Florida is full of surprises. Known far and wide for warmth and white sand beaches, the Sunshine State also boasts over 5,000 miles of gorgeous hiking trails. If you want to strap on your boots and get trekking, it’s important to learn which hikes are worth your time.
The 10 best hiking trails in Florida are:
- Kolokee Trail
- Black Bear Wilderness Area Trail
- Wekiwa Springs Trail
- St. Francis Trail
- Dune Ridge Loop
- Cone’s Dike Trail
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Trail
- Tiger Creek Trail
- Grayton Beach Nature Trail
- Aucilla Sinks Trail
So, which trail is right for you? The answer depends largely on your skill level, the wildlife you’re interested in, and what region you want to explore. Read below to discover all about hiking in the Sunshine State, so you can get started planning your trip today.
The 10 Best Hiking Trails In Florida
1. Kolokee Trail
Length: 5 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Elevation gain: 78 ft
The Kolokee Trail is the perfect starting point for hikers of all skill levels. If you’re in the Orlando area, it’s well worth the drive out to the Little Big Econ State Forest to get a feel for the region and begin exploring Florida’s wild scenery.
Park at the Barr Street trailhead and prepare yourself to be immersed in the sounds of trilling birds and buzzing insects as you take your first steps into the swampland. This trail offers up a little bit of everything, winding its way between pine scrub and bluffs before snaking through the characteristic river marshes Florida is so famous for.
You’ll hike over scenic wooden bridges to pass swampy waterways clogged with cabbage palm, ferns, and cypress. Hawks and other birds soar above, while the water below teems with wildlife as well. Be sure to look for alligators sunning themselves on the bank!
Perfect For Families
If you’re bringing the kids and the family pup along for the ride, Kolokee Trail is ideal. The American Hiking Society has named Little Big Econ State Forest one of the most family-friendly hikes in America, and there’s a good reason for that. Spanning over 10,000 acres and boasting more than 16 miles of trails, the forest caters to everyone’s needs.
The Kolokee Trail specifically is an easy five-mile loop. It takes hikers through serene forests on the first leg and along the Econlockhatchee River on the way back. Leashed pets are allowed on the trail, and the entire length of it is almost completely shaded.
More shade means a bigger hiking window, as Florida is notorious for its high temperatures. Since you don’t have to worry so much about the time frame, you can take this trail during all seasons. You don’t have to load everyone up in the car early in the morning, and you can stay as late as you want enjoying the scenery.
2. Black Bear Wilderness Area Trail
Length: 7.3 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Elevation gain: 29 ft
When you think of Florida, you don’t automatically think of bears. But bears are plentiful here, and you can catch a glimpse of them in action on the Black Bear Wilderness Area Trail. Located outside the town of Sanford, this trail is one of the more rugged hikes available for nature enthusiasts in Florida.
It’s an all-day trip, so arriving in the morning is a good idea. Once you park, you’ll head down a gravel path to boardwalk 1, keeping left at the Y intersection that marks the loop. Of course, you could go either way, but you can see the best views by taking this trail counterclockwise.
This hike takes you along the St. John’s River. You’ll walk above the water on a series of charming wooden bridges and levies, with views extending down through dark marshes and canals obscured by undergrowth.
The scenery sets a tone of mystery, infusing the air with a feeling like you’ve traveled back in time to a prehistoric paradise. Hanging mosses dangle down in front of you while palm fronds brush at your arms and legs. This trail remains shaded throughout its length with an astonishing array of flora, so watch your step lest you trip over a gigantic root!
Watch Out For Wildlife
Crickets chirp, birds call out, and larger animals will appear if you’re lucky. To encourage a sighting, walk quietly through the trail. Though pets are allowed, it’s best to leave them at home if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the namesake bears.
It is highly likely that you will encounter animals on this trail. Black Bear Wilderness Area is a smaller park with less traffic, so creatures aren’t shy about showing their faces. Even if the bears don’t make an appearance, you may still see wild boar, white-tailed deer, and raccoons.
Smaller animals are also abundant. It’s essential for your comfort to apply bug spray before setting out on your hike. You should bring the whole bottle with you as well, because this is a lengthy walk. You’ll likely sweat it off before you’re halfway done, and mosquito bites can really detract from the beauty of this trail!
3. Wekiwa Springs Trail
Length: 13.5 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Elevation gain: 278 ft
Although Florida is famous for its beaches, it has other secrets hidden up its sleeve. One of them is the collection of spectacular natural springs to be found here. Bubbling forth from the earth to form pools of crystal-clear water, many of these springs lie in the northern region of the state.
