I’ve been on the Florida Trail (also known as the Florida National Scenic Trail) here and there, by way of some side trails, but not until I got on at the Cassia Trailhead in Lake County this past weekend did I truly appreciate how unique it really is. A designated National Scenic Trail, the Florida Trail spans some 1,300 or so miles from Pensacola Beach all the way to the Everglades. I didn’t realize that the trail is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails and is not yet complete, with several gaps. An indispensable resource for hikers wishing to set out onto the Florida Trail or any of the other wonderful trails here in Florida, is Florida Hikes. They quite literally wrote the book. The Florida Trail: The Official Hiking Guide will inspire to you get out there and have an adventure of your own!
Living in and around Orlando, urban encroachment has made it difficult to actually feel like you’re all alone out in the wilderness. Not so in the Seminole State Forest. I was amazed at the vast meadows that seemed to stretch on forever before being met with clumps of trees. To feel completely out in the open in Florida is a rare thing. I’m used to trails that are narrow and fairly closed in by trees. This was a nice change.
Chewy’s new owners live near this area and I was jealous of all of their fantastic hiking photos, so I decided it was time to see this area for myself. Rama hadn’t been out hiking for a long time anyway, and I was excited at the prospect of getting photos of mama and son out on the trail together. Chewy has grown so much. I can’t believe he is nearing his first birthday! They remembered each other and even posed for this wonderful photo:
It had been a while since I’d hiked anywhere–since Springer Mountain last October–besides the neighborhood, and I was so ready for it. Once October hits, it’s a blur of kid birthdays and holidays for the next three months. I’ve been lucky enough to go offroading a few times, but nothing beats being out in the woods with the dogs. I needed space. I needed to purge myself of some stress and feel connected to my girl and something bigger than my worries. We almost didn’t go out that day, as it was pouring rain over most of Central Florida just hours before. I’m glad we did because it was gorgeous. Temperatures in the 50s and slightly windy; it was a beautiful day to be out on the trail. The only thing that would have made it better was to have had several days to camp and hike out there.
About 3 miles in we came across a pretty decent shelter. It looked to be in good shape and was very clean. It had bunk beds, a table, chandelier frame with hooks (lamp holder?), and even a broom in the corner. The screen appeared to be intact (a must here in Florida) and there was a large fire pit and second picnic table outside. There was room for several tents in the clearing as well. It was here that we decided to stop for a snack.
We did a total of 7 miles, out and back. We probably would have gone further if we hadn’t come across a large puddle across the trail that neither of us wanted to traverse. It was swampy all around (neither of us were wearing waterproof boots) so we decided to turn back at that point. We passed one other hiker that day, headed south.
With diverse wildlife–everything from alligators to venomous snakes to bears–and amazing plant life, this trail is a must for anyone wanting to see what Florida has to offer. To mark the trail’s 50th anniversary, 34 hikers set off from Big Cypress Swamp between January 6th and 9th to hike the entire trail, either hiking straight through or by sectioning it. You can follow along with them here.