Have you hiked part of the Florida Trail yet?
It’s one of the most unique long distance trails in the United States, full of terrain and wildlife you won’t catch sight of anywhere but here.
The Florida Trail is one of eleven long distance trails in the United States. It is enjoyed by thru-hikers, section hikers, and bikers in its various locations. The trail goes through swamps and a wide variety of terrain, making it an exciting and unique prospect for nature enthusiasts.
It’s also a convenient trail, as its various sections are accessible within about an hour’s drive from most of Florida’s major cities.
While the trail is convenient and full of interesting sites, it also requires a lot of planning to do well. Hiking in Florida involves challenges unlike those hiking in other places.
Let’s take a detailed look at what you need to know for a happy and safe hike.
About the Florida Trail
This hike is also known as the Florida National Scenic Trail. It is maintained by the Florida Trail Association with the work of over 500 volunteers.
The History of the Trail
The Florida Trail Association was started in 1966. Jim Kern, a hiking enthusiast, was dismayed by the lack of footpaths in the state.
The Forest Service told Jim Kern that no one wanted to hike in Florida, but after doing some hiking himself and drawing news attention, he found others who felt like himself.
The association began building trails, raising their goals as time went on.
In 1980, the United States Department of the Interior performed a study on the trail. After this was done, the Florida Trail officially became one of the eleven national scenic trails.
Today, there are over a thousand miles of continuous trail, and the association continues to build more.
The Length of the Florida Trail
The entire trail is 1,465 miles. For thru-hikers, the mileage is 1,103 miles. Along the way, there are 197 trailheads and 176 campsites.
The trail stretches from the Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida.
The Types of Terrain of The Florida Trail
You will run into a lot of different terrain on this trail. Depending on the section, you could be hiking over hills, steep ravines, swamps, or pine forests. You can learn more about the variety of terrains in the various regions on the Florida Trail Association website.
How Long it Takes To Thru-Hike The Trail
The Florida Trail has 1,103 thru-hiking miles.
The amount of time it will take you to travel that far will depend on your average number of miles per day and the average number of rest days you take. With that in mind, it takes most thru-hikers two to three months to hike the full length of this trail.
The Best Time of Year For the Florida Trail
Hiking season in Florida is in the winter. The heat and humidity are more bearable at this time of year. Generally, the long season for hiking the Florida Trail is from October through April. The most popular months are January through March.
There aren’t many hikers on the Florida trail, so even if you are looking to be mostly alone, there isn’t much need to go in a slower season to avoid crowds. This means there isn’t much reason to avoid hiking in the most pleasant weather during the peak season of January through March.
Most thru-hikers will begin their Florida Trail journey on January first.
The Gear You Need
You’ll need gear specific for hiking in Florida and this long distance trail. What is the best equipment to bring with you?
When choosing gear, think about the heat, the humidity, and the water and sand. All of your gear will be exposed to these elements.
While you want to keep your pack light, there is quite a bit to consider when it comes to your hiking gear for the Florida Trail.
First up, let’s look at considerations for your feet. Don’t underestimate how important proper foot care is for a long hike.
Gear for Your Feet:
- Gaiters. These will help keep your shoes free of the foliage floating in the water you hike through.
- Blister protection. You need a layer to keep between your feet and socks. Some people use moleskin or duct tape, others recommend Leukotape P.
- Good, durable socks. Keep in mind that sand will rub against your socks and wear them down much faster hiking in Florida. Your local outdoors shop will have many options. Consider trying durable ones made from a variety of materials, or stick with the classic wool hiking socks. Ideally, you will have two pairs of wool hiking socks and two pairs of nylon hiking socks, so you’re prepared for different conditions on the trail.
- Hiking Sandals. Lightweight shoes can be a nice option in the Florida heat, but you need to make sure you find proper hiking ones that work well with your feet.
- Hiking boots or shoes.
Other items needed for backpacking in Florida:
- Bear canister. There aren’t always trees to hang a bear bag on in southern Florida, so a bear can is often the better choice.
- Cooking stove.
- Water filtration and spare filters.
- Bug spray, cactus juice, and a bug net.
- Sleeping pad.
- A lightweight sleeping bag.
- Your permits.
- Trekking poles. These make trekking through swamps much easier.
- First aid kit.
- Jacket and pants for rain.
- Hat for the sun.
Tips You Need to Know for Planning Your Florida Hike
If you are new to hiking in Florida, you should understand that hiking here is not the same as it is in other climates.
The weather is a different concern, the mosquitoes, the animals, and other dangers can all be planned for, but need to be taken into consideration.
Understand Weather in Florida is Different
The Florida Trail is the only winter destination long distance trail in the United States of America. In Florida, winter is the best season for backpacking.
The high season is January through March, though the full hiking season is generally October through April.
Bring a Hiking Partner or Prepare to Hike Alone
Unlike many of the other eleven long distance trails in the United States, this isn’t a social trail. There aren’t many thru-hikers who’ve completed it.
You may come across people section hiking, but it is very possible you won’t see anyone while hiking. You should either prepare to be alone or take this trip with a partner.
Plan Your Permits and Timing On the Trail Carefully
The Florida Trail has a number of permits required for different parts of the trail. There are also connecting walkways along the trail and hunting seasons you will need to be aware of.
To stay safe and on the right side of the law, you’ll need to plan your trip and the timing of it carefully. This is true for thru-hikers and section hikers alike.
Hiking The Florida National Scenic Trail
Not many people thru-hike the length of the Florida Trail, but 350,000 people hike part of it every year. Many of them return again to explore new sections of the trail or explore old favorites.
If you’re new to the trail and ready to see what Florida has to offer, be sure to check section guides and have the proper gear ready before you go.
Be ready with a camera so you’ll be able to capture some of the moments you won’t want to forget.