Guide to Hiking in Florida With Kids

When most people think of visiting Florida with kids, they usually think about beaches and theme parks, but the Sunshine State is also great for hiking!

Florida offers unique hiking experiences with sand, lakes, springs, sinkholes, underwater caves, and wildlife. There are even waterfalls, caverns, rocky coastlines, rapids, and coral reefs to explore! With low elevation and many smooth, paved trails, it’s perfect for kids of all ages and abilities.

I’ve been hiking Florida trails with my family for 13 years. We started with baby carriers and strollers, but now we can all strap on our hiking boots and go. We’ve experienced hot, sweaty walks, cool, windy ones, and even a few rainy hikes. I want to share what I’ve learned so you can enjoy the trails and stay safe with kids, regardless of their age or mobility.

Keep reading to learn about hiking in Florida, the best times to go, and the essential clothes and gear for a fun and safe adventure on the trails.

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Two small children walk along a boardwalk on Lake Ashby in New Smyrna Beach, Florida on a partly cloudy day.
I think boardwalks are our favorites! This is at Lake Ashby in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Table of Contents

Two young boys stand just off the trail in the woods while holding branches at Deep Creek Preserve in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
My oldest, when he was tiny, playing with his friend on a dry and flat trail at Deep Creek Preserve in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Florida Fun Facts

  • Florida stretches nearly 450 miles from top to bottom – that’s a lot of ground to cover!
  • We’ve got two time zones and two climates – talk about variety!
  • With the longest coastline in the contiguous US, you’re always close to the beach.
  • You’re never more than 60 miles from saltwater – ocean vibes all the time!
  • Explore 175 state parks and 9,200 miles of trails – adventure awaits!
  • Water lovers, rejoice! We’ve got 700 freshwater springs and 4,000 miles of paddling routes.
  • Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the US – wild and wonderful!

All-Weather Gear

Carry water for the whole family. Staying hydrated is critical for hotter days and high exertion. 

Consider a portable water filter. If you run out of water on your trek, you can always filter the water you find. I tested one and wrote about it here

Florida is sunny 230 days out of the year. Wear sunscreen or protective clothing to prevent sun damage to your family’s skin. 

Lip balm with SPF protects lips and keeps them nice and healthy all year, including crack-free on cold days. 

A brimmed hat and sunglasses can also help protect little faces and eyes from the sun.

It’s also a good idea to have a first aid kit. We have had several over the years. The trickiest thing about a kit is remembering to check the contents for expiration dates

Two older kids and a German Shepherd hiking on a boardwalk, through oaks, palms, and cypress trees, that leads to Old Methuselah, a 500-year-old bald cypress, at DeLeon Springs State in DeLeon Springs, Florida.
This was a very chill walk in the shade on a cool day. So, we didn’t have much hiking gear at all.

How to Avoid Bug Bites

If you hike during peak mosquito season, which runs from July to October, you’ll want to protect yourself with repellent. My favorite natural mosquito repellent is made locally, smells great, and actually works!

Don’t forget about the “famous” no-see-ums; they also bite!! 

Remember that mosquitos and no-see-ums can be present throughout the year in the woods and near the water.

In addition to flying biting bugs, Florida has plenty of ticks. We use Off! Deep Woods Tick Repellent. It’s gross, but not as gross as searching for ticks all over your body and your family. 

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

Florida’s Wildlife

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

The state also has plenty of cute squirrels, deer, majestic herons, and 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 live in Florida. The FWC also estimates there are 1.3 million alligators in Florida. 

A pigmy rattlesnake coiled in fallen oak leaves in full sunlight on the edge of the Buncombe Hill Hiking Trail in the Tiger Bay State Forest in Daytona Beach, Florida.
We saw a pigmy rattlesnake while hiking the Buncombe Hill Hiking Trail in the Tiger Bay State Forest in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Wildlife Safety Tips

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. 

For their safety, make sure that your children know to 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. 

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

Bells

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

Our bear bells can attach to shoes, backpacks, or clothing with hook-and-loop fasteners. You can also quiet the bells *by using a built-in magnet* so they don’t jingle before you get on the trail.  

Sticks and Bear Spray

A walking stick and bear spray are both weapons that can be used on various animals if you find yourself in danger. Be careful with bear spray; you can hurt yourself with it if it blows into your eyes. 

We have never had to use them, but they are good to have in case of an encounter with dangerous wildlife. 

Hiking vs. Nature Walks

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

Even though many trails in Florida are more like nature walks, I’m calling them hikes. Some folks might not call them that since none of these treks scale mountains or go along cliffs, and some paths double as logging roads. 

