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.