Discover the wonders of Florida’s must-hike trails, where unforgettable adventures and breathtaking landscapes await. Each trail offers a unique glimpse into the state’s diverse ecosystems and natural beauty. Explore our curated selection of featured trails, complete with high-quality images and brief descriptions to guide you on your journey.
Florida National Scenic Trail
The Florida Scenic Trail offers a unique and unforgettable hiking experience for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels. Spanning more than 1,300 miles, the trail stretches from the western Panhandle to the southern tip of the state, showcasing Florida’s diverse landscapes and natural beauty.
Difficulty: Varies (Easy to Strenuous)
Trail Sections: The Florida Scenic Trail is divided into multiple sections, each with its distinct characteristics and difficulty levels. From the swampy terrain of the Big Cypress National Preserve to the rolling sandhills of the Ocala National Forest, the trail provides a variety of ecosystems to explore. Key sections include:
- Panhandle: Discover lush pine forests, steephead ravines, and sparkling freshwater springs in the northwestern part of the state.
- Northern: Wander through longleaf pine forests, ancient live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and historic plantations.
- Central: Experience the vast expanses of prairies, scrublands, and sparkling lakes in the heart of Florida.
- Southern: Traverse subtropical wilderness, including the unique habitats of the Everglades and the beautiful coastal regions of Big Cypress National Preserve.
Wildlife Encounters: Hikers on the Florida Scenic Trail can expect encounters with diverse wildlife, from alligators and turtles in the wetlands to white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and gopher tortoises in the forests. Birdwatchers will be delighted to spot various species of wading birds, raptors, and songbirds, including the endangered Florida scrub-jay.
Trail Difficulty: The difficulty of the Florida Scenic Trail varies from easy, well-maintained sections suitable for family outings to strenuous, remote segments that challenge even experienced hikers. Proper preparation, including research on trail conditions and weather, is essential for a safe and enjoyable hike.
Camping & Accommodations: Along the trail, designated camping spots and shelters are available for overnight stays. Hikers can also find lodgings, such as hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, in nearby towns and cities. Always be sure to check regulations and secure necessary permits before setting up camp.
Support & Resources: The Florida Trail Association (FTA) is a valuable resource for planning your Florida Scenic Trail adventure. The FTA provides detailed maps, trail updates, and volunteer opportunities for those interested in maintaining and preserving this beautiful pathway.
Whether you tackle the entire trail or choose a specific section, this long-distance hiking trail promises an unforgettable experience for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park – La Chua Trail:
The La Chua Trail, nestled within the picturesque Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, is a 3-mile out-and-back trail that transports hikers through the heart of one of Florida’s most remarkable ecosystems. This easy, well-maintained trail is perfect for nature lovers, birdwatchers, and families seeking an unforgettable outdoor adventure.
Trail Features: As you venture along the La Chua Trail, you’ll be greeted by expansive wetland vistas and a diverse array of wildlife. The trail is equipped with boardwalks and an observation platform, allowing for up-close encounters with the park’s residents while maintaining a safe distance.
Wildlife Encounters: Paynes Prairie is home to a vast array of wildlife, and the La Chua Trail provides numerous opportunities for sightings. Alligators are a common sight, basking on the banks or swimming in the waterways. The park is also one of the few places in Florida where wild horses and bison roam freely, offering a unique glimpse into the state’s natural heritage. Birdwatchers will delight in spotting various wading birds, raptors, and waterfowl, including sandhill cranes, herons, and egrets.
Flora and Fauna: In addition to its abundant wildlife, the La Chua Trail showcases the diverse plant life of Paynes Prairie. Hikers can appreciate the beauty of marshes, wet prairies, and hardwood hammocks, which serve as a habitat for numerous plant species, such as sawgrass, pickerelweed, and the carnivorous sundew plant.
History and Cultural Significance: Paynes Prairie has a rich history, dating back thousands of years to the indigenous peoples who once inhabited the region. The park was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974 and has since been recognized for its ecological and cultural significance.
Accessibility and Amenities: The La Chua Trail is easily accessible, with a designated parking area and restroom facilities at the trailhead. While the trail is relatively flat and easy to navigate, portions of it may be seasonally flooded or muddy, so be prepared with appropriate footwear.
