A crowd was forming around our table after Richard Louv spoke about nature deficit disorder at the “No App for That” event in Orlando. One young lady picked up our list of trails in the Orlando area.
She said, “I can walk down a paved path, or I can follow a boardwalk until the very end. But then there’s dirt. I’m afraid to step into the dirt and keep going. I’m here because I don’t want my children to be afraid of the woods.”
And you shouldn’t be, either. Florida IS different, but just like anywhere else, there are plenty of places to take a hike here and get comfortable with our outdoors.
Both of us were introduced to the outdoors at a young age. Sandra started hiking with her parents as a toddler. John played in the woods and learned to backpack as a Boy Scout.
The skills we learned as kids we still use to this day. Which is an important reason to take your kids with you!
Getting Ready For A Hike
Before you head out on your first hike, you need to know what you’re physically capable of. Can you walk a mile? Two? Ten?
As an adult, Sandra didn’t tackle any trails over four miles until she joined a group of friends on an eight mile hike. After that, it didn’t scare her to try 10, 12, 15, and even 20 miles in a day.
But if you’ve never hiked before, start with short hikes.
Before you go, you should also figure out where you are going and find a map for it. That’s where this website can be very helpful.
We have dozens of different categories under which the trails on this site are filed, and you can dig through them. Are you looking for somewhere scenic, or fabulous wildflowers? Do you want to take your dog along?
Some parks, especially state parks, require an entrance fee. Permits are needed to hike on certain lands, like Eglin Air Force Base.
There are safety considerations for hiking, too. You need to be just as aware of your surroundings when you’re on the trail as you would be on a city sidewalk.
It’s also important to know if where you’re planning to go is open to hunting when you intend to be there.
Don’t want to hike alone? Meetup groups around Florida offer group hikes. There are also chapters of the Florida Trail Association that welcome new hikers and offer guided hikes.
Going with a group or with friends is a great way to tackle your first real hike. Make sure it’s a distance that you feel comfortable with.
Take An Easy Hike
The easiest way to get comfortable with Florida’s outdoors is head for a city or county park near you. This is easiest to do in urban areas like Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, Naples, and Pensacola.
Look for parks listed as nature parks or as having nature centers. These types of parks offer paved trails and boardwalks, a good starting point if you’ve never hiked before.
Most Florida State Parks also offer interpretive nature trails which are very short in length.
If you are a slow walker or use an assistive device such as a wheelchair, you’ll be glad to know that Florida offers a bounty of accessible trails with graded surfaces.
Select a trail that’s less than a mile for your first time out, just to get used to walking in the woods.
Remember, Florida IS different! You’ll find out how on our “Florida 101” page, which includes information about plants, wildlife, insects, and more.
Take A Day Hike
Taking a longer hike means you need to prepare more thoroughly before you go, no matter whether you walk 2 miles or 12 miles in one day.
Before you go, you need to prepare a daypack with certain essentials: enough water for the trip, food for the day, a small first-aid kit, and more.
Take An Adventuresome Hike
Once you’re comfortable with a long day hike, you might be up for a bit of adventure. Florida certainly has it!
Try tackling portions of our National Scenic Trail, the Florida Trail, as day hikes. While the trail stretches 1,400 miles across Florida, there are hundreds of trailheads with opportunities for rugged day hikes.
One of the wildest and most wonderful aspects to hiking in Florida is the availability of swamp walks through many habitats in Florida. These are best done with friends or with a guided group.
And don’t forget Florida has hills, too. We may only have a few hundred feet of elevation across the state, but hilly hikes can be a lot of fun.
Backpacking means heading out to the woods and camping overnight (or longer) with all that you need – a shelter, kitchen, food, bed – carried on your back in a pack.
John learned how to do so in Boy Scouts, and earned his 50 Mile patch on a backpacking trip on the Florida Trail. Sandra’s family didn’t backpack, so she didn’t even try it until her 35th birthday. It was certainly a learning curve!
That’s one reason that you should borrow or rent gear before you buy gear. Good backpacking gear is expensive, so you need to know that you actually enjoy backpacking before you commit to the cost of it.
It helps to have supportive friends and mentors when you first get into backpacking. It will take many years of trial and error to assemble the perfect set of gear for you.
Everyone’s needs and wants are different when they head into the backcountry. Only you can figure out the correct balance of weight (what you can carry) to comfort (what you feel you need to take with you).
Planning a backpacking trip? One thing to consider – very carefully – is what things weight vs. their importance to you, especially on a trip of more than a week.
What does a hiker need to spend a week, or a month, or three months on the trail? Here are trail-tested suggestions for backpacking in Florida for trips of a week or more
Choosing backpacking gear can be a little overwhelming, especially when it comes to the big, important items such as your tent, your sleeping bag, and your backpack itself.
Keep in mind that your knees will be happier the less weight you carry. But don’t sacrifice comfort for weight until you’ve gotten proficient with living outdoors.
There are many pluses to backpacking as a couple. Having a compatible partner smooths out a lot of logistical worries and reduces the weight you need to carry.
We’re Florida authors, so of course we want you to read our hiking guides!