8 of the Best Section Hikes on the Florida Trail

A prehistoric walk in the woods along the Florida Trail
A prehistoric walk in the woods along the Florida Trail B A Bowen Photography
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The hiking season in Florida is somewhat backwards from much of the United States. While most hikers in northern states hit the trails and backcountry during the summer, Florida hikers are just now planning their big treks. The fall means cool, yet pleasant, temps and fewer mosquitos and no-see-ums—which is always a plus.

If you're considering heading out on the Florida National Scenic Trail, also known as the Florida Trail, a 1,300-mile route that runs from Big Cypress National Preserve at the southern end of the state all the way north to the Panhandle, we’ve got you covered. (At least for the central part of the state, that is.)

Here, we bring you some of the best section hikes along the eastern corridor of the trail's central region. Happy hiking!

1. Alexander Springs to Farles Lake

Trail marker in the Central Region of the Florida Trail
Trail marker in the Central Region of the Florida Trail United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service

The Trail

If you’re new to Florida hiking, the Big Scrub, the largest sand pine scrub ecosystem in the world, will be an exciting discovery. Scrub terrain consists of sandy soil, shrubs, and dwarf oak, and it's essentially a desert-like environment. You’ll go right through it on the 8.4-mile section of trail from Alexander Springs to Farles Lake. You'll see a unique side of the normally lush state as you make your way through the dry yet scenic stretch. Bring plenty of water because, even in the fall, it can get hot.

Wildlife

The wide open spaces and various ponds make for perfect wildlife viewing areas. Birds soar high in the air while deer and other game graze in the fields and grab a drink of water from the water sources.

Camping

Alexander Springs Campground charges $21 a night per camp spot and you get full use of the amenities like flushing toilets, bathhouse, plus the spring is awesome for swimming.

Camping is allowed at Farles Lake during the fall hunting season for $5 a night. There are 10 available spots available and be ready to share the area with eager hunters.

2. Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs

Pine forests tend to have vegetation close to the ground and pine boughs up high. Sticking to the trail is the best way to enjoy the view and avoid sharp-edged leaves
Pine forests tend to have vegetation close to the ground and pine boughs up high. Sticking to the trail is the best way to enjoy the view and avoid sharp-edged leaves Florida Hikes

The Trail

As you head further north on the Florida Trail, the scenery changes from thick oak trees to tall, slender pines. Orange pine needles cover the ground giving you a feeling of fall as the richly scented pine needles crunch beneath your feet. This area also makes for a great place to string a hammock to relax beneath the tall pine trees while watching the clouds float by above. Blazed in 1966, this well maintained, 11-mile stretch is one of the oldest sections of the Florida Trail.

Wildlife

This stretch of trail is in the middle of bear country, so you can practice your tracking skills. Look for paw prints in the dirt sections of the trail, and keep an eye out for scat.

Camping

Alexander Springs Campground can be your home for a second night after exploring this stretch of trail.

3. Pat’s Island to Hidden Pond

One of the views you'll see at Hidden Pond and the Hidden Pond Campground
One of the views you'll see at Hidden Pond and the Hidden Pond Campground United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service

The Trail

Thru-hikers and day hikers alike enjoy this 8.4-mile section of the trail, making it more crowded than other areas. But it's crowded for good reason. Situated within the Juniper Wilderness Area and part of the Ocala National Forest, this stretch of the Florida Trail is home to scrub forests, young oaks, pines, and prairies. It's a dry, expansive stretch of trail, so be sure to pack lots of water.

Wildlife

It's common to see deer grazing and running through the fields of Juniper Wilderness Area. Bring your binoculars to admire them from a distance.

Camping

Parking is free, but camping is not allowed at Pat's Island. There is one primitive campsite available at Hidden Pond for no charge.

4. Hopkins Prairie to Salt Springs

Long Leaf Pines reflect in one of the ponds at Hopkins Prairie
Long Leaf Pines reflect in one of the ponds at Hopkins Prairie United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service

The Trail

Pulling up to the Hopkins Prairie parking area doesn't give an appropriate sense of the area's beauty. Within minutes of hitting the trail, the land opens up into a jaw-dropping, big sky vista.

