Last updated on December 2nd, 2020 at 05:10 pm
You won’t be trekking up switchbacks to achieve panoramic views, but Florida hiking trails have their own charms.
There’s a good chance you’ll see alligators, a great variety of wading birds and, in one of my favorite spots, even wild horses and bison. You’ll trek through lush tropical foliage that could have been the set for Jurassic Park and possibly see rare trees and plants, including orchids and ancient cypress trees.
Florida hiking trails are best from November to April. In northern Florida, you can extend that from October to May. In between, hardy hikers may persist (but that doesn’t include me.)
I’ve hiked all over Florida and there are dozens of great Florida hiking trails.
Here, however, are five Florida hiking trails that I loved discovering and recommend to you.
Two are state parks — Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, deep in the Everglades near Everglades City, and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, just outside Gainesville in northern Florida. One is operated by the Nature Conservancy — Tiger Creek Preserve in Central Florida below Lake Okeechobee — and one is a state forest — Little Big Econ, a half hour northeast of downtown Orlando. One is a county park — Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland.
These varied park operators illustrate that you can find good hiking destinations in all sorts of places, not just in the deservedly well-known Florida State Parks. Florida may be over-built with wild spots getting rare, but there are many places to explore and enjoy if you do your research. (And read FloridaRambler.com.)
Are you ready to plan a Florida hiking trip? Then consider these best Florida hiking trails, listed in no particular order.
1. Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park — the biggest state park in Florida — is a vast, wild place near Everglades City. Year after year, we drove right past, but when we finally explored it, we discovered a hiker’s heaven.
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve offers miles and miles of hiking, including dry, easy-to-walk trails through a big, beautiful cypress forest filled with air plants and wild orchids. (Some visitors are lucky enough to spot Florida panthers here.)
All the roads in Fakahatchee Strand are former logging roads used to cut down what was once a cypress forest with trees hundreds of years old. These roads created a network of good hiking trails. We loved East Main Trail, which starts where cars reach the end of the drivable section of the park’s main road, Jane’s Scenic Drive.
I think a perfect hike is an easy two-mile stroll down East Main Trail to a private cabin that makes a great turn-around destination on a two-hour hike. Its a small, rustic building of old wood and corrugated metal with a sign at the front door proudly identifying it as the Fakahatchee Hilton.
It’s a good place to linger. It’s located on a beautiful pond; a boardwalk connects the cabin to the lake, where we had our picnic on the dock overlooking a half dozen alligators lazily floating and sunning while in the trees several anhingas dried their wings.
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
- 137 Coastline Drive, Copeland FL 34137
- Admission is $3 per car.
2. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
This Gainesville area state park is an expansive playground for hikers and bikers, but also for bison and wild horses. The park is large with no roads across it, so you have to choose whether to enter on the southern or northern end.
On the north end of the park is the deservedly famous La Chua Trail.
What you can reliably expect to see on the La Chua trail are alligators; they’re plentiful, fat and happy. They’re piled in a heap in the marsh area at the start of the trail, near the Alachua Sink, a natural sinkhole that drains water collected on the marsh into the aquifer. They’re also lurking in the weeds along the trail. (Watch your step.)
The La Chua Trail starts with a boardwalk with good views over the sink, the wetland and its wading birds. Beyond the boardwalk, a grassy trail extends 1.5 miles into the prairie with a wildlife viewing platform at the end.
While there’s no guarantee, this is a good places to spot wild horses, descendants of those brought to Florida by the Spanish.
The southern end of Paynes Prairie Preserve is the most likely place to see the park’s other famous residents — wild bison. At this southern end of Paynes Prairie, there are a half dozen trails to explore and an impressive visitor center with a 50-foot-high observation tower overlooking the prairie.
- Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
- 100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667.
- Admission is $6 per car
3. Little Big Econ State Forest
Some of the best hiking near Orlando can be found at the Little Big Econ State Forest, where bluffs along a scenic river add interest. The forest is 5,000 acres preserved in a suburban area in the middle of the triangle formed by Orlando, Cocoa and Daytona Beach.
You’ll find shady trails along the beautiful wild Econlockhatchee River, a major tributary of the St. Johns River and designated an Outstanding Florida Water. The Econ is a slow-moving tannic-colored river with some bluffs along its banks that add elevation changes to the riverside hike.
There are two main entrances with parking and good trail maps: The Barr Street Trailhead off SR 426 near Oviedo and Equestrian Trailhead and forest headquarters on Snowhill Road just east of there.
There are lots of hiking options: There are 16.3 miles of trails, including an 8-mile section of the Florida Trail and a straight trail called the Flagler Trail because it follows what was Henry Flagler’s historic railroad line.
We took the scenic Kolokee Loop Trail from the Barr Street Trailhead because it follows the river as it twists through the woods.
- Little Big Econ State Forest
- 1350 Snow Hill Rd, Geneva, FL 32732
- Admission: $2 per person
4. Tiger Creek Preserve
Tiger Creek Preserve, owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, is located in Florida’s “central highlands,” a beautiful, hilly landscape situated south the urban sprawl of Orlando.
Lake Wales Ridge once was an island poking up through an ancient shallow sea. It’s 150 miles long and, at its highest point, reaches 312 feet above sea level. It is Florida’s oldest and highest land mass. The ridge stretches from I-4 on the north to Lake Placid on the south, roughly along US 27.
The Nature Conservancy preserves the Tiger Creek parcel because it holds “one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered plants and animals in the country.” Plants grow here that are not found anywhere else; its defenders like to call this region America’s equivalent of the Galapagos Islands.
Located about 5 miles north of the little town of Frostproof, Tiger Creek Preserve is 4,869 acres with about 10 miles of trails. There are no restrooms, no water and no picnic tables. Admission is free.
Tiger Creek Preserve offers an excellent trail map and well-marked trails that are kept in good condition, with boards placed alongside mucky spots to provide a dryer route.
- Tiger Creek Preserve
- 674 Pfundstein Rd, Babson Park, FL 33827
- Admission: Free
5. Circle B Bar Reserve
Twenty minutes off I-4 between Orlando and Tampa, this is a wildlife preserve that one visitor called “a free safari.” It attracts thousands of migrating birds in winter, but it has more to offer than just excellent birding.
Wonderful and extensive trails wrap around Lake Hancock and through Banana Creek Marsh. An easy-to-read trail map is available, showing how Circle B Bar Reserve trails are broken into manageable segments. You can put together a loop totaling 6 miles or take a short stroll. The three-quarter-of-a mile Lost Bridge Trail, for example, is a loop under a canopy of oaks. Waterfront trails may bring you in close proximity to alligators.
Circle B Bar Reserve is especially terrific for birding from fall through spring, when nature photographers flock here to capture images of the huge white pelicans, tropical-pink spoonbills, leggy sandhill cranes, iconic bald eagles and dozens of other birds.
Admission is free.
- Circle B Bar Reserve
- 4399 Winter Lake Road
- Lakeland, FL
Florida hiking trails: More adventures
The Florida Rambler hiking section has dozens of other hiking (and biking) destinations. This article just highlights five of our favorites; there are so many others — find your own special spot.
Five favorite Florida hiking trails.
From the Editor:
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