A discussion that came up on the forum recently – where are the most rugged hikes in Florida? – fits well with the cool weather we now have. The term “rugged” is subjective, of course, based on your own hiking expertise: someone who hikes regularly in the Rockies isn’t going to find our hilly hikes rugged by any means. Here are a handful of suggestions as to places to find rugged hikes, and why I consider them rugged.
Florida Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve – Nearly 40 miles of wilderness, largely involving wading through swamps. Nothing else like it in America for backpackers. The Loop Road to Oasis section makes an excellent day hike.
Collier-Seminole Hiking Trail, Naples – 6.5 mile loop in similar conditions as above. Great day hike, but definitely a swamp walk. Details in “50 Hikes in South Florida.”
Florida Trail, Ocean-to-Lake West – A 3-day, 2 night traverse through the toughest terrain Palm Beach County has to offer, passing through the wilds of DuPuis and Corbett WMAs. Hog damage makes the footpath rough in many places. Add in swamp wading, deep mud, and long, uneven stretches of terrain, and it’s a toughie. I’ll share full details on it here soon.
Myakka Hiking Trail, Sarasota – 39 miles of backpacking in a backcountry of expansive prairies and pine flatwoods which often have to be waded through. Details in “50 Hikes in South Florida”
Catfish Creek Preserve State Park, Dundee – As the hilliest place you can hike on the Lake Wales Ridge, this trail system (choose your own route up to a 6 mile loop) is a rough but satisfying hike. We’re talking massive ancient sand dunes, rolling ridges, steep climbs in soft sand, and very little shade. But it’s well worth the hike. Details in “50 Hikes in Central Florida.”
Citrus Hiking Trail, Inverness – 43 mile loop trail system with day hike options. Rugged, rolling karst terrain with high hills, deep sinkholes, and caves right along the trail. An excellent immersion into Central Florida’s longleaf pine flatwoods. Details in “50 Hikes in Central Florida.”
Florida Trail, Western Connector, Ocala National Forest – Little-used and little-maintained, it’s a real counterpoint to the main Florida Trail route that most hikers take through the National Forest. Map and compass / GPS recommended. Details in “The Hiking Trails of Florida’s National Forests, Parks, and Preserves.”
Florida Trail, Suwannee River – The Florida Trail follows the Suwannee River for nearly 60 miles, dipping in and out of deep ravines, clinging to the sides of steep bluffs, and leading you past waterfalls. Excellent day hikes out of Bell Springs to Big Shoals and back, and Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park to Camp Branch.
Bear Creek & Ravine Trails, Lake Talquin State Forest, Quincy – in this northerly tract of the state forest, these two loop trails (about 5 miles total, stacked loops) cling to the sides of deep, steep ravines and traverse rugged landscapes west of Tallahassee.
Trail of Lakes, Apalachicola National Forest – a 9 mile loop that uses part of the Florida Trail in and out of Camel Lake Recreation Area, it’s an excellent sampler of the rough terrain you’ll find in Florida’s largest national forest, including titi swamps and rolling sandhills.
Torreya Hiking Trail – double-loop of 14 miles on some of the most hilly terrain in Florida on the bluffs above the Apalachicola River. A favorite of backpackers and excellent in winter, when you can see the ridgelines.
Garden of Eden Trail, Apalachicola Bluffs & Ravines Preserve – Just south of Torreya, an extremely hilly day hike in and out of ravines to the bluffs of the Apalachicola River.
Econfina Nature Trail, Pitt Spring – Off SR 20 west of Fountain. This “nature trail” starts at Pitt Spring and works its way along Econfina Creek on high bluffs, descending sharply down to the floodplain where the landscape is broken boulders with crevices, caves, and springs gushing forth. A short but spectacular hike.
Florida Trail, Eglin AFB East – 45 miles of backpacking through old-growth forests, steephead ravines, and rolling sandhills.
Those are my picks – how about yours? Please share.