Florida is home to a diverse ecological setting, which makes for stunning hiking experiences. Wildlife viewing and lush canopies of green await hikers of all ages and skills. If you are like me, you often head to Florida for the beaches and theme parks. Through the years, I am glad that I have embraced the hiking trails, too.
I hope you will pull on your hiking boots and experience Florida from a new point of view: hiking. Once you set foot on the trail, you will be grateful you’re there. As with any planned hike, pack plenty of water. Florida can be very hot, and it's of the utmost importance that you carry enough water with you. It's also important to note that many of these hikes are located in state parks that may have a small entrance or parking fee.
1. St. Joseph Bay Trail, T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
Port St. Joe
This scenic coastal trail is a short hike in the T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park that is well worth every step. The hiking trail comes in at a little under one mile. It’s a loop trail that’s rated easy. Plan to spend two hours on this trail as the birding opportunities are endless. This hike provides great insight into the coastal habitat along Cape San Blas, which is a natural beauty in itself.
The best tip I can give you is to dress in layers, bring your bug spray, use sunscreen, and pack your binoculars. Spring is a great time to do this hike as the weather is not too hot. After your hike, explore the state park and enjoy the rest of your day in the coastal setting surrounding Port St. Joe, Florida.
2. Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area
This is my pick for the best hike in Florida. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. The Jupiter Lighthouse is truly a Florida gem. What most people don't realize is the fact that there are some hiking trails nearby. The birding and Florida mangroves are fantastic in this area. Trails are on the north and south sides of Beach Road. If you enjoy authentic Florida, this trail will enchant you. You can also expect to see manatees and numerous birds along the hiking trail. Make a plan to explore the lighthouse grounds, and add on an hour hiking throughout the area nearby.
3. Bulow Plantation Loop
Flagler And Volusia Counties
Trails totaling 12 miles are available around the ruins of Bulow Plantation, which is one of Florida’s many historical sites. The seven-mile Bulow Woods Trail connects Bulow Creek State Park to Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park underneath a canopy of some of the oldest and largest live oaks on Florida’s east coast.
When is the last time you hiked from one state park to another? The 400-year old Fairchild Oak, one of the largest Southern live oaks in the South, is not to be missed. You will also want to see the sugar mill ruins, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This hike is a full day and is best completed in spring, fall, or winter.
4. Oxbow Nature Trail, Little Manatee River State Park
Little Manatee River State Park's 6.5-mile loop is perfect for hikers who wish to see a wide variety of plants and animals commonly spotted in this area, including red-shouldered hawks, gopher tortoises, and white-tailed deer. Explore the section of trails north of Little Manatee River, where wildlife and birding opportunities are abundant. Hike for nearly three miles along the bluffs of the Little Manatee River, which has been designated an Outstanding Florida Waterway.
If you enjoy manatees, as I do, winter is your ideal time to hike this trail. The wildlife is in abundance, as are the manatees. Thirty campsites are available for tent or RV camping. I would suggest making your camping reservations as far ahead as possible, as these sites fill quickly.
5. Avalon Nature Trail, Avalon State Park
North Hutchinson Island
Avalon State Park is home to the Avalon Nature Trail, a 3.4-mile out-and-back hiking trail on North Hutchinson Island. There is a small fee to enter the state park and there are restrooms in the area. A highlight of this trail is an observation platform on the Indian River Lagoon. Egrets and herons can be seen nesting in the mangroves as you look through your binoculars for that spectacular find. A little more than 1.5 miles in, you will arrive at Blue Hole Point. Enjoy the scenery, then turn around and make the trek back to the trailhead.
6. Indrio Savannahs
If you have ever wanted to witness a Florida ecosystem up close and personal, the Indrio Savannahs Preserve is calling your name. This hiking trail is located partway between Fort Pierce and Vero Beach and is approximately a mile from the Indian River Lagoon. Before you begin your trek, pick up a map at the trailhead kiosk, located at 5275 Tozour Road in Fort Pierce. There are no restrooms, so you will want to plan accordingly. Forests, lakes, birds, frogs, alligators, and other animals that call this area home will be spotted as you hike.
This 3.5-mile round trip trail is rather flat and easy, and it is also handicap accessible for most of the way. This is a loop trail that, being near the lagoon, offers a wetland experience that is unique to this area of Florida. Spring is a great time to hop on this trail as there are many pawpaws in bloom. If you are lucky, you will see the brown, velvety flower buds opening to deep burgundy from March to May.
7. Black Bear Wilderness Area Trail
The Black Bear Wilderness Area Trail is a 7+ mile loop trail located in Central Florida. Most people are rather surprised to learn that wildlife is in abundance in Central Florida despite the many theme parks. This particular trail is rated moderate, meaning it will be a bit more challenging for hikers than some others included on our list. Some stretches of the terrain are uneven and rough, which will give you and your hiking boots a workout. That said, with an elevation gain of just 29 feet, you will find that it's a rather flat trail to enjoy a hike on.
A large portion of this hike is shaded and parts of it are on boardwalks. The boardwalks are a nice break from the rougher terrain. Bear, alligators, peacocks, snakes, and hawks are all commonly spotted along this trail. The variety of ecosystems is one thing that makes this hike unique. You can experience a lot of Florida in this one hike. Plan a minimum of three hours to complete this hike -- more if you enjoy photography and observing wildlife.
Pro Tip: If you hike during Florida's rainy season, it's not uncommon to come upon a lot of mud on the trails.
8. Kolokee Trail, Little Big Econ State Forest
Little Big Econ State Forest is home to the Kolokee Trail, which is an almost five-mile loop. The trail runs along the Little Big Econ River, which makes for some great river-life viewing. You will find that the trail is well marked with orange and white blazes. There are a few benches along the trail for rest stops if needed. The terrain is not always level; therefore, this is considered a moderate trail. If rain has fallen recently, you may encounter some mud along the lower elevations of the hiking trail. Wear a sun hat, use your bug spray and sunscreen, and lace up your hiking boots for an epic only-in-Florida hike.
9. Bell Springs To Big Shoals
Your hiking boots will come in handy when you hike near the Suwannee River, as this trail from Bell Springs to Big Shoals can be very rocky in places. This 4.6-mile round trip hiking trail is adjacent to Florida's only Class III whitewater rapids and offers some of the most majestic river views in the state. Wear long pants and a hat as ticks and mosquitoes are usually very heavy on this hiking trail. Use a hiking stick, wear your bug spray and sunscreen, and watch for poison ivy. Anytime you hike a trail near a river in Florida, be sure you are alert at all times.
The views are tremendous, but you will want to remember to pay attention to your surroundings as a hike resulting in extreme itching is never any fun. I, unfortunately, am speaking from experience on this as I came into contact with some poison ivy during my Bell Springs to Big Shoals hike. With an elevation gain of 157 feet and shade along the trail, your hike should be somewhat relaxing.
The next time you visit the Sunshine State, I hope you will plan a hiking adventure. There are numerous Florida hiking trails and nature experiences that most people have never experienced. Make an effort to get out and explore authentic Florida; you will be glad you did.
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