Florida’s highest elevation is 345 feet (Britton Hill), and some areas are below sea level.

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

A group of people, including a tween, hike along a sandy trail with a canopy of oaks and palms at Lake Ashby in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
We took a guided hike with Green Volusia at Lake Ashby on this flat and narrow trail in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Sandy and Muddy Paths are the Norm

One thing is certain: many Florida trails are either sandy or muddy.

Sandy Trails

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 stick to shoes, socks, and pant legs. Small kids can get injured (though not seriously) by sand spurs. 

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

Muddy Trails

Many trails are also muddy. Some never dry up; others can dry up during the dry season or drought. I recently learned that palm fronds can make muddy trails passable and less slippery. 

We were hiking at Bulow Creek State Park and came across a portion of the trail that was very muddy and covered in palm fronds. It was very cool, and the kids loved walking along the crunchy fronds without sinking in the mud. 

Impacts of Hurricanes on Florida Hiking Areas

In Florida, hurricane season runs from June to November. The state 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. 

Always check before heading out to hike to make sure the areas you plan to explore are open. The Florida State Parks, the Forest Service, and the National Park Service websites are always very good at posting closures, alerts, and important information. If you can’t find it on a website, call. 

Florida Summer Afternoons Mean Thunderstorms

The Sunshine State becomes the Thunderstorm State nearly every summer afternoon. The good news is that storms typically roll through and are gone quickly, a few hours later, sometimes even in less than an hour.

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

Morning hikes in the summer are generally more pleasant since the days start out cooler than later in the day. And, if you hike in the early morning, you can fit in a swim before the storms. 

Note: Any time 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!

A mom and a group of older kids hike along a muddy logging road at Deep Creek Preserve in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
There was so much mud on this trail/logging road at Deep Creek Preserve in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. It’s supposed to be during the dry season, too. lol

What are the Best Months to Explore Florida Trails?

Florida technically experiences all four seasons, although summer lasts longer than elsewhere. 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:

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

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.

A father, his two children, and German Shepherd pose at the sign for the Fairchild Oak Hiking Trailhead at Bulow Creek State Park in Ormond Beach, Florida.
My family poses at the Fairchild Oak Hiking Trail trailhead in February. It was the dry season, but there was still a muddy area on the trail and another section that was completely flooded.

Hikes that End in a Swim

Florida has a lot of lakes, beaches, and springs for swimming. If you are hiking between April and 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. 

Places with Hiking and Swimming:

Wildflower Hikes

Wildflowers bloom all year long in Florida. However, the specific time of year depends on where you are. 

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

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

If you’re interested in seeing wildflowers along your walk, I recommend researching where and when to see them through the Florida Wildflower Foundation.   

Red and hot pink flowers on a spring hike at Lyonia Preserve in Deltona, Florida.
Look at these gorgeous April flowers we saw while hiking at Lyonia Preserve in Deltona, Florida.

A Note on Hiking Gear for Kids

Before we get into the gear you’ll need to hike with kids, I’d like to address a few things.

Tips for Saving on Kids’ Hiking Gear

As you can imagine, hiking gear is expensive—any specialized gear is. 

If you buy kids’ hiking gear, I recommend shopping for discounted items (like REI Outlet or Amazon) or used gear (you can find used at REI or Facebook Marketplace). 

Our youngest often got a lot of hand-me-downs from her older brother. And once our youngest outgrew her items, I would hand them down to other outdoor-loving families. 

You can also find non-hiking-specific items that can work for hiking as well. 

Why You Should Get a Hiking Baby Carrier

Consider a hiking carrier if you love hiking and are expecting or already have a baby. 

We used one (almost exactly like this one) for our kids. We were able to sell it when our kids outgrew it. I recommend getting one with the largest weight capacity. Carrying a 30+ pound toddler in your arms will wear you out quickly. Having them on your back is much easier. 

Even if you have one who is interested in walking and running, they always get tired on the trails. The backpack carrier lets your toddler nap or rest their legs while you continue your hike. 

New baby carriers for hiking typically start in the $80 range and can go up to the $500s. I never had one that was that expensive—my cheaper one worked really well for me. Always do some research on the best ones for your needs. 

A toddler in being carried on her mother's back in a baby carrier while hiking through the sandy trails in the Lyonia Preserve in Deltona, Florida.
This is another carrier that I had and used with my youngest. It was not advertised for hiking, but it worked for short hikes, especially since she loved walking and running on the trails.

What Kind of Footwear & Socks Do Kids Need to Hike in Florida?

