Hiking the Florida Trail through the Ocala National Forest on the Western Corridor
|Established||October 29, 1966|
|Length||1400 mi (2253 km)|
|Designation||National Scenic Trail|
|Trailheads||Big Cypress National Preserve
Fort Pickens at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach
|Hazards||Alligators, Venomous Snakes, Feral Dogs, Bears|
One of eleven National Scenic Trails in the United States, the Florida Trail is a footpath spanning 1,400 miles (2,300 km) from Big Cypress National Preserve (between Miami and Naples, Florida along the Tamiami Trail) to Fort Pickens at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach. Also known as the Florida National Scenic Trail (which applies only to its federally certified segments), the Florida Trail provides hiking and backpacking opportunities within an hour of most Floridians.
With its first blaze marked at Clearwater Lake Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest, the Florida Trail began on October 29, 1966, established by members of the Florida Trail Association. Working in partnership with the trail's federal manager, the USDA Forest Service, and land managers throughout the state of Florida, the Florida Trail Association continues to provide the support of thousands of volunteers to build, maintain, and protect this recreational resource.
In the early 1960s, Miami resident Jim Kern headed to North Carolina with his brother for a hike on the Appalachian Trail. Returning to Florida and knowing there was nowhere near his home to go backpacking, he envisioned a 500-mile (800 km) hiking trail across Florida. He founded the Florida Trail Association and encouraged members to join him in the vision of creating a trail across the state. His initial hike, a media event for the Miami Herald, took him from the wilds of Big Cypress to Highlands Hammock State Park near Sebring, Florida. By October 1966, Kern had spoken with the managers of the Ocala National Forest and received permission to start blazing a hiking trail. The Florida Trail has been underway as a volunteer-driven construction project ever since. Like many other National Scenic Trails, the Florida Trail has been built in disconnected segments, created in a corridor where public land (or easements granted by private individuals) is available to route the trail.
The 1,400-mile (2,300 km) linear Florida Trail consists of the following segments:
- Big Cypress
- Ocean to Lake Trail
- Eastern Corridor
- Western Corridor
- North Florida
- Big Bend
- Central Panhandle
- Western Gate
Proposed Reduction in Trail Length
In 2012, the Forest Service proposed setting a final route designation for the Florida Trail. It would move the southern terminus from Loop Road north to US 41, remove the complete circumference around Lake Okeechobee from the route, and remove the western portion of the trail which bypasses metropolitan Orlando. Critics argue it represents a change in the emphasis for the Florida Trail from a hiking-oriented wilderness pathway to one which encompasses biking and equestrian activities.
Media reports of criminal activity in the Ocala National Forest peaked in the mid-2000s, but a concerted effort by National Forest personnel, including closing many smaller roads to vehicle traffic and evicting squatters, has improved the situation greatly.
On many parts of the trail you may encounter wildlife that may pose a danger to life and health, including unrestrained or feral dogs, bears, snakes, wild boar, and alligators.
- "Ladytrekker", Donna. "Changes to Florida Trail". WhiteBlaze.net Forum. WhiteBlaze.net. Retrieved 14 September 2012.
- Florida Trail Association
- Florida Greenways & Trails Guide
- American Trails: Florida
- GORP.com: Florida National Scenic Trail
- Trailjournals.com: Read what it's like to hike the Florida Trail