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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Hiking Hip Deep in Florida's Swamps

Get your feet (and more) wet on the Florida Trail's best section.

by: Charlie Wood & Casey Lyons

Don't look down: Trail markers are easy to miss (Johnny Molloy).
Don't look down: Trail markers are easy to miss (Johnny Molloy).

The Hike
Hardcore thru-hikers say the Florida Trail, stretching 1,400 miles from Big Cypress National Preserve in the south to Gulf Islands National Seashore in the northern panhandle, is the perfect place to train in the winter. You'll catch some sun on a tour of cypress forests, palmetto prairies, blooming orchids, and crystal-clear springs. But you don't have to be an uber-hiker to enjoy it. Get a taste on its most scenic chunk: a 48.8-mile, five-day trek southeast of Tallahassee, from US 319 to Porter Lake Campground at FL 375.

The Crux
The waist-deep waters of Bradwell Bay, starting at mile 13. Hypothermia is a legitimate concern on this seven-mile slosh, and so is panic. Was that a gator?

The Key
An early start, effective layering, and sound logic. Camp near Monkey Creek (mile 12, the nearest dry campsites), and get going by 7 a.m. in order to finish this section before dark (it can take up to 12 hours to traverse). Wear synthetic long johns and a warm hat and pack a hammock for a dry place to sit during breaks (there are plenty of cypress trees). As for gator panic? Don't worry. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that Bradwell Bay's still, black waters are poor gator habitat (not enough prey), and no hiker has ever been attacked here.

The Way
From Crawfordville, take FR 365 6.2 miles to FR 348. Drive two miles west to FR 329. Turn left to reach the Bradwell Bay trailhead in 0.2 mile.

Plan It
Florida Trail Association: floridatrail.org. USGS quads: Bradwell Bay, Smith Creek




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star
swampsis
Apr 16, 2013

Some years bradwell bay is bone dry - like the year I did it. My favorite parts of the FT are along the suwannee and Blackwater state park to the Alabama line - with a shelter every 7 miles you don't even really need a tent. I have hiked a major portion of the FT and only saw gators in the canals along the Big cypress portion from I75 to billies swamp safari. Saw nothing but a few snakes from Loop road to I75. And the water was never deeper than my booty.

Allen
Dec 11, 2009

I prefer the southern terminus to I-75 hike There is something about hiking in a panther preserve with gaters, snakes, bears and the local legendary swamp ape that make for a great hike.

Carl
Nov 14, 2009

As a member of FTA, I can tell there a lot of great hikes in Florida that do not require wading in waist high water.

The real Florida is not palm trees and Disney. There are some places to see that are one of a kind and unique to Florida.

We plan to highlight some of these places on oaestore.com

Paul
Mar 04, 2009

Really great pic (note sarcasm)

Cantaloupe
Nov 23, 2008

Hyperbolic little summary. The route might possibly up to waist deep during wet conditions.

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