Florida National Scenic Trail

December 7, 2011

While out on  a swampy hike just east of Orlando this past weekend, we ventured on to a part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. This designated trail will eventually connect all of Florida, from Gulf Island National Seashore near Pensacola all the way down to Big Cypress National Preserve near Miami and Naples. Not that I want to hike the entire state of Florida, but I do like the fact that the trails of the Florida National Scenic Trail network are usually well maintained and are located in the very best parts of Florida.

The trail marking system includes symbols for intersections of differing trails, informing a hiker which way to go.  This is extremely helpful as most trails here in Florida, at least in my experience, are not well-marked, mapped or laid out.  Signs like this one below definitely help us stay on course.

Intersection Ahead - Keep Right

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Enchanted Forest

October 5, 2011

With the first hint of Fall in the air, hiking has become a desirable activity once again.  And the first hiking of the season took place in an Enchanted Forest. 

The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary in Titusville that is.

The 462-acre forest is part of the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Land (EEL) Program.  This EEL Program consists not just of one designated location but several. According to their website, an EEL Sanctuary is:

  • A place of wonder, contemplation and discovery
  • A resource for environmental education
  • A preserve to protect biodiversity and natural resources
  • An opportunity to experience Florida as the early inhabitants did

I agree with all of these, and more. For several years I lived in apartments and my only sanctuary was out in nature, mostly in parks. So I’m a strong advocate of outdoor areas being preserved, yet open to the public.

The hiking around the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary is more of a walk than a hike, as the trails are easy, and if taken separately, relatively short. We explored five of the trails, walking a total of just over 3 miles. 

Our Titusville Forest

Near the intersection of two trails, we came across this unhurried soul, fresh from his underground abode (if the sand on his back is any indication).

The Education Center located at the Sanctuary provides interactive exhibits on the  biodiversity that makes up this small pocket of Florida. In one, you choose an object and place it under a microscope. In others, you test your knowledge with trivia.

This is a new find, and I’m excited to explore the rest of the locations being preserved by the Brevard County EEL Program.  It seems there really is more to Florida than just concrete jungles full of flashy rides and rows and rows of junk food.  Floridians do care about what’s in their back yard. Brevard County is proving just that.


Are We Hiking or Walking?

May 7, 2010

   

Hiking is an outdoor activity which consists of walking in natural environments, often on hiking trails…In the United States and United Kingdom, hiking refers to cross-country walking of a longer duration than a simple walk and usually over terrain where hiking boots are required.
— Wikipedia–
  

They are called hikes.  Online, in guide books, on maps, in brochures.  But if they are on flat, wide open paths large enough for a car or truck, are they still considered hiking trails? And am I hiking if I walk them?  Hiking boots are rarely required and I usually end up wearing my beat up Vasque Trail Runners.   

Trail or path? Hiking or walking? Whichever or whatever they are, two of my favorites in Florida so far are found at designated National Wildlife Refuges.  

Cruickshank Trail, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, is a 5 mile loop trail.  The trail is named after Allan D. Cruickshank, a wildlife photographer, writer and naturalist.  It is located at Stop 8 along the Black Point Wildlife Drive.  The first time we hiked this trail we rounded a bend just in time to see a large otter crossing the path from one waterway to another. 

Cruickshank Trail

Rest Stop on the Cruickshank Trail

The nature trails at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge in DeLeon Springs are more like wide footpaths.  A small part of the trail meanders through a pine forest to a secluded waterway.  A great walk of up to five miles or more.  Also a great location for viewing alligators on the banks sunning themselves.   

Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge Trail


Swamp Hiking

May 4, 2010

 
At first, Florida Hiking sounded like an oxymoran.  Normally when I think of great hikes, I think Appalachian Trail type hikes, with mountains and various flora and fauna.

I’ve always loved hiking, or at least taking long walks in the woods.  I thought for sure finding satisfying trails in Florida would be a challenge.  I was wrong.  Fortunately Florida has woods to explore, and many trails ready to be hiked. Not all the trails hiked so far have been impressive, but already I’m seeing things I never would see on the more mountainous trails. It’s swamp hiking at its best.

A concise guide-book catering specifically to the Central Florida area, Falcon Guides’ Hiking Central Florida, is my first resource.  This book contains short walks, day hikes, and overnight hikes.   The day hikes are what I am interested in most.  I like them to be at least 5 miles in length so you feel you get a good workout and also achieve the feeling of being removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization.

Here are a few of the day hikes I have explored so far:

Little Big Econ State Forest Hiking Trails (Oveida, FL)
Designates trails for hiking, cycling and horseback riding.  Each activity has its own parking area, in separate locations.  Also has a put-in spot for canoes and kayaks.  The first part of the trail weaves along a waterway and we happened upon an 8-foot alligator resting just off the bank a few feet from us.  A short way down the trail we ran into teenagers waiting their turn at a rope swing as kayakers leisurely paddled by.  Is it just me, or is there something inherently wrong with swimmers, kayakers and alligators sharing the same small stretch of waterway? 

There is beauty to be found on this trail, particularly in a mesmorizing swamp scene a short ways in.

The downside to this hiking location is  the poorly designed map for hikers, and the various trails not being marked.

Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area (Christmas, FL)
If you want desolate, this is the place.  At the lonely entrance kiosk there is a log book for visitors to sign their names, time in, make of car, and type of activity pursuing.  A sign also requests that you stop back by on your way out and sign out.  This is a good idea, and you will know why once you venture inside.  The main dirt road follows a line of power towers and you can hear them sizzle and crackle as you pass.  We chose to park at Parking Area 23, a grassy spot just off  the main road.  A newly built foot bridge took us over a narrow waterway into a Florida forest full of awe-inspiring old growth cypress trees, and through swamp land full of early Spring mosquitoes. Purple Spring blooming irises added color to the different shades of green throughout.  This is an interesting hike except for the confusing intersections with other trails along the way.  We hiked farther than planned, and due to flooded pathways, at least once had to double back and find another way.  

Although the Florida heat and humidity debilitate you, early morning starts to the hikes are well rewarded.  Until a trail convinces me otherwise, taking to Florida’s unique swampy hiking trails deserves to be number three on my List of 50 Things to Love About Florida.