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