Discover the Wild Side: A Guide to Hiking in Florida

When most people think of Florida, they usually think about beaches and theme parks, but there is so much more to the Sunshine State, including hiking!

Hiking in Florida is a unique experience. It’s a wild place, a land of sand, lakes, springs, sinkholes, underwater caves, beaches, and wildlife. There are also surprising areas with waterfalls, caverns, rocky coastlines, rapids, and coral reefs. And you can discover them all! 

I’ve been hiking Florida trails with my family for 13 years. We started with baby carriers and strollers (not fun in rough terrain!), but now we can all just strap on our hiking boots and go. During our years of exploring the woods, we’ve experienced hot, sweaty walks and cool, windy ones. I want to share what I’ve learned with you so you can enjoy wooded paths and stay safe no matter your age or mobility. 

Table of Contents

Florida Fun Facts

  • The state is almost 450 miles long from north to south.
  • Florida has two time zones and two climate types.
  • It has the longest coastline in the contiguous US.
  • You’re no more than 60 miles from the nearest body of saltwater at any time.
  • There are 175 state parks and 9,200 miles of trails.
  • Water is plentiful, with 700 freshwater springs and 4,000 miles of paddling routes.
  • Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the US.
A photo of the Sand Pine Scrub Trail at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City Florida on a bright, sunny, and warm day in January.
Sand Pine Scrub Trail at Blue Spring State Park.

What to Wear on Florida Hikes

Warm Weather Gear

If hiking in the warmer days, you’ll want protection from the sun and lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing. 

Shoes should protect your feet and allow them to breathe. 

If you will be in wet areas, you should opt for shoes that keep your feet safe but can get wet.

Cold Weather Gear

In winter, dress in layers. The weather can change quickly in Florida. 

The morning can start very cold and windy but warm up mid-day. Wear comfortable shoes for walking that can keep your feet warm and safe. 

All-Weather Gear

Carry water for everyone in your hiking group. This is critical for hotter days and high exertion. Have a portable water filter. If you run out of water on your trek, you can always filter the water you find along the way.

Florida is sunny 230 days out of the year. You’ll want to wear sunblock or protective clothing to prevent sun damage to your skin. 

A brimmed hat and sunglasses can also help protect your face and eyes from the sun.

It’s also a good idea to have a first aid kit. We have had several and used them a few times while on the road. The trickiest thing about a kit is remembering to check the contents for expiration dates. 

Florida Bites

I’m talking about insect bites! If you visit during peak mosquito season from July to October, you’ll want some repellent to protect yourself.  My favorite natural repellent is made locally, smells great, and actually works!

Oh, there are the “famous” no-see-ums; they also bite!! 

You can get a complete list of biting bugs on the Wander Wisdom site

Wildlife in Florida

Florida has a variety of wildlife. Some are cute squirrels, deer, and majestic herons, but others are large predators such as black bears and alligators

In general, if there are woods, there are black bears; if there is water, there are alligators. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), about 4,050 black bears are in Florida. The FWC also estimates there are 1.3 million alligators in Florida. 

Florida is also home to 269 wildlife species that are only found here, such as the Florida scrub jay, the Key deer, and the Florida wild turkey.

Please research the wildlife before exploring wooded paths. The National Forests in Florida website has simple wildlife safety tips.  

In all our years of hiking in Florida, we have only seen snakes, turtles, tortoises, birds, and, when near water, alligators. All of them preferred to flee rather than come near us. 

Check out these tips from Florida State Parks to spot wildlife when out in the woods. 

An alligator swimming on a Lake Dora in Palm Island Park in Mount Dora, Florida.
If you are near water, you are near alligators, even when you can’t see them.

Gear to Protect You on Your Hikes

Whenever my family and I explore the woods, we wear bells and carry walking sticks and bear spray. 

The bells will ensure that wild predators hear you. You don’t want to startle animals in the wild. 

A walking stick and bear spray are both weapons that can be used on various animals if you find yourself in danger. 

We have never had to use them, but they are good to have in case we find ourselves in a dangerous situation with wildlife. 

Hiking in Florida = Nature Walks

Yes, I am calling all these outdoor walks in the woods hikes. Some folks might not call them that since none of these treks scale mountains or go along cliffs. 

The highest elevation in Florida is 345 feet (Britton Hill). There are areas of the state that are below sea level.

While routes are primarily flat, they offer a variety of habitats and different vista opportunities. 

Florida has more than 5,000 hiking trails, so there are plenty to choose from, regardless of age, fitness level, and mobility. 

Trail at the Lake Monroe Conservation Area in Osteen Florida.
Trail in the Lake Monroe Conservation Area.

It’s Gonna Get Sandy

A lot of walking paths in Florida are sandy. Sometimes, it’s hard-packed, but other times, it’s like walking on the beach. 

The soft sand often comes with sand spurs that like to get stuck to shoes, socks, and pant legs. Small kids and dogs can get injured (though not seriously) by sand spurs. 

