Although the Sunshine State is famous for its hundreds of miles of beaches and coastline, people don’t often mention the incredible variety of habitats and hiking opportunities here. We think that one of the most underrated trails in the whole of the United States is the Florida National Scenic Trail. We always hear people harking on about the Appalachian Trail, or the Pacific Crest Trail, but often the Florida National Scenic Trail goes under the radar. This 1,300-mile trek traverses the entire state, from the Big Cypress National Preserve in tropical South Florida, to the Gulf Islands National Seashore south of Pensacola up north, with miles of trails through Florida State Parks.
The Florida National Scenic Trail will take you through a stunningly diverse terrain of dramatic scenery, waterfalls, beaches, and rock formations. You might find yourself wading through tropical forests, and sighting rare orchids, or the endangered Florida panther. You might even catch alligators wading in the shallows… watch out! What makes hiking this trail so invigorating is not only the incredible diversity of habitats and wildlife you can see, but also how fun and easy it is to complete miles and miles of this trail. With the highest elevation being only 300 meters above sea level, and with regular scatterings of well maintained campsites and trails, this is every backpacker and hiker’s dream.
Below we are going to walk you through what we think are some of the best hiking trails in Florida. Many of them pick up a part of the Florida National Scenic Trail: you could choose to try some of these as a day hike or a weekend trip. But if you’re travelling from a different state to hike in Florida, or you’re an avid hiking enthusiast, we’d recommend following the Florida National Scenic Trail, and seeing where the adventure takes you.
Little Talbot Island State Park has many great Florida hiking trails that are big on wildlife viewing, so don’t be mislead by the name. The landscapes here are truly magical, and there are so many different natural phenomena to explore. Little Talbot Island is one of a handful of undeveloped barrier islands remaining in Northeast Florida. Pass through five ecosystems, each offering a unique variety of animal and plant life. Here you’ll adventure through ancient dunes, stunning beaches, and a secluded barrier island. Let your inner child take over, as you scramble through the rugged wildlife, exploring the eroding sun-bleached roots and fallen trunks of cedar and palm that create a veritable living exhibition natural sculptures.
Little Talbot Island doesn’t offer a small amount of entertainment for the hiker, despite the name. Here you’ll find more than five miles of pristine beaches and three miles of bike trails: more than enough for you to explore and get a work out at the same time. Whether you’re hiking, running, or biking, there’s enough space, and enough variety of nature, to keep you occupied for hours. If hiking is just one part of the adventure you’re planning, then this option is perfect. You’ll never be bored, with beachcombing, surfing, fishing, birdwatching, a winding kayak journey along the bluffs of Myrtle Creek and camping in a lush forest hammock. Little Talbot Island is a great option for your next outdoor adventure, where hiking opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
Trails totaling 12 miles are available in the Bulow Plantation Loop, more than enough to satisfy your need for greenery, and give you the work out you’re looking for. Follow this loop trail around the ruins of Bulow Plantation, which was burned during the Second Seminole Indian War in 1836. If stunning natural habitats aren’t’ enough for you, consider immersing yourself in the interesting history of this site. The seven-mile Bulow Woods Trail connects Bulow Creek State Park to Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park
We’d recommend this hike to the botany enthusiasts among you. Here you can hike underneath a canopy of some of the oldest and largest live oaks on Florida’s east coast. For example, while you’re here, don’t miss the 400-year old Fairchild Oak, one of the largest southern live oaks in the South of the USA. Feel renewed in this ancient forest, and lose yourself in the incredible nature of Flagler Beach.
Here you might even be able to sight pygmy rattlesnakes in the warmer months. The air is thick here, but when you gain a little elevation, you enter a hardwood hammock of southern magnolia, scattered hickory trees, and sweetgum, with lovely cabbage palms interspersed throughout. Bamboo rises from the forest floor, and you’ll feel hugged by this close, breathing forest.
Explore the natural beauty of Torreya State Park along either the seven-mile Torreya Challenge Loop or the six-mile Rock Creek Loop. We wouldn’t recommend these hikes for first-time hikers, or if you’re going hiking with young ones. These trails are challenging, and there’s a variety of lengths, making them a perfect choice for more experienced hikers, looking for a challenge. This option is perfect for nature enthusiasts and bird watchers. Over 100 species of birds have been spotted in the park, so people flock from all over to catch a sighting of a rare one.
