GTM Research Reserve Trail System to South Point and Shell Point and Guana River WMA Trail System to Capo Tower & Lake Tower, St. Augustine, Florida
Just northeast of St. Augustine is a unique sliver of land stretching out between two estuarine bodies of water: the Tolomato River and the Guana River. The southern tip of the peninsula is occupied by the Guana Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) National Research Reserve, while the rest of it is protected by state-owned Guana River WMA. These two public land tracts are interconnected, both featuring an abundance of hiking trails surprisingly known little outside of the local community. The GTM Reserve trail system explores fairly dense woods with primarily oaks and pines, occasionally passing views of the Tolomato River. The character of the Guana River WMA trail system is vastly different. The west side of the WMA is uninteresting pine flatwoods, but it has a significant highlight: the Capo Creek observation tower. This tower provides breathtaking views of salt marshes along Capo Creek - a tidal creek feeding into the Tolomato River. The east side of the WMA features scenic hammocks along the shoreline of Guana Lake/River. The views from the Guana Lake observation tower don't quite match those of the Capo tower, but they're quite scenic as well. Regardless of whether visitors explore GTM Reserve, Guana River WMA, or both, they're likely to have a well-rounded hike with several scenic stops. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 18th, 2018. My plan was to hike a loop with the Purple Trail, Red Trail, and Blue Trail in GTM Reserve, followed by a loop to Capo Tower and Lake Tower in Guana River WMA.
Bulow Creek State Park: Bulow Woods Trail from Fairchild Oak to Boardman Pond, Bulow Creek, and Bulow Plantation Ruins, Ormond Beach, Florida
A slice of wilderness along Florida's Atlantic coastline, Bulow Creek State Park conserves several thousand acres of salt marshes and old-growth tropical hammocks in the Bulow Creek watershed between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach. Traversing the park is the linear Bulow Woods Trail, a linear pathway over 6 miles long that takes you past several salt marsh views and through a tropical jungle with many old-growth palms and oaks. One of the hike's bigger highlights is a gorgeous palm-lined stream flowing toward Bulow Creek encountered along the north part of the trail. Between the magnificent 400-year old Fairchild Oak at the south end and the ruins of the largest sugar mill ever operated in Florida (the Bulow Sugar Mill & Plantation Ruins) at the north end, the Bulow Woods Trail has attractions even at its edges. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 11th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back from the Fairchild Oak to the Bulow Plantation Ruins, hiking the Bulow Creek Loop counter-clockwise along the way. I would also stop at Boardman Pond.
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest: Arbuckle Tract North Loop to Lake Arbuckle, Reedy Creek, and Lake Godwin, Frostproof, Florida
Hiking in Florida typically means looking for certain highlights such as interesting woods, creeks, lakes, or historic sites. But what if you could fit all of that into one hike? That's something the north loop at the Arbuckle Tract of Lake Wales Ridge State Forest manages to accomplish. In under just 14 miles, this trail visits the shorelines of Lake Arbuckle and Lake Godwin, affords numerous views of both Reedy Creek and Livingston Creek, and passes through a variety of different woods and ecosystems that range from unique pine flatwoods full of cutthroat seep grass to open, sandy scrub areas. This hike is easily among the most scenic I've done in Central Florida. Not often do you find such a mix of beautiful scenery on a single trail in Florida, keeping your interest piqued and letting the miles roll by faster. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 4th, 2018. My plan was to hike the North Loop in the Arbuckle Tract counter-clockwise from McLean Cabin Trailhead.
7000-acre Wekiwa Springs State Park is part of a ribbon of wild lands surrounding the St. Johns River on the northwest side of Orlando. The park's centerpoint is Wekiwa Springs, a second-magnitude spring that discharges 45 million gallons of water a day. However, there's a lot more to see in this park, which is crisscrossed by a series of single-track trails maintained by the Florida Trail Association. This hike follows the outermost White Trail all the way from Wekiwa Springs to the park's remote northern reaches. In the first half of the hike, you'll follow an elevated tramway through the wild Mill Creek Swamp and then immerse yourself into the palm hammocks of the Rock Springs Run floodplain, where you'll occasionally get your feet wet (particularly in the rainy season). A stark difference is found in the hike's second half, where you'll cruise through dry sandhills and pass sinkholes. Around the hike's midpoint, an inconspicuous connector path leads into Kelly park, where you can dip your toes in the refreshingly cool waters of the breathtaking, must-see Rock Springs before resuming your hike. This hike occurred on Wednesday, August 1st, 2018. My plan was to hike the White Trail counter-clockwise, starting out along the Wet-to-Dry Boardwalk by Wekiwa Springs.
