Florida is a haven of biodiversity, with 81 distinct biological communities. It’s one of the best reasons to hike in Florida: an ever-changing landscape.
At Florida’s southern tip, trees indigenous to the Caribbean grow in thick, tangled jungles, and endemic tree snails creep slowly up the limbs of smooth-barked trees. At Florida’s northern border, you’ll find trillium and columbines in bloom each spring, and rhododendron and mountain laurel nodding over the banks of clear sand-bottomed streams. Between them, 81 different native plant communities flourish. All this in less than 400 feet of difference in elevation! Unlike our neighbors to the north, Florida is relatively flat, with a high point of only 345 feet and a low point of sea level. Of its 58,560 square miles, nearly 10% are covered with water. Yet just a few inches of elevation change brings about dramatic changes in Florida’s habitats.
One of the greatest joys of hiking in Florida is immersing in the variety of habitats found across our vast state. From the bluffs and ravines of the Panhandle to the tropical hammocks and coastal berms of the Keys, you won’t run out of interesting and unique places to explore. Here are general descriptions of some of the major habitats you’ll encounter while hiking in Florida. For more information, you can download the Florida Natural Areas Inventory Natural Communities guide to obtain the full, detailed list of all 81 Florida habitats!
- Coastal Habitats - With more than 1,200 miles of coastline, Florida’s habitats include many communities adapted to life along the sea, where wind and salt spray shape the environment.
- Forests - Forests come in many different forms in Florida, ranging from broad and open to densely packed with vegetation.
- Prairies - Florida's prairies come in two flavors: dry and wet. Prairies are treeless, open grasslands, many of which are seasonally inundated with water.
- Scrub - Florida's desert, the scrub, forms on well-drained, loose “sugar sand” deposited along ancient shorelines, hosting Florida’s oldest plant communities.
- Wetlands - Florida has numerous wetland habitats - forests, prairies, and swamps - that get flooded or seasonally inundated during the summer months or rainier years.