Off the Beaten Path
Take a hike to explore Florida's natural wonders! Trails and nature walks provide access to caverns, wetlands, hardwood forests, undeveloped beachfront, whitewater rapids, and more. These diverse environments are just a few of Florida's more than eighty distinct ecosystems.
One hundred twenty-five of Florida's State Parks feature nature and hiking trails. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Greenways and Trails supervises nine trails and greenways statewide. Two more trails are currently in development. The Florida Trail Association, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, maintains the 1,400 mile Florida Trail, one of only eight National Scenic Trails in the United States.
Florida's trails vary widely across the state and within each park. Many parks include several types of trails, ranging from grassy paths to wooden boardwalks to paved walkways. Before you set out on your hike, make sure that you have appropriate gear for the terrain.
Changes in weather can make trails dangerous or impassable. Before traveling to a park, call ahead to make sure that conditions are favorable.
Some trails provide signs identifying types of plants and ecosystems, but you might also want to bring your own plant and wildlife guides.
As you hike, you may see some of the animals, plants, and insects chosen to be Florida's state symbols. Some of these creatures--such as poison ivy and alligators--should be avoided, but others--such as mockingbirds, zebra butterflies, and coreopsis flowers--provide lovely sights and sounds along the trail.
Many of Florida's animals and plants are protected under state laws. Do not interact with wildlife, and do not pick or disturb plants. These laws are for your safety and the safety of Florida's plants and wildlife, and they help protect the environment for future generations.
What To Look For
Squirrels and rabbits can often be seen along Florida trails. Other animals--such as deer, hogs, and panthers--may be shyer, but you may find their tracks as you hike. Keep your eyes and ears open for Florida's many species of birds. In addition to bird calls, you may also hear the distinctive sound of woodpeckers digging into trees in search of bugs to eat.
Depending on the season, you will probably see wildflowers along the trail. Try making a game of identifying these plants as you walk. See our lists of common native wildflowers to aid your observation. The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants--another useful resource for plant identification--allows you to search for plants by type or by county.
Look for butterflies. These colorful insects can often be found around Florida's wildflowers. Several state parks feature butterfly gardens in addition to hiking trails.
What To Avoid
In general, you should not approach any wildlife you may see on the trail. Animals that feel threatened may become aggressive and attack you. Besides being dangerous, it is also illegal to feed some animals, such as alligators.
Raccoons and opossums may look cuddly, but these animals can be very fierce if approached. If you are camping, be sure to store food in locked containers and to dispose of trash properly.
Although alligators look slow and clumsy, they can move very quickly over land. Do not approach these animals under any circumstances! Florida also has a number of venomous snakes. To avoid being bitten, do not approach or handle any snakes that you may see along the trail.
Beware of poisonous plants such as poison ivy, oak, and sumac. The most common of these--poison ivy--is most often found at the edges of trails and paths and along old fences, and it also grows in deep woods.
All parts of these plants--leaves, stems, and roots--are poisonous at all times. You can even be poisoned indirectly if sap from the leaves or stems rubs onto your clothes or equipment. See Poisonous Plants for information about identifying these plants.
Florida's warm climate makes the state an ideal location for insect life. Until cooler winter weather sets in, you are likely to encounter mosquitoes, biting flies, and gnats (also called "no-see-ums"). Bring insect repellent with you, as well as an anti-itch product in case you do get bitten.
To avoid picking up ticks along the trail, tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your boots. Wear tick repellent, and try not to sit down in bushy areas.
Do not disturb nests or hives. This will anger the insects and cause them to attack you. If you do disturb a nest of flying insects and are stung, run away to a safe distance, then seek treatment. Standing still will only make them angrier and more aggressive.
It is important to drink plenty of water while hiking. Dehydration can reduce your ability to think clearly and make good decisions and put you at risk. Bring water that you know is safe to drink. If you choose to drink water from streams or ponds along the trail, you must filter, boil, or chemically treat it first.
In sealed bags or containers, pack nonperishable items and food that does not need to be kept cold. Many of Florida's parks only allow campfires in designated areas, so you may not be able to cook on the trail. Check with the park first and pack accordingly.
Pick up after yourself as you hike. Open food wrappers will attract animals, and trash spoils the environment for others.
What to Bring
- Map and a compass
Always pack these in addition to your guidebooks.
Bring more than you think you will need, as well as a filter or chemical treatment in case you need to drink from streams along the trail.
Bring more than you think you will need.
- Warm clothes and rain gear
Even if the weather is hot, dress in layers and pack warm clothing and extra socks. Always pack rain gear, since Florida weather is unpredictable.
- First-aid kit
Be sure to include bandages, antiseptic, anti-itch medication, sunscreen, and sunburn ointment.
The piercing sound of a whistle carries farther and takes less energy than shouting. Three blasts is the international call for help.
Before you set out on the trail, make sure that your flashlight works. Don't forgot to pack extra batteries and an extra bulb.
- Fire starter and waterproof matches
Check the park rules before building a fire.
- Sharp knife
You can use the knife to cut through underbrush if you should get lost.
Before You Leave
Familiarize yourself with a map of the trail and the surrounding area, and make sure that your compass is reliable. Other navigational equipment, such as a GPS locator, can also help you find your way. You may want to bring a walkie-talkie or other short-range radio.
Leave a travel plan with your family or friends. Include a copy of the route you plan to take and an estimate of when you expect to return.
On the Trail
To preserve the environment, try to make as little impact as possible. Take pictures, but do not remove anything from the trail. Do not leave trash on the trail.
If you get lost, do not panic. Use your map and compass to orient yourself, and use the whistle to call attention to yourself.
After the Hike
Before you leave the trail site, check your clothing and equipment for plants or insects that you may have picked up along the way. Several woodland plants produce seeds with burrs, hooks, or hairs that can cling to your clothes and hitch a ride. Insects such as ticks and spiders can fall into your pant cuffs or shoes.
When you get home, wash your clothes and wipe down any equipment that might have come into contact with poisonous plants.
If you want a more goal-oriented hike, try geocaching. This increasingly popular activity combines hiking and scavenger hunting. If hiking's not your style, Florida's parks and trails also offer excellent areas for biking, inline skating, horseback riding, canoeing or kayaking, swimming, fishing, camping, and other activities.
Some parks provide horses to rent, while others do not. In addition, not all parks allow the use of motorized boats in park waters. Check the park-specific rules to make sure that you bring approved equipment only.
Check the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's Wildlife Management Lands page and the Florida Online Parks Guide's Activity Listing to find out which parks and trails offer activities that you enjoy.
Related Sites & Articles
- Hiking & Trails
- Florida Online Parks Guide
- Florida Trail Association
- Florida's State Greenways & Trails--Florida DEP
- Florida's Wildlife Management Area System--Florida FWC
- Great Florida Birding Trail--Florida FWC
- Hiking/Nature Trails in Florida State Parks--Florida Online Parks Guide
- Trailwalker Program for State Forests--Florida Division of Forestry
- Viewing Plants & Wildlife
- Field Guides to the Rare Species of Florida--Florida Natural Areas Inventory
- Florida Wildlife Extension
- Florida's State Symbols
- Wildlife Calendar
- Wildlife Viewing--Florida FWC