The Leon Sinks Geological Area is in the northeast corner of Apalachicola National Forest near Tallahassee. This fascinating area is home to over a dozen sinkholes, many of which have water in them. Particularly Hammock Sink is one of the most beautiful and photogenic natural sights in the region. The trail system at Leon Sinks also visits a disappearing stream with a natural bridge as well as a series of cypress swamps. Numerous points of interest are spaced throughout the 4.5-mile loop to keep your attention focused the entire hike. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 6th, 2018. My plan was to hike a counter-clockwise loop with the Sinkhole Trail and Gum Swamp Trail.
Most hikers of the Tallahassee area have heard of or even been to Leon Sinks. How many have heard of Wakulla River Sinks though? Along with adjacent Apalachicola National Forest, the River Sinks Tract - a lesser-known parcel of Wakulla Springs State Park - holds nearly two dozen water-filled sinkholes. The sinks serve as a portal to the mysterious underground water-filled cave system that eventually connects to the Wakulla River to the southeast. An official trail called the Wakulla River Sinks Trail passes by several small sinks, including the photogenic Clearcut Sink. If one extends their hike along the unofficial pathway that splits off and leads to a series of bigger sinks, including Promise Sink and Upper River Sink, they are bound to be astounded! This hike occurred on Saturday, January 6th, 2018. My plan was to hike the official Wakulla River Sinks Trail clockwise. Along the way, I would make out-and-back side trips to Clearcut Sink and along an unofficial trail to a series of sinks to the south.
Nestled near the west Florida coastline between Sarasota and Venice, the underrated Oscar Scherer State Park is a haven for folks looking for a peaceful day hike in this part of southwest Florida. The park is known best as the home of the last remaining scrub jay habitat in southwest Florida, but it also has a superb color-coded trail system that introduces hikers to South Creek and its hammocks as well as the scrub and flatwoods nearby. In particular, the diverse Yellow Trail - part of the park's North Trail System - passes through a large range of ecosystems, crossing South Creek twice, passing a beautiful lake known as Big Lake, and travelling through a large section of the scrub. Hikers will even be able to see an old railroad trestle across South Creek. Thanks to its range of scenery and points of interest, the Yellow Trail at Oscar Scherer State Park has quickly turned into one of my favorite hikes in Southwest Florida. This hike occurred on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017. My plan was to hike the Yellow Loop Trail counter-clockwise with a short detour to the Big Lake observation platform.
Withlacoochee State Forest (Citrus Tract): Dames Cave and Lizzie Hart Sink via Citrus Loop D from Road 18, Brooksville, Florida
The Citrus Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest is home to some of Central Florida's most rugged terrain. Several major sinkholes and numerous caves are spread throughout the hilly Citrus Tract. The Citrus Trail, one of Florida's longest and most popular backpacking trails, is a 42-mile loop trail that passes near the perimeter of the Citrus Tract. Numerous forest roads crisscross the tract with many different starting points possible. For the convenience of day hikers, three cross-trails intersect the loop, providing shorter hiking opportunities. The southernmost loop of the Citrus Trail - Loop D - accesses one of the area's most unique sights: Dames Cave, a limestone cave with two chambers, a large open one and a smaller closed one. In addition to traversing dozens of rolling sandhills, Loop D of the Citrus Trail also passes through a bizarre rocky landscape in the vicinity of a broad sink known as Lizzie Hart Sink. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 29th, 2017. My plan was to hike Loop D of the Citrus Trail counter-clockwise from the Road 18 crossing. I would take the side trail to Dames Cave along the way.
Emerson Point Preserve: Portavant Mound Trail, South Restoration Trail, Terra Ceia Trail, Tower Trail, and North Restoration Trail, Palmetto, Florida
Emerson Point Preserve is one of several beautiful Manatee County coastline preserves. This preserve on Snead Island is rich with history, as there are several historic Indian mounds scattered throughout the park. The preserve's diverse trail system traverses both the Tampa Bay and Manatee River sides of the island, with several views of both, as well as an observation tower that provides a bird's-eye panorama of the preserve and Tampa Bay, with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the distance. Also, the park's primary trail system provides access to the Portavant Temple Mound - the biggest mound of all in the preserve. This hike occurred on Wednesday, July 26th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Portavant Mound Trail from the Ranger Station, making a side trip to the Manatee River view. Then, I would make a clockwise loop with the South Restoration Trail, Terra Ceia Trail, Tower Trail, and North Restoration Trail, making side trips to each of the three Tampa Bay views as well as the observation tower. I would conclude the hike by following a connector back to the Ranger Station.
The Chipola River in the Central Florida Panhandle is preserved through many conservation areas, perhaps the best-known of which is Florida Caverns State Park. South of Marianna, however, lies a conservation area that is less-visited but no less interesting: the Hinson Recreation Area, which has a beautiful loop trail that is maintained by the Florida Trail Association. The Hinson Trail presents numerous views of the gorgeous Chipola River, and additionally, there are other highlights that include several sinkholes, an impressive cave that is also a natural bridge, and an abandoned railbed. This hike occurred on Sunday, May 14th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Hinson Loop Trail counter-clockwise from the trailhead at the end of Gator Hole Lane.
