Florida is flush with forestland, home to approximately 17 million acres of forests that cover about half the state’s land area, and, as a result, it offers many of the nation’s best and most beautiful hikes.
Not sure where to start? Consider tackling the Florida Trail – or at least a portion of it.
Stretching 1,500-plus miles from Pensacola Beach to the edge of the Everglades, the Florida Trail is the state’s National Scenic Trail (one of only 11 long-distance trails with this designation across the U.S.). Thanks to its hundreds of trailheads and access points and proximity to most of Florida’s major cities, it’s easily accessible.
With the help of Kelly Van Patten, trail program director for the Florida Trail Association, we’ve identified 10 of the best hikes across the state. Lace up your boots and get ready to take a hike – you’ll definitely want to check out these segments of the Florida Trail.
1. Ocala National Forest
Known as the heart and birthplace of the Florida Trail, the Ocala National Forest segment of the trail is often considered the state’s No. 1 backpacking destination. This Central Florida hike covers just over 72 miles and includes the largest sand pine scrub forest in the world, plus plenty of campsites.
2. Big Cypress National Preserve
South Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve is a must-visit spot along the Florida Trail, particularly if you’re looking for a challenge. Although this 30-mile hike is touted as Florida’s toughest backpacking trip, its incomparable beauty makes the hard work worth it.
“Down in the Everglades, Big Cypress National Preserve is truly special,” Van Patten says. “It’s very remote. When you’re in the middle of a cypress stand, it feels like you’re on another planet. There’s water all around you, beautiful air plants and incredible biodiversity. It’s unlike any other place on earth.”
3. Aucilla Sinks
A relatively short piece of the Florida Trail, the 4.4-mile Aucilla Sinks segment near Tallahassee in North Florida is a must-see destination due to its geological oddities – including the “sinks” that cause the Aucilla River to play peekaboo along the trail. With unspoiled terrain you won’t find elsewhere, Aucilla Sinks is so impressive that USA Today named it one of the 10 best American trails for a memorable spring hike in 2015.
4. St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
The Panhandle’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge portion of the Florida Trail (America’s only backpacking experience in a National Wildlife Refuge) covers almost 50 miles, crossing St. Marks from east to west. The trail features coastal swamps and gorgeous views. It’s especially popular for birders, as St. Marks draws more than 300 migratory birds each winter.
5. Sopchoppy River
Stretching just over 4 miles in the southern section of the Panhandle’s Apalachicola National Forest, the Florida Trail’s Sopchoppy River segment is a favorite destination for hikers during the spring and fall due to its abundance of blooming wildflowers. This part of the trail is also known for its incredible views from the bluffs of the Sopchoppy River.
6. Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail
South Florida’s Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail offers an easy hike around the second-largest freshwater lake entirely within U.S. borders. More than half of this 113-mile segment of the Florida Trail is paved, but there are also plenty of marshlands to explore off the beaten path.
7. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve portion of the Florida Trail, also in South Florida, is a top hiking spot for those looking for wildlife, as it’s home to many rare, threatened and endangered species. The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve attracts stargazers, too; many hikers say they can see the Milky Way in the night sky without telescopes or binoculars.
“The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve segment of the Florida Trail has all of the quintessential Florida elements, like cattle pastures, ranches, sugar plantations and citrus groves, and it’s absolutely beautiful,” Van Patten says.
8. Bell Springs to Big Shoals
Situated along the Suwannee River in North Florida, the 4.6-mile Bell Springs to Big Shoals segment of the Florida Trail leads to the state’s largest whitewater rapids. This rugged, round-trip hike also features a waterfall at Robinson Branch, plus a tricky water crossing.
9. Gulf Islands National Seashore
At the northernmost point of the Florida Trail, the Gulf Islands National Seashore segment offers the only National Scenic Trail beach hike in the nation. Florida Trail hikers begin their trek at Fort Pickens and cover more than 28 miles, a path which includes an oyster bed and a stretch across Navarre Beach.
10. Little-Big Econ State Forest
Near Orlando, the Florida Trail’s Little-Big Econ State Forest segment provides jungle-like views on the banks of the Econlockhatchee River. Named one of the most family-friendly hikes in the U.S. by the American Hiking Society, this 4.7-mile hike is close enough to civilization to be easy to find, but far enough away to feel relaxing and remote.