Florida’s springs make for a wonderful hiking environment, and Wekiwa Springs is one of the best. Located in Orange County just a few minutes outside of Orlando, Wekiwa Springs State Park maintains a 13.5-mile loop trail that showcases the area perfectly.
This is a tropical paradise offering a remote feel with a convenient location. Here, you’ll encounter myriad plant species as you hike through various ecosystems. Lush ferns give way to palm and scrub, with drier parts of the trail offering hardwood hammocks under which you’ll be able to stop and take a breather as you admire the scenery.
Everything sits against the backdrop of a bright Florida day, and some parts of this trail are smack dab in the middle of the sunshine. Bearing that in mind, take some water and sunscreen along with you. When you arrive, expect to pay a small fee for entry to the park. It’s well worth the price, however, as you’ll get access to the trail and much more.
After Your Hike
The Wekiwa Springs trail is long and can be difficult as you navigate through the diverse terrain, but it offers a sweet reward at the end. Wekiwa Springs itself is a swimmer’s paradise, offering a refreshing place to cool off after your strenuous trek.
There’s no shortage of swimming space here. The springs produce over 43 million gallons of water daily, all of which flows into the surrounding area to form a half-acre turquoise pool to splash around in. The pool is surrounded by grassy banks perfect for lounging, sunning, or kicking back with a book for a quiet afternoon.
The water stays at a comfortable 72 degrees all year long. The swimming area is perfect for everyone to enjoy paddling, snorkeling, and exploring the underwater world of Wekiwa. You can frolic in these waters to your heart’s content from 8am until the park closes.
4. St. Francis Trail
Length: 7.8 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Elevation gain: 72 ft
Want to explore the famous Ocala National Forest? The St. Francis Trail is the best place to start. Located at the edge of Ocala near Deland, the trailhead isn’t difficult to find. Although the road to arrive is unpaved, the trail itself is well-marked and quite civilized.
It begins at a bright informational kiosk where you can read all about the rich agricultural history of the region. From there you’ll wander through thick oak groves, the gently rolling ground beside you the only hint that these forests were once fields of corn and cotton.
The trail here is mostly wooden platform. This gives you a flat walking path and a bit of elevation, protecting your feet from the floods which rise around the forest periodically. You’ll be able to enjoy the shade as you hike, inhaling the humidity and the scent of marshy undergrowth.
Further on, the scenery changes. The overhead growth begins to thin, letting in a little sunlight as the trail brings you closer to the famous Ocala pines. These vast stretches of towering trees were planted more recently, but you can’t really tell – they look huge, old, and untouched.
A Taste Of History
The entire St. Francis Trail is beautiful, but once you hike for a time you’ll get to the real meat and potatoes of this expedition. This area was once a thriving agricultural centerpiece of Florida, and at its heart was the town of St. Francis.
The path begins to show signs of bygone life as you pass by old train trolleys and ancient rail equipment decaying in the forest. Eventually you’ll see more signs of the now-defunct city, once a bustling river community lying beside the St. Francis Dead River.
Both the river and the town are only ghosts of their former selves, but the trail gives you an idea of what once was. You’ll get to explore an important piece of Florida history among the remains, taking water from an old artesian well, and resting among the oak trees before moving on.
5. Dune Ridge Loop
Length: 4.1 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Elevation gain: 72 ft
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Sunshine State without a few miles of famous Florida beachline to enjoy. The Dune Ridge Loop lets you in on all that beach action and more. Here you’ll find an easy trail winding over pleasant white sand, under shady oaks, and through an area of balmy beauty in Little Talbot Island State Park.
Getting to the Dune Ridge Loop is easy. Located just minutes away from Jacksonville, Little Talbot Island is a barrier island with a big personality. You’ll have to pay a per-vehicle entry fee, but it’s well worth the novelty of exploring this ecosystem.
More Than Just Palm Trees
The trail is home to a wide variety of tropical plants you won’t see in more northern climes. You’ll be able to enjoy a diverse walk, through live oak, magnolias, beach pines, and quite a few different species of palm trees swaying in the breeze.
The trail even features air plants, so pay special attention to their captivating root system which stays out in the open for all to see. Railroad vines and sea oats swirl their way around cacti as the forested part of the trail turns to ocean. These serve to hold the soil in place, forming a series of sandy bluffs above the beach.