Torreya State Park: Torreya Loop via Gregory House, Weeping Ridge Trail to Waterfall, and Rock Creek Loop (Torreya Challenge Trail), Bristol, Florida
Three thousand feet of elevation gain on a hike in the mountains is fairly common; three thousand feet of elevation gain on a hike in Florida is unheard of. Florida is well-known for its flat terrain, but exceptions do exist. Located on the east side of the Apalachicola River in the middle of nowhere, Torreya State Park - one of Florida's most interesting natural areas - features dozens of steephead ravines, limestone bluffs, sharp hills, and even a waterfall. In fact, it is safe to say that the park's hiking trails are the most rugged in Florida. Torreya State Park also boasts a collection of rare plants and animals, including the extremely rare Florida torreya tree, that are not typically found this far south. You'll get quite a workout on this hike, ascending dozens of hills and visiting many scenic mini-canyons carved out by small streams that feed the Apalachicola River. Also, you'll view the Apalachicola River from blufftop overlooks in several places. This hike occurred on Sunday, April 16th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Torreya Loop Trail counter-clockwise starting via the Gregory House east access trail. Along the way, I would make side trips to Weeping Ridge Falls and to Rock Bluff Overlook, and additionally, I would hike the Rock Creek Loop counter-clockwise.
Florida Caverns State Park: Beech-Magnolia Trail, Floodplain Trail, and Tunnel Cave, Marianna, Florida
Florida Caverns State Park might be Florida's most famous state park, as it is the only state park with a show tour cave. Nestled in some of Florida's taller hills near the Chipola River, the park has a lot to offer in terms of outdoor recreation besides a public cave tour. The park is home to two trail systems: a smaller nature trail system east of the Chipola River and a longer trail system west of the river, and most people who visit the park to be guided through the cave are not aware of the beauty that awaits a short distance away on the park's trails. Along the short nature trail system, you will pass several limestone bluffs with great views of the Chipola River floodplain, and you will even hike through Tunnel Cave on Florida's only trail that passes through a cave. This hike occurred on Monday, January 2nd, 2017. My plan was to hike counter-clockwise the outermost loop in Florida Caverns State Park's nature trail system, by first hiking the Beech-Magnolia Trail, followed by the Floodplain Trail and Tunnel Cave.
Florida Trail: Thompson House Trailhead to Cathedral of Palms and Shepherd Spring, St. Marks, Florida
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most beautiful natural areas in Florida. Nearly 50 miles of the Florida Trail pass through the refuge, which has a mixture of wetlands, pine flatwoods, palm hammocks, creeks, and even springs and salt water views. Shepherd Spring is one of the major points of interest in St. Marks NWR, and the nearby Cathedral of Palms - a large patch of old growth cabbage palm forest - is a very unique sight. This hike on the Florida Trail visits both of these features using the long way through a variety of ecosystems east of Wakulla Beach Road. This hike occurred on Saturday, December 31st, 2016. My plan was to hike the Florida Trail from the Thompson House Trailhead near US 98 to Shepherd Spring, passing through the Cathedral of Palms. My return route would include much of the same trail, but to make a difference, I would use two high water routes on my way back.
With a size of over 200,000 acres, Tate's Hell State Forest is one of Florida's largest state forests. Its only official hiking trail is the High Bluff Coastal Trail, which traverses pine flatwoods and ancient sand dunes near the Forgotten Coast. In fact, one of the sand dunes is tall enough to provide an elevated view toward the southern end of the forest, where the Gulf of Mexico is just a thin blue sliver. In addition, black bears are common in Tate's Hell State Forest and neighboring Apalachicola National Forest, and on this hike, it is possible to spot this elusive creature or find evidence of its activity. This hike occurred on Monday, December 26th, 2016. My plan was to hike the High Bluff Coastal Loop in a clockwise direction. Along the way, I would take a short side trail to an elevated view of the surrounding terrain and the Gulf of Mexico in the distance.
The Cimarron segment of the Florida Trail runs through the northern edge of the Eglin Air Force Base, in the vicinity of the Yellow River. While at the moment, this trail segment is not part of the official route of the Florida Trail - due to the lack of a bridge across the Yellow River - it is still maintained by the Florida Trail Association and often hiked. The Cimarron Trail passes through several miles of pine flatwoods and other upland ecosystems before dropping down into a Yellow River floodplain swamp, where there are multiple views of the river, a variety of sloughs to see, and a potential swamp slog depending on recent rainfall. This hike occurred on Saturday, December 24th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Cimarron Trail out and back from Highway 85 to the terminus of the trail at the Yellow River.
Other Hiking Websites
Year 1: 540.0 Miles
Year 2: 552.3 Miles
Year 3: 518.4 Miles
Year 4: 482.4 Miles
Year 5: 190.3 Miles