Exploring the Florida National Scenic Trail
The Florida National Scenic Trail travels from Pensacola at the west edge of the state south to the Everglades National Park. Along the trail, you’ll find multiple parks and natural features that can only be found in climate that exists in Florida. If you love nature and want to know more about this unique topography, flora and fauna, traveling this trail is a great goal.
Preserves and Parks Along the Way
From the southern end of the trail north, you will get to see
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Lake Okeechobee Sanctuaries
- Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
- Withlachoochee State Forest
- Ocala National Forest
- Osceola National Forest
- Aucilla Wildlife Management Area
- Apalachicola National Forest
Along the way, you’ll find great hiking, RV camping, tent camping, birding and wildlife photography. Be aware that this trail is 1400 miles if you choose to hike the full path, so be ready to break your hike up into manageable bits.
When to Go
Thru-hiking experts recommend taking this trail from October through April. There’s a large thru-hiking celebration that kicks off in January. If you prefer to travel this trail in short bursts rather than a long thru-hike, there are several towns along the Florida National Scenic Trail that offer RV camping, tent camping, or a hotel stay.
What to See
Historians will love a stop at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. This park contains the site of a battle that occurred on February 20, 1864. The Olustee battle was the largest battle fought in the state of Florida. If you want to camp in the area, check out Lake City RV Park, Island Oaks Resort, or Casey Jones RV Park. While in the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, remember to leave no trace. There is no camping inside this park and you must pack in and pack out all supplies and trash.
This trail passes very close to Gainesville. Plan a trip to the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Devil’s Millhopper. A winter vacation in Florida will require some very good walking shoes! Here, you can stay at the Grand Lakes Parks, Chiefland RV Park, or Silver Springs RV Park.
South of Gainesville, you can either head west over to Spring Hill or hike the Seminole State Forest to the east. The eastern route will take you close to Orlando. If you want to visit Disney World, book your stay at the Tropical Palms, the Orland RV Resort, or the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort if you’re comfortable with a clothing optional stay. The trail near Orlando is not clothing optional.
Lake Okeechobee is the next big stop to the south of Orlando. Bring your binoculars; this body of water is the headwaters of the Everglades. As the glades have been developed and dried out, there is actually quite a bit of solid ground between Okeechobee and the glades proper to the southwest. However, Florida gets a lot of rain. If you’re hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail, be very sure that you have sturdy, waterproof shoes to keep your feet dry on the trail.
While the hiking will be good and the birding will be amazing, don’t bring your kayak. There are many alligators in this lake; you want to stay on the trail and out of the water. RV parks in this area include Water’s Edge RV Resort, Villa Margaret, and Crooked Hook. Do book your RV stay with care; many parks have one name but multiple sites around the lake edge.
The trail ends at the Big Cypress National Preserve. Hiking the Big Cypress will test you. You may need to do some wading, you will be facing some tall grass on the cypress prairie, and you will be walking among the cypress trees. Because cypress trees generate “knees” or elevated areas of roots caused by high water, be prepared for rough ground. Trekking poles are a good idea on this hike.
Your time on the Florida National Scenic doesn’t have to be a thru-hike. You can drive the center of the state, stop and see some terrific sites, stay in lovely parks, and get in a healthy hike at various sites on the trail. Make sure you get the necessary permits to be on the trail.
For more information, visit the Florida Trail Association or the USDA Forest Service. Both sites have an interactive map and information to help plan your hike!