This is also a great option for botany enthusiasts. The endangered Torreya tree can be found here as can the rare Florida yew. We’d recommend coming during fall to witness the forests of hardwood trees turning into beautiful shades of ochre and brown. We think this could be one of the most stunning displays of fall colors in the whole of Florida. From the trail enjoy stunning vistas of the Apalachicola River up to 200 feet below, where the extremely rare species of Torreya tree grows, from which the park gets its name.
If you’re looking for a multi-day backpacking trip, and you want to engage in a variety of activities, consider hiking one of the first and most popular sections of the Florida National Scenic Trail in the Ocala National Forest. In this forest, you’ll find over 600 lakes, rivers and springs, a perfect way to cool off and refresh yourself after a long hot hike.
It also has three first-magnitude springs, meaning they flow of greater than 100 cubic feet per second. Three magnitude springs are part of what makes Florida so unique and spectacular to hike in: they have 33 of these springs, making Florida the leader in this regard over all other states and countries. You can’t leave without having fun in one of the bodies of water here, whether it be canoeing, swimming, snorkeling or diving.
We would particularly recommend Juniper Springs for cooling off after your hike: beneath a tightly-knit canopy of live oaks, Juniper Springs is a beautiful pool of crystalline water in the heart of the desert-like Big Scrub. The northern section of the hike spans a distance of about 35 miles and passes through a rolling sand scrub habitat, where there’s also a lot of wildlife to see. Here you might get a sighting of deer gopher, tortoises, scrub jays or black bears.
The Little Manatee River flows for 4.5 miles, through eleven unique natural communities within the park, but people really flood here for one of the best hikes in the state. It’s one of the best and most popular hikes of Southwest Florida, a 6.5 mile stacked loop located in the wilderness area in the northern half of the park. It’s quite a challenging hike, but it’s worth it to see the incredible variety of nature and wildlife in the park. Here you can sight Red Shoulder Hawks, Gopher Tortoise, and White-Tail Deer.
For the less experienced hiker, or if you’re looking for an easier hike to go on with your dog or family, consider the Oxbow Nature Trail. You can access this from the main picnic area in the southern half of the park. It makes a convenient one-mile loop along scrub ridges that skirt the main river and an oxbow wetland. You can also explore the section of trails north of Little Manatee River, where wildlife and bird viewing opportunities are almost endless. Hike for nearly three miles along the bluffs of the Little Manatee River, designated as an Outstanding Florida Waterway, or follow the 15 miles of equestrian and multi-use trails in the southern half of the park for other activities on top of hiking.
If you’re looking for a real challenge, consider heading to the Citrus Hiking Loop. This 43-mile loop can be backpacked in three days, making this a great challenge for more experienced hikers. It’s the second-longest backpacking loop on a single piece of land in the state of Florida, so it will really give you something to boast about. It’s one of the most rugged hikes in Florida, and despite the long length of the hike, you’re not going to get bored by the scenery. Here you’ll find rolling sandhills, steep descents into sinkholes, and rock-strewn footpaths.
With more than 40 miles of Florida hiking trails in a series of loops, the Citrus Hiking Loop in the Withlacoochee State Forest is a favorite for those training for long-distance backpacking, or looking for a real work out. If you want to be immersed in this beautiful natural habitat, but need a shower route, you can opt for a day hike on one of the shorter loop hikes by utilizing cross trails with multiple access points. This is a well-groomed trail, which is easily followed, with a clearly defined footpath and signposts at trail junctions.
We would recommend the Big Cypress National Preserve for those of you who want a challenging, immersing hiking experience. Here you can choose to either traverse designated trails, or orienteer through unmarked territory. If you go during the dry season, you can find a variety of easy hikes here. But for the more adventurous amongst you, we’d recommend going in the wet season, where you’ll be challenged by the terrain, and have to wade through water which can sometimes be up to waist-deep.
The Big Cypress National Preserve encompasses the southernmost section of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Despite these hiking trails being so rugged and adventurous, you can still access them easily. There are great access points at the Oasis Visitor Center on Highway 41 and the I-75 rest area near mile marker 63. And the opportunities for wildlife viewing here are truly extraordinary. You’ll be surrounded by dwarf cypresses, covered in bromeliads and native orchids.
You may sight an otter, a bear track, or potentially even have the rare opportunity to spot the endangered Florida panther, as this is one of their last remaining natural habitats. There’s a range of trails, with a variety of difficulties, with over 11 easy trails in Big Cypress National Preserve ranging from 0.8 to 43 miles and from 0 to 19 feet above sea level.
If you’re planning a day out with the family, or want to enjoy some other activities on top of hiking, consider visiting the Blackwater River State Forest. Here you can go hiking, swimming, camping, canoeing, fishing, hunting, nature study, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Many streams exist here, which are popular to canoe, for example: Blackwater River, Juniper Creek, Coldwater Creek, and Sweetwater Creek. There are multiple different recreation areas, such as Bone Creek recreation area, and Bear Lake recreation area. After a long hike, there are many lakes you can relax by, and enjoy your picnic surrounded by stunning nature.
Blackwater River State Forest is located in the Florida Panhandle northeast of Pensacola. We would recommend hiking the northernmost section of the Florida National Scenic Trail in Blackwater River State Forest. Massive red clay bluffs along Juniper Creek provide one of the grandest views found anywhere on the entire Florida Trail. Elevations within the forest range from 10 feet to 290 feet above sea level: the changes in soil composition and the varying degree of moisture present in the forest support at least five principal types of plant communities. The scenery is spectacular as the path follows along the Blackwater River and its smaller tributaries.
If you’re heading to the Santa Rosa Island Beach Hike, we’d recommend going for some of the 32.3 miles trail along Navarre Beach & Pensacola Beach. The Seashore section is the only National Scenic Trail section along a beach. It also includes the Pensacola Bike Path, the Navarre Bike Path, and the wild and scenic UWF Dunes Preserve. So for a hiking trip where you can break up your journey by going biking and swimming along stunning coastline, look no further than the Santa Rosa Island Beach Hike.
And if you want to engage your mind, and be emerged in history, while also emerging yourself in this stunning natural habitat, this could be the perfect hike for you too. The Florida National Scenic Trail’s northern terminus, located at historic Fort Pickens, will make you feel like you’re stepping back in time to a bygone era. It was built in 1834 to defend Pensacola Bay. However, we would recommend checking the Florida Trails Hikes website before heading off here, to ensure you’re hiking safely. After Hurricane Nate, some of the trails have been affected. For example, you can’t go through Gulf Islands National Seashore between Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach, even though the beach is still there
White Springs if Florida’s historic spa town. Designated the first Florida Trail Gateway Community, White Springs is one of the rare places on the Florida Trail where the trail leads you right through the center of town. There are some wonderful natural phenomena to observe here, fir example, the cascading waters of the Falling Creek Falls. You can also follow multiple different sections of the Florida trail, from Bell Springs to Big Shoals, or from Camp Branch to Suwannee Springs, part of the Suwannee river, for example. However, take note, dogs are not permitted on some of these trails, so make sure to research thoroughly before driving off with your pup!
For an excellent day trip, we’d recommend heading to the Florida hiking trails at Big Shoals State Park with views of Florida’s only major whitewater rapids. Although you might be tempted to try your hand at them, beware, these waters can be very dangerous. Only experienced canoe and kayakers should attempt to navigate the Shoals: the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III Whitewater classification. Here, over 28 miles of wooded trails provide opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing.
As we’ve seen, Florida has more variety and beauty than you could even dream of in its natural habitats and hiking options. Whether you’re going birding, sighting some of the hundreds of types of species here, or getting a rare glimpse of the endangered Florida panther, an alligator, or some of the rare orchids and flowers in forest swamps, on a hike in Florida there’s always an exciting surprise waiting for you around the bend. Download some of these useful hiking apps, to correctly identify the flora and fauna around you. If you put the Florida Trail on your bucket list and follow of much of it as you can, we guarantee you you’ll be in for the adventure of a lifetime, on the best hiking trails in Florida.
Bonus tip: Watch this useful video to find out how to hike through swamps on the Florida Trail!