The La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park offers hikers an unparalleled opportunity to experience the beauty and biodiversity of one of Florida’s most unique ecosystems.
Myakka River State Park – Canopy Walkway:
Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s largest and oldest state parks, offers visitors the opportunity to explore its diverse habitats through an immersive adventure – the Canopy Walkway. This 2.2-mile loop trail takes hikers through lush hammocks, allowing them to experience the park’s beauty and biodiversity from both ground level and high above the forest floor.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Trail Features: The Canopy Walkway is a suspension bridge that spans 100 feet in length and is suspended 25 feet above the ground. This unique feature allows visitors to experience the park’s stunning foliage and wildlife from a bird’s-eye view. The trail also leads to a 74-foot-tall observation tower, providing panoramic views of Myakka River State Park’s diverse habitats, including the river, wetlands, and prairies.
Flora and Fauna: As you traverse the Canopy Walkway and surrounding trail, you’ll encounter a variety of plant life, such as live oaks, cabbage palms, and ferns. Epiphytes, including Spanish moss and bromeliads, drape the tree limbs, adding to the enchanting atmosphere. Keep an eye out for the park’s abundant wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and an impressive array of bird species, including hawks, ospreys, and barred owls.
Recreational Opportunities: Myakka River State Park offers a range of recreational activities in addition to the Canopy Walkway. Visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, birdwatching, wildlife photography, fishing, and boating. The park also offers camping and cabin accommodations for those looking to extend their stay.
Accessibility and Amenities: The Canopy Walkway is accessible to most visitors, with the trail being relatively flat and well-maintained. The trailhead features a designated parking area and restroom facilities. Although the Canopy Walkway is not wheelchair-accessible, the park offers other accessible amenities, such as picnic areas and a scenic drive.
The Canopy Walkway at Myakka River State Park offers visitors an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind adventure, showcasing the park’s natural beauty from a unique perspective.
Big Cypress National Preserve – Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Loop:
The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Loop, located in the heart of Big Cypress National Preserve, is a 12.8-mile trail that offers hikers a chance to immerse themselves in the diverse ecosystems of South Florida. With its unique flora and fauna, including the endangered Florida panther, this moderate trail provides a memorable adventure for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
Trail Features: As you journey through the loop trail, you will traverse a variety of habitats, such as hardwood hammocks, cypress swamps, and pinelands. The trail is well-maintained and marked, with occasional boardwalks and footbridges to navigate wetter sections. Along the way, you’ll encounter several ponds and marshes, providing scenic spots to rest and observe the surroundings.
Flora and Fauna: Big Cypress National Preserve is home to a wide array of plant and animal species. As you hike the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Loop, you may encounter orchids, bromeliads, and the namesake cypress trees. The preserve is also a haven for wildlife, including white-tailed deer, alligators, and wading birds such as herons and egrets. Keep an eye out for the elusive Florida panther, which is among the most endangered mammals in the United States.
Recreational Opportunities: In addition to hiking, Big Cypress National Preserve offers various recreational activities, such as birdwatching, wildlife photography, fishing, and hunting. There are also opportunities for kayaking and canoeing in the preserve’s waterways, providing another perspective of this unique environment.
Accessibility and Amenities: The trailhead for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Loop offers a designated parking area and informational kiosk. It is essential to note that there are no restroom facilities or potable water sources along the trail, so hikers should come prepared with necessary supplies. The trail may be challenging in some areas, with uneven terrain and occasional water crossings.
The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Loop in Big Cypress National Preserve is an exceptional hiking experience for those looking to explore South Florida’s diverse ecosystems and encounter rare wildlife. With its moderate difficulty and picturesque landscapes, this trail is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who venture through its unique terrain.
Ocala National Forest – Alexander Springs Loop:
The Alexander Springs Loop is an 8.8-mile trail that meanders through the diverse landscapes of Ocala National Forest. This moderate-difficulty hike provides a delightful encounter with the pristine waters of Alexander Springs and offers a unique opportunity to explore the region’s distinctive scrub habitat, teeming with plant and animal life.
