As cool weather rolls around, we always get asked about the best places to get out on Florida’s trails for multi-day backpacking trips, and this season is no exception. Bryan wrote in and asked:
I’m interested in doing my first solo multi-day (3-4 days) hike in November but am not sure where to go and was wondering if you have any recommendations. I am a reasonably fit, 30 year old male. I do lots of local day hikes and once hiked the Appalachian Trail for a week with a group.
I live in Tampa, but am willing to drive most anywhere Florida, although the Panhandle is probably a little too far. Since I planning on going by myself, I need to end where I start. The Citrus loop seemed appealing, but the lack of available water is a little discouraging. The next longest loop trails I saw were the Myakka, Tosohatchee, and Richloam.
Bryan, one of the trickiest things to do in Florida is to plan a 3-4 day hike. We have plenty of places you can backpack that far, but they are, for the most part, linear segments of the Florida Trail. For most of us, it’s tough to find someone to help with logistics of leaving your car in one place and getting dropped off in another, so loop hikes are better. Or, consider hiking out and back on all or part of a continuous Florida Trail segment like the Cross Florida Greenway (64.2 mile round-trip) or the Ocala National Forest (142.2 mile round-trip). Be aware of hunting season coming up in the Ocala very soon.
We don’t have a lot of long loop hikes in Florida. Here are your best options:
Myakka River State Park – The Myakka Hiking Trail is nearly 40 miles long and, while the landscape is flat, the scenery is spectacular. Water generally is not a problem. There is a fee for use of the campsites and for park access, but no hunting is permitted within the park.
Citrus Hiking Trail – brought to you by the same Florida Trail Association volunteers who built Myakka’s big loop, this loop is rugged for Central Florida thanks to its rocky and hilly terrain. The outer loop is 43 miles. Yes, water sources can be an issue – I’ve cached water here in the past – but hunting season can be an issue too. My experience says don’t plan a hike here within a week or two before general gun season, or during it.
Florida Trail, Bull Creek and Three Lakes (with Forever Florida as a connector). Because of the private land in between, you have to be a Florida Trail member to pull this one off, and again, avoid general gun season, but you can make an interesting barbell-shaped hike out of these, with at least 5 designated campsites to choose from:
Park your car at Three Lakes WMA / Prairie Lakes Unit trailhead
Hike north via Three Lakes and Forever Florida (9.4 miles +7.3 miles =16.7 mile connector)
Do the loop trail at Bull Creek WMA (20.5 miles)
Return via Forever Florida and Three Lakes (16.7 miles)
Hike south from your car on the Prairie Lakes Unit loop (11.1 miles)
Total mileage: 65 miles
The second biggest loop trail in Florida is the Florida Trail around Lake Okeechobee, at 112 miles or so. Pluses: fabulous views, easy resupply, no problems with water, great wildlife watching. Minuses: No shade. Pavement (atop the dike) along more than 50% of the route. And the Army Corps of Engineers continues to work on sections of the dike that need repair, so you’d be in for several unpleasant roadwalks as a work-around.
The biggest loop trail in Florida, which is a true logistical challenge, are the Eastern and Western Corridors of the Florida Trail around Central Florida. I’m not sure of the actual mileage right now, but when I did it back in 2000-2001, it was roughly 365 miles so we called it “The Big 360.” It takes almost a month to complete and involves one roadwalk of nearly 70 miles from Three Lakes through the southern suburbs of the Orlando metro to the Green Swamp, not a walk to be taken lightly.
If you’ve put together other trails to make loops of 3 days or more, add your suggestions here!