, and sunsets. The East is less crowed usually, but because most feel the views are just a little worse. As you may have guessed, these two trails form a loop, of sorts, and you can, if you feel like, experience both sides.
Ocala is the beginning of the middle of The Florida Trail. This is where the trail first began and is considered the birthplace of the trail. While the beginning of the trail seemed to be rugged and unclear, this part is well explored and regulated. Not to say that it lacks the mystique of nature, it’s just well traveled. Here you will find almost 75 miles of perfect hiking through bulky pines, rolling prairies, and massive tracks of beautiful wilderness.
After Ocala you’ll come to North(east) Florida. Here you’ll go back in time as you find numerous artifacts left from the colonial period and the civil war along with the ghosts of ice and indigo plantations from the 1700s. The trail leads through the Osceola National Forest, 200,000 acres of flatwoods and swamps, curving your way north.
Next is the Suwannee area, a landscape rugged with beauty turned dangerous as waters of the Suwannee River cut deep valleys and sinkholes. These waters dotted the landscape with springs and surprising rapids, waterfalls and streams. The sites are impressive and dangerous, beautiful and lofty. As you experience this area, you’ll understand the attraction.
As you continue this trail, you’ll come across many locations. Some are well explored and well written about. Others are nooks and hidden gems, something that only a few will ever see and only if you’re really looking. You’ll cross through Big Bend and its vastness of swampy forests that stretch out to the East. Next, things get bigger and wetter as you reach Apalachicola, largest National Forest in Florida. It would be impossible to write all about Apalachicola, as it would take months to fully explore alone. Your trail will be wet and swampy much like Big Cypress. Make no mistakes, no mater the time, it is a laborious trail, and like Big Cypress, very worth it.
As you continue you’ll cross into the Central Time Zone. Things will be slow down here and the trails will be less wet and dangerous. Continue past Central Panhandle and finally you’ll reach Blackwater, the end of the trail in Florida. Blackwater connects to the Alabama Hiking Trail which connects to the Eastern Continental Trail. This area used to be mostly used for lumber but, luckily, is now a place focused on the environment and recreation.
This trail is just a touch of the hiking done in Florida. There are a plethora of different paths and trails that come off of this trail. Following this path, though, will show you all the different things that Florida has to offer to a hiker; wet swamps, looming pine, and rolling fields are just the surface of the beauty that is Florida.