Whether the path is soft sand or hard-packed, I recommend closed-toe shoes.

Hurricanes Can Impact Hiking Areas

Hurricane season runs from June to November. Florida is well-versed in hurricane preparation, warnings, and emergency response. 

After a hurricane passes, hiking locations are sometimes closed due to hurricane damage, even when it seems like the storm was long, long ago. 

Damage is often due to habitat loss, structural damage, and flooding. 

Summer Afternoons Mean Thunderstorms

Nearly every summer afternoon, the Sunshine State becomes the Thunderstorm State. The good news is that storms typically roll through and are gone a few hours later.

Because these storms are relatively predictable, you can plan your hikes for summer mornings and avoid dangerous thunderstorms later in the day. 

Whenever you hear thunder, take cover inside (not under trees!) and stay away from water. Getting struck by lightning is a real danger. My friend’s dad has been hit twice!

Best Months to Hit Florida Trails

Florida technically experiences all four seasons, although summer lasts longer than elsewhere, and the winters are mild and feel more like fall/spring. 

The best time to hike depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. 

Cool Hikes

By cool, of course, I’m referring to cool temperatures. The most comfortable times for exploring the woods are:

  • November (Late Fall)
  • December to February (Winter)
  • March (Early Spring)

While there can still be some warm mid-days, November to March is your best bet for hiking without scorching temperatures. It’s also the dry season.

View of Spruce Creek and surrounding mangroves taken from a boardwalk on a bright and sunny January day in Florida.
A view of Spruce Creek from the boardwalk at Spruce Creek Park, Port Orange, Florida.

Hikes that End in a Swim

Florida has a lot of lakes, beaches, and springs for swimming. If you are hiking from April to October, you can heat up during the walk and cool down in the water. 

Not all hikes have swimming areas, but you can plan your day to include hikes in the early morning and swims the rest of the day. 

Wildflower Hikes

Florida has epic wildflower blooms all year long. However, it’s dependent on where you are. 

Florida is a very long state. North Florida can get pretty cold, and South Florida is warm year-round. 

So, while something might be blooming in winter in a particular region, it might not be blooming 200 miles north. 

If you’re big into wildflowers, I recommend researching where and when to see them via the Florida Wildflower Foundation.   

Florida Hiking and Mobility Needs

Although Florida is relatively flat, you can’t assume you’ll be able to explore trails with strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs. 

During your planning phase, search for accessible paths and places that offer accommodations to make your visit possible. 

Florida state parks have 156 locations with accessible amenities. They also have all-terrain wheelchairs, but you must call the visitor center to ensure they are available at the location you want to visit. 

Hiking in Florida with Dogs

A lot of people like taking their dogs on hikes, ourselves included. However, they are not always welcome. 

Make sure to research where you are going and if dogs are allowed. 

When you bring your dog out, make sure to follow the basic rules:

  • Keep your dog on a 6-foot leash at all times.
  • Pick up after your dog.
  • Bring only well-behaved dogs.

If you plan to hike in Florida state parks, review their pet policy here

There are exceptions to these rules for service animals. You’ll want to know those, too, before roaming the woods. 

A man walks his German Shepherd on a flooded trail at Long Leaf Pine Preserve in DeLand, Florida.
Our dog loves a muddy and flooded trail. She’s living her best life here at Long Leaf Pine Preserve.

Avoid Taking Dogs Hiking in the Florida Summer

Once you’ve determined you can take your dog, you’ll want to take them out when the weather is cool.

Summers in Florida are hot and humid; even shady paths can get warm. And remember, your dog is wearing a coat all year long. Dog paws are also sensitive to hot surfaces, whether paved or sandy.

Hiking Florida With Kids

Florida is a great place to enjoy wooded paths with kids of all ages and abilities. The state has a low elevation and a lot of smooth trails and footpaths, some of which are also paved.

Research the weather before heading out to avoid route closures, extreme weather, and heat. 

For their safety, make sure that your children know to stay on trails and react calmly in wildlife encounters. Know what wildlife you might encounter in the area you are wandering so you can prepare yourself and your kids.

Our kids grew up on the trails, but we always have a safety talk before we head out. We’ve had wildlife encounters, and they have handled them well – staying calm, alert, and at a safe distance. 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, walking with her kids at Palm Island Park in Mount Dora, Florida.
Sometimes, you just hit the trails in flip-flops. Clearly not our first time walking at Palm Island Park.

Elevate Your Hike and Discover Florida Native History

Before Europeans came to Florida, there were people already here, and they left their mark. 

Florida’s Native American Heritage Trail will get you and your family out in nature while learning the history of the people before us. 

Hiking paths within the Native American Heritage Trail will take you through mounds, middens, and other historical sites.

Knowing what came before can help transform us and allow us to understand humankind in a broader sense.

Enjoy the Trails

Here are some of my best hiking posts:

Photo collage of various trails and nature found in central Florida, three of them feature Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle.
Don’t forget to pin me!

Leave a Comment