Exploring the Florida Trail
The Florida National Scenic Trail is primarily a footpath, which meanders through a variety of Florida's ecological regions. The most popular time to hike the trail is late fall through early spring when temperatures are cool, rainfall low, insects inactive, and migratory wildlife abundant.
Trail enthusiasts are still searching for appropriate trail locations in Florida's western panhandle. In that part of the State, the trail may follow the Gulf of Mexico beaches from Gulf Islands National Seashore to the Apalachicola River. Blackwater River State Forest and Pine Log State Forest contain the only completed trail sections in northwestern Florida.
The Florida National Scenic Trail in the Big Bend Region extends from the Apalachicola River to the Suwannee River. Hiking in the heart of Apalachicola National Forest often means wading in waist-deep water through the Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area. This 23,000-acre area is one of the east's largest designated wildernesses. Bradwell Bay is noted for titi thickets, deep gum swamps, and virgin pine and cypress forests.
The trail winds through the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge's protected wilderness on a roadbed from an abandoned turn-of-the-century railroad. In addition to harboring a wide variety of native plants, the Refuge is also a popular location to watch birds with a checklist of more than 300 species.
Traveling east, the trail follows the northern reaches of San Pedro Bay on logging roads, crossing lands owned by private timber companies. At the Suwannee River, the terrain changes from fiat, dirt roads to high sandhills, limestone rock bluffs, sandbanks, cypress swamps, and spring-fed tributaries. Along the Suwannee, most of the trail passes through scenic private lands; these are some of the least protected trail sections.
The trail's northern section, between the Suwannee River and north of Orlando, passes through the Osceola and Ocala National Forests. These forests are characterized by pine flatwoods, swamp forests, and hardwood hammocks. South of the Osceola National Forest, the trail winds through picturesque ravines and crosses a colonial rice plantation before it enters the Ocala National Forest. It passes numerous sinkholes, ponds, rivers, and freshwater springs.
In the State's heavily populated central region, extending from north of Orlando to the north shore of Lake Okeechobee, the trail passes mostly through public lands. It skirts the Orlando area and picks up along the Kissimmee River. This beautiful section passes through live oak and sabal palm hammocks, sand pine forests, open prairies, and runs along the river banks.
In Big Cypress National Preserve, the trail winds southward through a mix of cypress swamp and sawgrass marsh dotted with tropical hammocks of sabal palms and air plants. Around Lake Okeechobee, the trail follows levees and water control structures constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940's to control flooding and drain the northern Everglades. Endangered species, such as the Florida panther and the Everglades kite, may occasionally be seen in this area. A pristine example of a subtropical swamp lies at the extreme southern end of the trail.
On the Trail
Many public agencies and private interests are participating in the development and management of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Since many agencies and private interests are involved with managing the trail, rules and regulations governing its use vary These agencies and interests provide support facilities such as campgrounds.
Trail Markings. Certified segments of the trail are designated with the logo shown next to the map in this brochure. Markers with this logo are supplemented with paint blazes, usually orange, and wooden signs that provide distance and directional information. Other segments are marked similarly but lack official Florida National Scenic Trail logos.
Fees and Permits. Fee payments or permits are required for use of some FloridaNational Scenic Trail segments and overnight facilities. Fees are charged for camping inmany developed Federal, State, and county campgrounds. Check with the area's manager in advance to determine if fees or permits are required.
Camping. Facilities for backpack camping along the Florida National Scenic Trail vary. Some managing authorities permit backpack camping anywhere along the trail. Others permit camping only at designated sites. In some cases, the trail may already be open to use, but designated camping sites have not yet been established. Along such segments, it could be difficult to find a place to camp. Plan your trip in advance to be sure of proper overnight accommodations. Patience is needed while the trail is being developed.
Fishing. A Florida fishing license is required for fishing in lakes and streams along the trail.
Hunting. The trail passes through public and private lands that are legally open to hunting. Generally, the trail remains open during hunting seasons; however, some trail segments may be closed. From September through January, check in advance about hunting seasons with the managing authority responsible for the trail segments you plan to hike. During hunting seasons, trail users are encouraged, and in some areas required, to wear clothing in the hunter orange color.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication