Hiking Central Florida  by M. Timothy O'Keefe

Hiking Central Florida Guide Book

by M. Timothy O'Keefe (Falcon Guides)
Hiking Central Florida  by M. Timothy O'Keefe
Hiking Central Florida describes thirty of the region’s best and most varied hikes, those that offer the chance to observe unspoiled, natural Florida at its finest. With terrain ranging from wet cypress swamps to dry pinewood forests, and the region offers subtly striking scenery and it harbors rich diversity. Cover the area from Ocala to State Road 60 near lake Wales and Yeehaw Junction- and also embracing the northern stretch of the Florida Trail in the Ocala National Forest and the Bulow Plantation/Bulow Creek hike on the Atlantic coast- this user-friendly guide takes you from short family hikes in places such as Canaveral national Seashore, to backpackers’ delights. It provides all the information you need to make the most of exploring Central Florida by foot.

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

Trails from the "Hiking Central Florida" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 30.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 30.

The West Indian manatee is believed to be the basis of the mermaid legend because of its humanlike face and broad beaverlike tail. Manatees, which may weigh as much as a ton, eat up to a hundred pounds of vegetation every day. They once ranged from North Carolina to Texas, but destruction of their habitat through development and pollution has drastically reduced their population. Only Florida has a resident population of manatees believed to number somewhere around 3,300 animals, which qualifies them for the endangered list. The manatee, once a four-footed land creature, is a close relative of the elephant. A manatee’s front flippers still have vestiges of what would have been nails. Manatees have no natural enemies, although human progress has certainly endangered their chances for survival. The boardwalk at Blue Spring State Park offers a remarkable look at as many as 140 (it keeps increasing!) of the animals in the clear spring water when they flee the neighboring St. Johns River for the warmer 72-degree waters of the spring run each winter.
Orange City, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 1
The entry in Short Family Hikes for the Boardwalk Trail in Blue Spring State Park near Orlando described the history of the West Indian manatee and the boardwalk trail beside the spring run that the endangered mammals inhabit during the cool winter months. Now it’s time to get into the real outdoors and a true wilderness hike through an undisturbed area bordering the St. Johns River. You’ll end up at a primitive campsite beside the river.
Orange City, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 8
A short but striking section of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) encompasses ruins of Florida’s largest sugar mill, destroyed in 1836 during the Second Seminole War. Altogether, there were three Seminole Wars in Florida. The Seminoles were never defeated and never signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government. No other Indian tribe can make that claim. The plantation hike can be done in several ways. The easiest is to drive down Plantation Road, park at the Plantation House site, and walk the quarter mile to the sugar mill ruins.
Flagler Beach, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.8
Located 3 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, Caladesi Island is one of Florida’s largest undeveloped barrier islands. Its magnificent beach has been included on the list of America’s Best Beaches six times since 2002, finally ranking as number 1 in the entire nation in 2008. So you know the sands here will be extra fine. Caladesi Island can be reached only by boat, which makes it one of the state’s most remote hiking sites. Fortunately, you don’t need your own craft to reach it. A scheduled ferry runs frequently from nearby Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area. Those who do have their own boats can overnight at the island’s 108-slip marina or anchor offshore.
Dunedin, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
The distance from the Florida/Georgia border to Key West is more than 500 miles. For all that distance, the longest stretch of undeveloped beach remaining on Florida’s east coast is the 25-mile strip of barrier island known as Canaveral National Seashore. When the Kennedy Space Center was developed on Merritt Island in the early 1960s, NASA found it had far more land than it needed. So, NASA invited two other government agencies to help manage the area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge as a sanctuary for wintering waterfowl in 1963, and in 1975 the National Park Service created Canaveral National Seashore. The Seashore’s close connection to the space program is still obvious: its southernmost boundary is in plain view of one of the space shuttle launch pads.
New Smyrna Beach, FL - Fishing,Hiking - Trail Length: 1
Although Ponce de Leon probably never tasted the spring waters here, an 1889 advertisement promised visitors that the soda- and sulphur-impregnated waters would act as a veritable fountain of youth. If this were true, you would expect to see a lot of really old people around since the area has been occupied off and on for the past 8,000 years. In fact, one of the oldest canoes ever discovered in the United States, a 6,000-year-old dugout, was found here. A 5-mile section of the Florida Trail loops through a scenic landscape of hammocks, flood plains, and fields. Don’t forget to check out the park’s famous pancake restaurant before or after your walk. Tarzan would probably find more vines to swing from in Central Florida than Africa. Produced by strangler figs, the vines can easily hold the weight of a person.
De Leon Springs, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 5
Despite its name, this 12,000-acre tract is not part of the huge Disney World holding. Instead, it is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which is returning the property to more of a wetlands condition. Disney’s name is connected to the preserve thanks to the U.S. Clean Water Act, which requires wetlands damaged by human activity to be mitigated (replaced) elsewhere. The Disney Preserve is a mitigation project established in 1992 with an initial purchase of 8,500 acres. More acreage has since been added by other businesses that also had to compensate for disturbing natural wetlands areas. Their names, however, have not been added to the preserve’s title, perhaps to their relief. Six miles of hiking and interpretive trails are laid out on about 700 acres.
Poinciana, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.4
This 2,300-acre preserve located near Leesburg encompasses two wooded islands (Flat Island and Magnolia Island) and a huge wetland known as the Okahumpka Marsh. Of the two islands, Flat Island is the most accessible place for hiking, with three shaded loop trails created and maintained by the Florida Trail Association. Magnolia Island’s trails and primitive camping are accessible only by boat via the canal system from the Flat Island Boardwalk. Canoe rentals are available if you decide to venture there. Make advance arrangements with the Lake County Water Authority and download a canoe use permit ahead of time.
Leesburg, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.5
Located in Seminole County between the towns of Oviedo and Seminole, the 180-acre Geneva Wilderness Area offers a good variety of scenery as its system of red-blazed loop trails cross and border a shallow pond and travel into pastures and swampland. The native plant communities range from mixed hardwood swamp and mesic hammocks (sort of in-between a dry and wet hammock) to xeric oak, or lowgrowing oaks punctuated with bare white sand areas. Animals you could sight here include gopher tortoise, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and grey fox.
Geneva, FL - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 1.8
Hillsborough River is famous for its two small sets of rapids created by outcrops of Suwannee limestone. Although not a cause for excitement for most visitors, the chance to hear rapids while hiking (or boating) is virtually unknown in Florida. These are ranked as Florida’s only Class II rapids, but that rating seems generous. The river does flow fairly swiftly here, and swimming is not permitted. The 3,738- acre park features a Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) loop of just over 3 miles as well as short nature trails, combining for a possible total of 7.3 miles through one of Florida’s most scenic state parks. The featured hike below of 5.8 miles links the River Rapids, Baynard, and Florida Trails. Not very impressive but this is the largest set of rapids in Central Florida.
Thonotosassa, FL - Birding,Hiking - Trail Length: 5.8
With miles of white sand beach, this island has 3 miles of trails worth exploring, especially if the weather is acting up and the boat ride to Caladesi looks too rough. The island contains more than 200 species of plants in its mangrove swamps, sea grass beds, salt marshes, tidal flats, and sand dunes. It also contains one of the few remaining virgin, uncut stands of South Florida slash pine. Honeymoon Island has two connected loop trails that parallel each other. The Osprey Trail leads through one of the last remaining stands of south Florida virgin slash pine. Extending north from the Osprey Trail is the Pelican Cove Trail. Ideally, you will make this walk as a loop. Sometimes, however, the Pelican Cove Trail can be quite wet toward the end, and you may want to take one of the side trails that will take you east and back to the drier Osprey Trail.
Dunedin, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
Hontoon may not be Robinson Crusoe’s island, but in the mushrooming central Florida region, it’s the next best thing. Hontoon Island has no land access—visitors arrive by boat. The Park Service provides free ferry service, every fifteen minutes, across the narrow river channel separating the 1,650-acre park from the mainland. Just stand on the dock to attract the boatman’s attention. The ferry, which runs from 8:00 a.m. until one hour before sunset, is large enough to carry just people, no cars. The only motorized vehicles on the island belong to park personnel. The island’s featured hike, the Indian Mound Nature Trail, leads to a huge Indian shell midden made from tiny snail shells, left by generations of Timucuan Indians, who hunted and fished here for perhaps as long as 3,000 years.
DeLand, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.2
Depending on your interests, trail hiking may become secondary in this 5,930-acre park. Fishermen will enjoy Lake Kissimmee, rated one of the top largemouth bass waters in the entire country. Numerous high-money fishing tournaments have been held on the lake. A boat ramp is available in the park. Fishing is typically best March through May but can be quite productive year-round. A Florida fishing license is required.
Lake Wales, FL - Fishing,Hiking - Trail Length: 6.3
This 21,574-acre refuge offers some of the state’s best waterfowl viewing, thanks to a series of dikes that meander around three large lake-size pools. The refuge is a good place for a family outing. The walks vary in length from a 0.5-mile loop walk to the featured hike, a 6-mile round-trip. The banks around the pools are popular for fishing. Local residents often bring folding chairs and ice chests and spend the day.
De Leon Springs, FL - Fishing,Hiking - Trail Length: 6
The 5,048-acre forest is part of a wildlife-roaming corridor, including the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area and other state lands that will create a 100-mile-long wildlife passage from State Road 46 and the Florida Turnpike. The Econlockhatchee River, a name that normally is shortened simply to the “Econ,” is a blackwater river that meanders through some of the least developed parts of central Florida, a region where open spaces are becoming more and more of a premium. About half the hike parallels the Econ River, which can be fished from the bank. The Econ is a designated Outstanding Florida Waterway, deemed worthy of special protection because of its natural attributes. This hike is one of the region’s best waterway walks, with several primitive campsites. You have two choices: the state forest’s Kolokee Trail described here or a longer hike on a segment of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST). The trails overlap only slightly.
Oviedo, FL - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 4.8
This easy walk makes a nice, short stop for those traveling on Florida’s west coast. The Little Manatee River divides the 2,400-acre park into two sections. The southern part, with its developed campground, horse trail, and canoe launch, is what most people see. That’s because the northern half is open only to controlled foot traffic. Hikers must stop at the ranger station (open at 8:00 a.m.) to get the lock combination to enter the parking area at the trailhead. This leg of the Florida National Scenic Trail is considered the finest hiking for miles around. But during the summer rains, it can be extremely wet, so check ahead.
Wimauma, FL - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.3
Created from excess National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) land during the development of the U.S. space exploration program, the 140,000-acre Merritt Island Refuge is Central Florida’s principal wildlife habitat. Essentially, it is a huge expanse of chest-high salt marsh grass (with accompanying mosquitoes; carry mosquito repellent at all times) punctuated by small ponds and hammocks, and mosquito control dikes dating from the 1950s. The Cruickshank Trail, featured below, leads to some of the prime bird habitat. Over 500 species of wildlife inhabit the refuge, with 15 listed as federally threatened or endangered. In addition, the refuge contains several wading bird rookeries, 2,500 Florida scrub jays, 10 active bald eagle nests, and numerous osprey nests. During spring months, several hundred manatees may swim in the nearby Indian River.
Titusville, FL - Birding,Hiking - Trail Length: 5
The 389,000-acre Ocala National Forest was the first designated national forest east of the Mississippi River. The Big Scrub, as it is affectionately known, is the world’s largest stand of sand pine scrub forest. It also contains one of the most scenic extensions of the Florida National Scenic Trail, a 75-mile leg that’s considered the “crown jewel” of the system. Divided into two main sections, north and south, the trail passes through rolling hills and longleaf pine forests, skirts as many as sixty ponds, and ventures into numerous cypress and gum swamps.
Palatka, FL - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 34
The Ocala South Trail traverses mostly pine and hardwood forests, offering one of Florida’s drier hiking routes. It passes through Farles Prairie, a huge grassy expanse that’s often an excellent place for spotting wildlife. You can increase your likelihood of spotting early-morning wildlife by camping here. Pine trees and saw palmetto characterize much of the Florida Trail’s southern section in the Ocala National Forest.
Salt Springs, FL - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 38.4
Located in the all-important Wekiva River Basin, the 25,812-acre Seminole State Forest is one of the last black bear strongholds in central Florida. Around fifty of the animals are believed to move in and out of the basin regularly. The forest contains all thirteen of the region’s natural communities, including 1,725 acres of sand pine scrub, a true scarcity outside the Ocala National Forest. The forest contains more than 21 miles of hiking trails, including the featured hike—a section of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) that runs north-south through the length of the forest. There also are three loop trails: River Creek, Sulphur Island, and Paola Loops. The Lower Wekiva Loop Trail and Sulphur Island Loop are included in the Florida Division of Forestry’s Trailwalker Program.
Eustis, FL - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 7.5