All you need to hike are closed-toe, sturdy walking shoes and comfortable socks. 

Once you and your kids start hiking more, especially in muddy or rough terrain, I recommend getting waterproof hiking boots or hiking shoes. They are made to protect feet and keep them dry (for the most part, at the very least, drier than in regular shoes). They typically have good traction, too, which can be useful on your treks. 

You’ll want hiking socks to go with trail shoes and boots. I’ve tried to wear regular socks with my hiking boots and ended up with a callus on my big toe! My foot was sliding around my boot and scraping that toe. When I wear my hiking socks, my foot stays put, and I don’t have any injuries. 

I recommend trying your footwear in-store and talking to an expert. You want to make sure they are a good fit, and I always like being able to try out different styles at a store. 

Specific Recommendations

ItemBrandComments
Hiking SocksSmartwool
Moisture-wicking
Cushioning
Hiking SneakersMerrellI wear these kids’ sneakers 
Protect feet
Leave ankles exposed
Hiking BootsKeenYoungest wears and loves these
Technically for boys, but my daughter uses them
Buy on sale

Three kids showing off their hiking shoes while hiking on a sandy trail in Central Florida.
Here I am with some of our homeschool kiddos in our hiking shoes.

What are Basic Kids’ Hiking Clothes?

In general, my kids wear lightweight tops and bottoms. 

When it’s hot, we often wear shorts and short-sleeved tops. 

We add a fleece layer on top and long pants during the colder months. Dressing in moisture-wicking layers is a good idea because the morning starts cold but can heat up quickly. 

Hiking Pants

Hiking pants are lightweight and have built-in sunblock (UPF 50+), moisture-wicking properties, and good pockets. 

Our favorite hiking pants convert into shorts. They aren’t cheap, but they are well worth the investment. They are also water-repellant and have tons of pockets. And yes, they sell these for adults, too. 

Here’s a pair of hiking convertible pants that are a bit cheaper. We have not owned these, but the reviews seem pretty good. 

Hiking Shirts

Who doesn’t love a good hiking shirt with sunblocking (UPF 50) and moisture-wicking abilities? These shirts are also good for any outdoor activities with your kids. So, if the price seems a little higher, remember they can use them off the trail, too. 

Here are some other outdoor kids’ top options

Base Layers

I recommend wearing base layers when hiking in the winter or during cold weather. They will keep your kids warm, dry, and comfortable. 

Kids might already have some things in their closet that may work. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this article: “How to Choose Base Layers” from REI.

Two young boys hold hands while hiking along a sandy trail covered in pine straw at Palm Bluff Conservation area in Osteen, Florida.
A decade ago, my oldest and my friend’s oldest hiking at Palm Bluff Conservation Area in Osteen, Florida. They just wore regular clothes and sturdy shoes. Just get them on the trails!

Fun Gear for Hiking With Kids

So far, we have kept everything pretty serious, so let’s toss in some fun stuff! 

Nature Exploration Kit

Keeping kids engaged on a hike can be one of the hardest things. Over the years, I have found that if you have some exploration gear, it can really make for a delightful hike with happy kids.

I recommend having the following:

Keep everything in a drawstring bag to keep it all together and make it easy to carry. Of course, there are some that you buy pre-packed with a bunch of hiking goodies. Just know that you might want to hide the flashlights and whistles that come with some of these. 

A toddler is playing in the woods in front of a small spring run at Green Springs in Deltona, Florida.
My youngest (years ago!) playing in the woods with the spring run behind her on a warm day at Green Springs in Deltona, Florida.

Hiking Journal

If your child likes to journal, consider a hiking journal. This way, they can log their hikes and document animal and plant sightings. They can start filling it out before they head out and continue recording if you stop for snacks or lunch or on the way home. 

Scavenger Games

When my kids were little, I always made a scavenger hunt sheet for each kid to extend our hikes and just have fun. 

There are some premade ones, like this free PDF I made, that you can download or you can buy a scavenger hunt with cards and a carrying bag

Play I-Spy

Probably the simplest game you can play is I-Spy. This is a good game for older kids. 

Our kids are now teens, and we still play this game. Sometimes, the kids get really creative with this one. The best thing is it’s free! 

Happy Family Hiking!

Make sure that you set aside plenty of time for the kids to be kids on the hike. Let them stop and inspect flowers and bugs. If they get tired, rest on the trails and make jokes or recap what you’ve seen so far. And let them get dirty. Kids love to get dirty. The clothes are washable, but those smiles are memories in the making.

If you’re looking for family-friendly hiking for your family less than an hour north of Orlando, check out this post

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