Hiking South Florida and the Keys  by M. Timothy O'Keefe

Hiking South Florida and the Keys Guide Book

by M. Timothy O'Keefe (Falcon Guides)
Hiking South Florida and the Keys  by M. Timothy O'Keefe
Hiking South Florida and the Keys features thirty-nine of the finest trails the region has to offer, from wet cypress swamps to dry pinewood forests. Four sections—Short Family Hikes, Day and Overnight Hikes, Long Haulers, and Walking the Florida Keys—comprise this user-friendly guide. M. Timothy O’Keefe shares his top hikes in twenty-three prime areas, including Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Jonathan Dickenson State Park, Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and National Key Deer Refuge. Each hike includes all the information you need to make the most of exploring South Florida and the Keys on foot.

© 2009 M Timothy Oand39;Keefe/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Hiking South Florida and the Keys" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 39.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 39.

The 100-acre tract protects a freshwater marsh containing a series of five hiking/biking trails that thoroughly explore the area. The trails are of varying length, from 0.25 mile to 1.1 miles. The following description covers the 1.1-mile perimeter Red Trail that provides easy access to all other paths. The following description covers the 1.1-mile perimeter Red Trail that provides easy access to all other paths. From the Bailey Tract parking lot, take the common access trail to the kiosk with information about the habitat and the animals that live here. Then turn right to start the perimeter trail, which shares the path with the 1-mile Yellow Trail. You’ll immediately pass Ant Pond on the left, which the 0.25-mile Orange Trail encircles.
Sanibel, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.1
The one-hour Bayshore Loop hike leads to the remains of a small fishing village on Florida Bay. You’ll start on a leg of the Coastal Prairie Trail, an old cotton picker’s path created in the 1930s when the U.S. government decided to eradicate Florida’s native wild cotton plants that grow to tree height. The reason: to protect cotton elsewhere in the country because the native Florida cotton contained pink bollworms.
Florida City, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.3
Whether you drive or walk the Bear Lake access road, you’ll parallel the Homestead Canal, which was dredged to create a channel from Flamingo to Coot Bay. The limestone pulled out of the ground to make the waterway became the roadbed for Bear Lake Road. The canal is used today by paddlers and tour boats as well as those adventurous souls wanting to paddle the 100-mile long Wilderness Waterway, camping in Seminole-style chickees and rare dry ground along the route. Paddling the Wilderness Waterway is probably the single greatest adventure you can make in Florida since you have to be totally self-sufficient for at least a week.
Florida City, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.5
The Keys is an amazing place, but probably one of the most peculiar locations is Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys, the hub of the National Key Deer Refuge. The refuge, established in 1957, encompasses 8,542 acres that also includes part of adjacent No Name Key. Despite the building boom on Big Pine Key, 2,278 acres are still designated as wilderness. National Key Deer Refuge may be the only refuge dedicated anywhere to the white-tailed deer, a particularly diminutive variety of it. An estimated 800 of the animals, weighing no more than a large dog, survive on a handful of Lower Keys islands. The refuge has achieved remarkable success in bringing back the Key deer population from the 1940s when their number was only an estimated twenty-seven to fifty animals.
Big Pine Key, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.1
This hike also passes through scrub jay habitat as it passes through mesic pine flatwoods and scrubby flatwoods. This is a dry open area with lots of sand, which makes biking difficult in spots. The hike begins at the same trailhead as the Red Trail, which it shares for the first 0.5 mile. Then the Blue Trail goes right and after 0.5 mile turns right again to follow a hard-packed road until it meets the Yellow Trail and runs parallel to the Rails to Trails path.
Osprey, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.5
The slough, measuring 9 miles long and about 0.3 mile wide, is a natural wildlife corridor for white-tailed deer, bobcat, and turkey. Birds often present include ibis, bald eagles, snowy egrets, and warblers. Also look for raccoons and alligators. Six Mile Cypress Slough (pronounced “slew”) and the boardwalk at nearby Corkscrew Swamp are two of the longest elevated nature trails in the state. In addition to its considerable length, the Cypress Slough boardwalk has two observation platforms and a blind for early morning photography.
Fort Myers, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.2
The 11,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp, owned and operated by the National Audubon Society, protects the world’s largest remaining subtropical old-growth bald cypress forest. This northern tip of the Big Cypress Swamp contains towering bald cypress more than 130 feet high and as much as 700 years old; these are some of the oldest trees in eastern North America. The Audubon Society began protecting the swamp’s great egrets and wood storks from plumage hunters back in 1912. But it wasn’t until 1954 that society members began purchasing land to create the preserve. Their actions were timely. Although this was an isolated region back then, development encircles Corkscrew Swamp today. The 2.25-mile boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp takes you through the world’s largest remaining subtropical old-growth bald cypress forest.
Immokalee, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.25
This popular park near Sarasota features North America’s first canopy walkway located in a subtropical forest. Canopy walkways have a sound scientific value, offering a way to study forest treetops that otherwise would be difficult to reach. Forests have been compared to giant stands of lollipops with all the sugar production taking place high overhead. And the birds, insects, and other animals that depend on them also spend much of their time well away from the ground. The Canopy Trail is a short spur on the William S. Boylston Nature Trail, which explores a mix of open prairies, wetlands, and hardwood hammock. Both trails may be underwater during summer and fall due to rain.
Sarasota, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.8
South Florida has many nature boardwalks, but to me Cypress Swamp Boardwalk is one of the most scenic as well as one of the best for spotting wildlife. What makes this cypress swamp so special is the heavy concentration of giant leather ferns, the largest fern in North America. Growing up to 14 feet tall, they do deserve their “leather” name. Examine the underside of a fertile frond: The rust-brown spores covering the underside do indeed look like suede leather. Alligators are often out sunning in the ponds in front of the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk at the visitor center.
Delray Beach, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.45
Until recently, the 26,400-acre Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge had been as hard to enter as Fort Knox. Established in 1989 and located 20 miles east of Naples, the refuge has understandably guarded its property closely. So few of Florida’s large cats remain in the wild—estimated between sixty to one hundred adults statewide— the refuge was crucial for them to continue to follow their secretive ways. Comprising 5,000 acres of woodland and 11,400 acres of mixed swamp and prairie, borders of the refuge near highway traffic have high wire fences that rival those of some state prisons. But the fence is not to keep out the public; it’s to prevent the great cats from crossing a busy highway and becoming another accident statistic, a too frequent occurrence in the past.
Immokalee, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1
This 11,500-acre park is named for Jonathan Dickinson, who in 1696 was shipwrecked about 5 miles from here. Dickinson was probably one of the first Europeans to sample palmetto berries, a staple of the local Jaegas Indians diet. He reported, “They taste like rotten cheese steeped in tobacco juice.” Obviously the berries are an acquired taste. This trail follows a varied path, first going through sand pine scrub, then across Old Dixie Highway (old US 1), and into stands of live oak. The Scrub Jay campsite is about 5 miles in, including the side trail to the site.
Hobe Sound, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 9.8
This is just a 0.5-mile loop, but it can be loaded with birds and animals. As this is a freshwater pond quite close to Florida Bay, you’ll normally see wading birds, songbirds, alligators, and other wildlife. The best bird watching is early and late in the day, from the ramped viewing platform. This is also an exceptional spot for bird photography since this is a popular rookery. The facility was badly damaged by recent storms and, as this is written, still closed; which makes it impossible to identify any significant landmarks along the trail.
Florida City, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.5
Adjacent to the DuPuis Management Area, the J. W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area is home to a wide array of wildlife, including red-cockaded woodpeckers, bald eagles, deer, and wild hogs. In spring and summer, wildflowers transform the landscape with dramatic color. This is wilderness hiking where you may need to wade low areas after heavy rains. Carry plenty of water; none is available along the trail or at the campsites.
Indiantown, FL - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 28 miles
Long Key, a narrow ribbon of park containing 965 acres, could just as easily have been named Narrow Key. In some places the oceanfront boundary is only a hundred yards from U.S. Highway 1, and the traffic is clearly visible from the beach. The Spanish called Long Key Cayo Vivora, meaning “Rattlesnake Key.” Fortunately, this description applied more to the shape of the island—a rattlesnake with its jaws open—than the resident fauna. Wading birds and raccoons are the most commonly seen animals.
Layton, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.03
The Green Trail will take you through scrubby flatwoods and mesic pine flatwoods. It is considered the best biking trail in the park. At the start, the path crosses South Creek by bridge and leads to the campground. After passing several campsites, it follows an unpaved road that leads to a gate. Any chain is to block motorized vehicles. Walk around it to enter Florida scrub jay habitat with little tree canopy. Just beyond the gate at bench 13 you can take an unpaved road of about a mile that rejoins the Green Trail. This side trail goes through pine flatwoods where gopher tortoises are common. The slash pines still show evidence of the turpentine industry of the early 1900s when the bark was exposed so sticky resin could be collected.
Sanibel, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
For most visitors, the Keys begin with their arrival in Key Largo via U.S. Highway 1. However, there is another way into the Keys via Card Sound Road, which will deliver you to this little known but ecologically important Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. Located on the site of a failed tourist resort, the 2,500-acre park contains the largest contiguous tract of subtropical West Indian hardwood hammock remaining in the United States. With more than eighty species, this small park contains a greater diversity of trees than some entire states. A self-guided walk takes you past species rarely seen outside the Caribbean, including forty-four protected plants and animals such as the Schaus swallowtail butterfly and Key Largo wood rat.
Key Largo, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.11
The 1.2-mile Hungryland Boardwalk and Trail provides a good, capsulated look of the massive 60,228-acre J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area. A natural path links to a series of boardwalks to pass through pine flatwoods, saw grass marsh, an oak/cabbage palm hammock, and a cypress swamp. Along the trail you could see white-tailed deer or bobcats, river otters, raccoons, pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, screech owls, herons, egrets, and common yellowthroats. Interpretive signs mark the trail. The trail goes through an edge of Hungryland Slough (pronounced “slew”), a shallow basin of slow-moving water populated with cypress domes and open grassy meadows.
Indiantown, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.2
The trail quickly moves onto a boardwalk that goes through a tropical hammock and then a mangrove forest. Once you cross the Wildlife Drive, you’ll start a shell path that will be in open sun except in early morning. The trail follows the top of a mosquito impoundment. According to legend, Sanibel was the worst place for mosquitoes in the lower United States with 365,000 of the blood suckers caught in just a single night in a single trap in the 1950s. It is not nearly as bad today, but need we say take bug spray? Unfortunately, the foliage blocks the water for the much of the initial walk, making it difficult to see the birds so common here. But pay attention to the mangrove roots and branches since there is always the opportunity to see birds that have decided to wander off the beaten path.
Sanibel, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.8
Located along the northeastern edge of the Everglades in Martin and Palm Beach Counties, much of this 21,900-acre area was drained for pastureland and used to raise Dutch white-belted cattle, sheep, and goats. DuPuis Management Area is owned by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), which intends to restore these wetlands, and is managed in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A 15-mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST), divided into four stacked loops, goes through the area, which contains many rare and endangered species, including the Florida panther.
Port Mayaca, FL - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 15.3
This boardwalk trail is noted for the nation’s largest mahogany tree, with a girth of 12 feet and a height of 90 feet. You start by walking over a wetlands area that forms a Y junction as it enters the hammock. In the cradle of the Y is a short mahogany tree that’s become the most recognized symbol of this trail and all the Everglades. The aged tree is notable for the thick network of strangler figs that engulf it. To see the champion tree, go straight at this junction. The giant mahogany tree is on the left after just a short distance, where the boardwalk suddenly veers left. Mahogany hammocks like this one are rare today in Florida.
Florida City, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.5