Timing Your Visit
Once you get out onto the beachy part of the trail, there won’t be much shade. Because of the open space it may be better to enjoy this trail during the fall or spring months, when the sun won’t be so harsh.
Even if you come in winter, you’ll still be relatively safe as temperatures rarely drop below the mid-forties. However, it does depend on what activities you hope to do while you’re here. Swimming and sunbathing should be timed for the summer, while sea turtle nesting season runs a bit longer from March through October.
6. Cone’s Dike Trail
Length: 5.1 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Elevation gain: 72 ft
Want to see the wild side of Florida? Head on down to Micanopy. Lying just a few minutes outside of this bustling town lies Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park, sprawling across 23,000 acres of prairieland, swampland, and forests. The Cone’s Dike Trail offers a scenic out-and-back hike through five miles of it, promising to showcase the best of the Florida prairie.
Here you’re welcome to bring the whole family for some adventuring, but pets aren’t allowed on the trail due to the animals that live here. You’ll be charged a small fee for entry into the park as well, but the views from the path are truly priceless.
The trail itself is hard-packed earth and cuts relatively straight lines through the prairie. Elevation remains level throughout, and you’ll get to see an army of spectacular wildflowers infusing the landscape with color. American Lotus is among the most treasured of these flowers, though you’ll see dozens of different blooms during the season.
A walk along the dike affords you the opportunity to see some of the most breathtaking Florida creatures in their native habitat. It’s almost a certainty you’ll see alligators lounging along the trail here, sunning themselves and smiling at you craftily as you pass by.
You’ll also catch sight of softshell turtles, and over 300 species of birds make their home in the prairie. These include sandhill cranes and bald eagles, so keep your eyes peeled to spot these majestic creatures taking flight.
Payne’s Prairie is also home to the famous herds of wild horses that roam freely here, galloping across the grassland in a gorgeous display of might and muscle. Bison graze here on the plain as well, forever munching on the tall grass. The dike is the perfect place to see otters, deer, and other creatures, so bring a pair of binoculars with you so you don’t miss anything.
7. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Trail
Length: 2.25 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Elevation gain: 9 ft
If you want to experience some of the most treasured ecology in the Sunshine State, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is where you need to go. Located just half an hour east of Naples, this sanctuary houses a plethora of rare plant life and elusive animals unlikely to be spotted in other sanctuaries.
The swamp is maintained and funded through the National Audubon Society, a wildlife and bird conservationist group. As such, the environment is kept perfect for winged friends. You’ll find great blue herons and egrets fishing alongside spoonbills and ibis, while storks soar above with ospreys, kestrels, and several different hawk species.
A Buffet Of Rarities
Corkscrew Swamp is never silent or drab. You’ll be inundated with color if you opt for a spring hike, with wildflowers in bloom anywhere they manage to root in the soil. Bring along your binoculars to view the famous Super Ghost Orchid, the biggest ghost orchid in known existence.
The swamp’s centerpiece is undoubtedly the famous bald cypress grove. Dating back over 600 years, this is the oldest cypress forest in the world. The trees tower high in the sky, with some reaching over 130 feet tall and over 25 feet in circumference.
Accessible For Everyone
The trail itself is an easy hike on an elevated boardwalk which remains relatively flat throughout its 2.25-mile length. It’s wheelchair accessible, and extensive on-site facilities mean that amenities like bathrooms, snacks, and refreshing drinks are close at hand for when you and the family need them.
Children are very welcome at the Corkscrew Sanctuary, with staff running specific events geared towards them much of the time. These fun excursions and guided tours are meant to educate and impress, so don’t miss out on the chance to help your little ones learn something new.
8. Tiger Creek Trail
Length: 10 miles | Difficulty: Hard | Elevation gain: 183 ft
Tiger Creek Trail is one of those hidden gems of Florida that highlights just how intricate and delicate the biology here is. Protected and maintained by the Florida Nature Conservancy, Tiger Creek Preserve lies in the middle of the Peninsula just north of the town Frostproof. Here you’ll find 10 miles of hiking trails separated in a series of loops.
Though you can take shorter routes, making the full 10-mile trek is highly recommended. You can see all the varying plant and animal life at play and understand fully how each ecosystem interacts with others to support and uphold them all. Since this area houses one of the highest populations of endangered species in the country, it’s well worth the extra time and effort.
Navigating The Trail
Park at the trailhead on Pfundstein Road to get started. You’ll take a 1.9-mile jaunt on the Pfundstein Trail to Heron Pond Loop, a short hike around a marshy pond that will afford you a glimpse of herons and gators in action.
