While hiking with your dog can be very satisfying for both you and your best friend, Florida is a bit different that most places you may have hiked before. It’s important to know what you and your dog are getting into before you head off into the woods. The good news: there are plenty of places to take your dog that won’t put your pooch in peril. We share hundreds of them on this website. But it’s worth a few minutes to read through our list of do’s and don’ts that are very specific to hiking in Florida.
Where to Avoid
In general, taking dogs into any of Florida’s swampy areas is a bad idea. Skip the wetlands parks, the swamp walks, and the mangrove tunnels. Alligators look for easy prey, and a dog of any size can fall victim.
At waterfront parks, be cautious with your dog around shorelines. Not just mangrove shorelines, but along the edges of lakes and rivers, especially where you can’t see the waterline because of the vegetation in the way.
Most importantly, keep yourself safe. A South Florida woman walking her dogs lost her life last summer in Davie trying to rescue one of her dogs from an alligator in a community park. The alligator grabbed her instead.
What to Avoid
Ticks start hatching in late April and May. Seed ticks, so small you can’t see them on your dog’s fur, can swarm them (and you). Only a powerful anti-tick treatment may help. A lint roller can assist in removing tiny ticks from your pet.
Starting late September, deer season ripples across Florida’s public lands. This is not a good time to hike with your dog – both out of courtesy to hunters and for your dog’s safety. Any public land posted as a Wildlife Management Area – which includes all of our National Forests as well as many FWC and Water Management lands – should be avoided during deer season if you’re hiking with a dog. Hunt dates vary for each public land so it’s important to check ahead.
Heat can be a serious issue for dogs in Florida, just like it is with humans. Be sure to pack plenty of water for your canine. Not all water sources in Florida are trustworthy. In fact, as the weather warms up, bacteria thrives in puddles and sluggish streams, leading to intestinal distress and worse.
Follow the Rules
Sadly, on many hikes we take, we see dog owners breaking the rules: either by bringing dogs into off-limits areas, or not picking up after them in places where other visitors will end up stepping in dog poop. This isn’t limited to Florida. We’ve seen it across the United States. And that’s why, over the past 20 years that we’ve been collecting and sharing information on Florida’s trails, more and more public lands are shutting their doors to dogs. What you can do to help is to follow the land manager’s rules regarding your pet.
For instance, although Florida State Parks used to have a very liberal dog policy, they no longer allow dogs near swimming areas such as beaches and springs. Dogs in the parks MUST be leashed, especially if you are in a campground. We only know of a couple of dog beaches in Florida State Parks – at Lovers Key and Honeymoon Island – but most of Flagler County also allows dogs on the beaches. Picking up after them is a must.
In our National Forests in Florida, policies have also changed, too. Dogs are no longer allowed in the recreation areas around swimming lakes and springs. They are allowed in the campgrounds.
This affects Florida Trail thru-hikers, since you cannot bring a dog through this section of the trail. At the southern end of the Florida Trail, while Big Cypress National Preserve allows dogs, you aren’t doing yours a favor to have them wade through the swamp. Hookworm parasites are easily transmitted through the warm waters, and there are alligators, of course. Many of them.
FWC does not permit dogs in their Wildlife & Environmental Areas, which affects Florida Trail hikers following the Western Corridor of the Florida Trail in Central Florida.
Other public lands have posted prohibitions, particularly when there are concerns about protected species such as the Florida scrub-jay. In Central Florida, dogs are not welcome in natural areas in Brevard, Lake, Orange, and Osceola counties. Check ahead in other counties.
Where to Go
In Florida, hiking in dry upland areas is your best bet when walking with your dog. Scrub and sandhill habitats – largely what you’ll find in the Ocala National Forest, the northern reaches of Withlacoochee State Forest, and a great deal of North Florida – are ideal, as are bluff forests like you’ll find along the upper reaches of the Suwannee River.
Backpackers looking for an outing with their dog will find the Florida Trail through the Ocala National Forest a good choice, as well as the Cross Florida Greenway, Citrus Hiking Trail and Croom Hiking Trail at Withlacoochee State Forest, the Florida Trail at Eglin Air Force Base, and the trails of Blackwater River State Forest.