Trail Features: As you embark on the Alexander Springs Loop, you’ll traverse a variety of ecosystems, including sand pine scrub, longleaf pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks. The well-marked trail features occasional boardwalks and footbridges that lead you across streams and wetlands, while sandy paths and shaded stretches offer a comfortable hiking experience. The highlight of the loop is the magnificent Alexander Springs, a first-magnitude spring with crystal-clear waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
Flora and Fauna: Ocala National Forest boasts a diverse array of plant and animal species, and the Alexander Springs Loop is no exception. As you hike, you may encounter endemic Florida scrub plants such as scrub palmetto, sand pine, and wiregrass. Keep an eye out for wildlife, including white-tailed deer, gopher tortoises, and numerous bird species such as scrub jays, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and wild turkeys.
Recreational Opportunities: In addition to hiking, the area surrounding Alexander Springs offers a variety of recreational activities. The spring itself is a popular destination for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving, with its crystal-clear waters and abundant aquatic life. Canoeing, kayaking, and fishing opportunities are also available in the forest’s waterways. Other activities include birdwatching and wildlife photography.
Accessibility and Amenities: The Alexander Springs Recreation Area provides a range of facilities for visitors, including a parking area, restrooms, picnic tables, and a campground. The trailhead is easily accessible from the recreation area, and informational kiosks offer maps and information about the trail. It’s essential to be prepared with necessary supplies, as potable water sources are limited along the trail.
The Alexander Springs Loop in Ocala National Forest offers hikers a memorable experience, with its diverse ecosystems, abundant wildlife, and the breathtaking beauty of Alexander Springs. With its moderate difficulty and picturesque landscapes, this trail is perfect for nature enthusiasts seeking to explore the unique wonders of Central Florida’s scrub habitat.
Caladesi Island State Park – Island Nature Trail:
The Island Nature Trail is a 3-mile loop trail located in the pristine Caladesi Island State Park. Accessible only by boat, this easy trail provides hikers with a peaceful and secluded experience as they journey through diverse coastal habitats, lush mangrove forests, and untouched white-sand beaches, all while enjoying the sights and sounds of Florida’s natural beauty.
Trail Features: The well-maintained Island Nature Trail takes visitors on a journey through various ecosystems, starting with a maritime hammock filled with lush vegetation, where they might encounter gopher tortoises and native bird species. As the trail continues, hikers will pass through dense mangrove forests with their intricate root systems, offering unique opportunities for wildlife spotting and photography. Finally, the trail opens up to the stunning shoreline, where visitors can relax on the pristine beaches and soak up the sun, or explore tidal pools brimming with marine life.
Flora and Fauna: Caladesi Island State Park boasts a rich variety of plant and animal species. Along the Island Nature Trail, hikers may spot wildlife such as ospreys, great blue herons, egrets, and a variety of songbirds. The park’s coastal environment is home to many marine species, including crabs, fish, and sea turtles, while the lush vegetation of the island provides a habitat for numerous plant species such as sea oats, sea grapes, and cabbage palms.
Recreational Opportunities: In addition to hiking the Island Nature Trail, visitors to Caladesi Island State Park can enjoy a range of recreational activities. Kayaking and canoeing through the park’s mangrove forests are popular options, while fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines in the island’s waters, hoping to reel in a variety of fish species. The park’s pristine beaches provide excellent opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, and shelling, making it a perfect destination for a day of relaxation.
Accessibility and Amenities: To reach Caladesi Island State Park, visitors must take a ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park or arrive by private boat. The island offers a range of amenities, including a marina, picnic areas, restrooms, and a snack bar. As the island is a protected nature preserve, visitors are advised to practice Leave No Trace principles and carry out any trash they bring in.
For those seeking a secluded and serene hiking experience, the Island Nature Trail in Caladesi Island State Park offers a unique opportunity to explore Florida’s unspoiled coastal habitats, mangrove forests, and pristine beaches.
Embark on your own adventure and experience the unparalleled beauty of Florida’s featured hiking trails. Remember to always follow Leave No Trace principles and practice responsible hiking etiquette to preserve these natural wonders for generations to come.