The Highlands Loop takes you up and over a series of hills. This is some of the highest elevation change you’ll see on Florida’s hiking trails, with a great view of the highlands from a lookout bench at the top. Rest here and eat a snack, then continue your way towards the Creek’s Bluff Trail.
Stunning In Stripes
Once you start out on the Creek’s Bluff Trail, you’ll be able to see how Tiger Creek got its name. Because of the vegetation which falls into the creek, its water is colored with deep-hued red stripes. These stand out vividly against the natural blackwater creek, a sight you won’t find in more northern climes.
The entire trail system is very well-marked, so you won’t have any trouble navigating back to your car. There are certain portions that are exposed to the sun, so it’s a good idea to bring along water and sunscreen with you. Since the hike is so long, you’ll be out all day – so bring some snacks or a picnic lunch for sustenance on the trail.
9. Grayton Beach Nature Trail
Length: 1 mile | Difficulty: Easy | Elevation gain: 26 ft
For beachside hiking with a side order of rare ecology, the Grayton Beach Nature Trail can’t be beat. You’ll need to head to Grayton Beach State Park to get to this easy stroll, parking in the designated area just before the trailhead.
Even before you get out of your car, you’ll be greeted by impossibly emerald waters and miles of gorgeous shoreline. The state of Florida works actively to keep this area pristine, showcasing all the marine life to be found here.
You could see crab scuttling across the dunes as you take your first steps out onto the trail, or a mother sea turtle digging in the sand to make a nest for her eggs. As you walk further through sea oats and driftwood, you’ll begin to ascend through the dunes.
A Cornucopia Of Beauty
Eventually, the sand gives way to lush beachside forest. Here you’ll walk among groves of live oaks, magnolias, and palmettos, enjoying the refreshing shade of the trees. These woods have been battered by salt air and high winds for a long time, and their twisted branches snarl and snake out to greet you.
The state has long protected this area, and development here has been essentially nil. That means each aspect of the beach has remained largely untouched, infusing everything with an air of ancient mystique, which only serves to highlight just how special this area really is.
Viewed as one of the best beaches in the nation, Grayton Park doesn’t stop at towering sand dunes. At the furthest corner of the trail, you’ll have a wonderful view of Western Lake, an incredibly rare Coastal Dune Lake occurring only in certain parts of the globe. Rent a kayak to explore it, or just enjoy the view!
10. Aucilla Sinks Trail
Length: 4.4 miles | Difficulty: Hard | Elevation gain: 82 ft
The Aucilla Sinks are one of the rarest geological marvels in the world. Located about 35 miles southeast of Tallahassee, they lie along a portion of the 1,400-mile Florida Trail as it meets up with the Aucilla River. Here, Florida’s porous limestone bedrock caused a section of the Aucilla River to essentially sink beneath the earth.
This created a series of round and oblong sinkholes through which the river now flows. You can see where the river first began its disappearing act at a large sinkhole known as the Vortex, with many other smaller sinkholes offering a glimpse into the flowing river further down the trail as well.
The Aucilla Sinks are chock-full of history. Thanks to rare artifacts like a double-edged stone knife found with a skull, we know prehistoric people lived along this river hunting the now-extinct mastodon. A carved ivory tusk excavated in one of the sinkholes represents the first known work of prehistoric art discovered in Florida.
As far as archeologists can tell, this is the earliest site of human occupation in the southeastern United States. As you walk along the Aucilla Sinks Trail, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered another era. This walk is almost otherworldly, an isolated hike through the primordial tropics.
You’ll need to head to the Goose Pasture Road to access this portion of the trail. This is a 4.4-mile out-and-back hike, but you have an option to arrange a ride back from Long Suffering Road at the northern end of the trail.
This trail is woodsy and at some points difficult to navigate. It can flood after a hard rain, so always check conditions beforehand. It’s important to be especially careful, as this trail gets more than muddy. With so many sinkholes around, mud presents a real danger.
You’ll need to push aside thick palm fronds and watch your footing here, as the path is uneven and clogged with jutting roots. However, that’s all part of the magic. Just make sure to bring along your bug spray, as ticks and mosquitoes pose a much larger threat than any mastodon these days!
Florida has diverse hiking adventures for everyone. The state is home to more than 80 distinct ecosystems, and you can pass through them all. Whether you want to see alligators in swamps or you’re searching for songbirds trilling in the cypress trees, the Sunshine State has the perfect trail for you!