Wildlife

Keep your camera ready for shots of sandhill cranes and eagles soaring overhead, as you hike through the rambling wetlands prairie. You'll need a long lens, like a 70-200mm, to get a good shot of them strutting through the grass or soaring mid flight.

Camping

Hopkins Prairie Campground is a short .4 mile hike from the trail and offers campsites for $10 a night with minimal facilities. Check with the forest service for availability before you start pitching your tent.

Salt Springs State Park rents out campsites for $20 and change a night, but it can be well worth it considering the nice warm showers, flushing toilets, and dump station at the campground.

5. Chuluota Wilderness to Joshua Creek

The Trail

One of the newer stretches of the Florida Trail, this 4.3-mile section travels through high, dry pine scrub, and back downhill to the flood plains. The trail's really well maintained, but the flood plains portions of the trail may be underwater after heavy rains. It doesn't rain as much during the fall, so you should be able to hike on a dry trail throughout this time.

Wildlife

Come to see the big wildlife and leave happy to have seen the smaller wildlife. The dense vegetation is a terrific home to small creatures and lots of butterflies.

Camping

Backpackers will love the primitive overnight campsite at the Joshua Creek Trailhead. Anyone looking to park at the Joshua Creek Trailhead will need to pay the standard $2 fee.

6. Mills Creek

This board walk and picnic area is the perfect place to stop for a snack and enjoy the scenery.
This board walk and picnic area is the perfect place to stop for a snack and enjoy the scenery. Out in the Boonies

The Trail

Don't mistake the short, two-mile length of this section of trail for easy. Dense vegetation makes navigation somewhat difficult. Keep an eye out for trail markers and you'll stay on course. Filled with colors and variety, this area is so scenic, it will leave you stopping to just take it all in.

Wildlife

Hike this trail for the terrain and the flora. The dense vegetation makes it tough to spot "intriguing" animals like deer, fox and bobcats. Instead you're more than likely to see some insect and arachnids.

Camping

There's no reason not to spend a night here with a free campsite and picnic table at your disposal. It is primitive camping, so be ready to use the restroom amongst the other animals in nature.

7. Little Big Econ State Forest

One of the trail markers you'll see in the Central Region of the Florida Trail
One of the trail markers you'll see in the Central Region of the Florida Trail http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/fnst/home/?cid=STELPRDB5415163

The Trail

Not only will you see some great wildlife, but you’ll get a good workout, as this is the most rugged section of the Trail. Hike it or lace up your running shoes and hit this section as a fresh training route for your next marathon or half marathon.  If 10 miles is more than you want to undertake, there are additional access points to shorten the distance.

Wildlife

Skirting the banks of the Econlockhatchee River, this 10-mile stretch of trail gives you the best chance for seeing some of Florida’s most interesting wildlife. Alligators patrol this river on the regular and can be seen sunning themselves on the banks. Turtles hangout on downed logs, and there are lots of birds.

Camping

There is no camping allowed in the Little Big Econ Forest.

8. Seminole State Forest

A prehistoric walk in the woods
A prehistoric walk in the woods B A Bowen Photography

Hike in after work for a night under the stars, hike out at first light and you can be back in the office with the fresh smell of a campfire as your scent for the day! From a dense wooded forest to wide-open spaces, this is one of the finest section hikes on the Florida Trail. Not only is it diverse, it’s also one of the older sections, giving it some well-established character.

The Trail

Being so close to Orlando, you’d never expect to find 7.8 miles of trail with such a wide variety of vegetation. Hop on I4 headed east and within 30 minutes you'll be at the trailhead. There is a $2 entry fee. The narrow trail winds through dense woods, to the point that you'll start wishing the trail would open up, and voila, you've got wide open wilderness. The trail dive back into dense vegetation and follows this pattern during the entire 7.8 mile hike. This is also a great stretch of trail to get away from the city for a night.

Wildlife

Deer roam these wide open spaces and if you're quiet enough you can view them from a distance. Black bears also roam the woods so watch out and make sure you mind your distance should you encounter one of these massive mammals.

Camping

There are four primitive campsites designated for hikers only, all of which could easily hold 10 campers. Check with the forest service for any prescribed burns and whether or not it's safe, due to the amount of rain or lack thereof, to have a campfire in a designated fire ring.

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