5 Florida Hikes to Help You Escape the Winter

Sick of the snow? South Florida is your ticket to sun, warmth, and wildlife.
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Sick of the snow? South Florida is your ticket to sun, warmth, and wildlife.
alligator

Mind the locals.

Snowy days and chilly nights are a wonderful thing. But sometimes, it’s nice to escape the multilayered clothing and windshield frost and retreat to warmer climates. South Florida’s winters are exceedingly mild, with lows often in the high 60s. This is also the best time to hike in the area, as humidity is low and mosquitoes are few and far between. If you’re ready for sandy beaches, swampy marshes, and plenty of wildlife, put these destinations on your Florida itinerary.

Everglades National Park

By foot or by boat, the Everglades are Florida’s greatest natural wonder. You’ll find 43 miles of connected trails on Pine Island, most of which are closed off to cars or bicycles. Beginners will enjoy the popular Anhinga Trail (just 0.8 miles), a tranquil hike ideal for bird-lovers that’s part of the network. Here you’re likely to catch a glimpse of cormorants, egrets, herons, purple gallinules, and of course, anhingas.

For something a little more challenging, check out the Flamingo hiking trails, which vary from a half-mile (the Eco Pond loop) to the 7.5-mile Coastal Prairie trail, an often muddy path with a gorgeous beach campground at the end. Even more challenging is the Long Pine Key Trail at over 22 miles. And if you feel exhaustion kick in, you’re free to stay at the key’s campground (open November 15-May 31; $20/night).

Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Nestled inside Hobe Sound, you’ll find Jonathan Dickinson State Park and a 4-mile long trail great for beginners and experienced hikers alike. There are plenty of gorgeous wildflowers to see as well as woodpeckers, mockingbirds, turtles, and the occasional deer or alligator. The pinelands provide little shade, so you’ll want to put on plenty of sunblock.

For seasoned hikers, the 7-mile Kitching Creek trail is fantastic. Make sure to climb the tower observation deck for a bird’s-eye view of the park. If you’re considering spending the night, opt for the 9.8-mile East Loop or the 10.5-mile section of the Florida trail from Lucky Tract to Kitching Creek, which includes a few campground spots on the way.

Anne Kolb Nature Center

The Hollywood-based Anne Kolb Nature Center offers a number of trails accessible to wheelchair users and people with limited mobility, starting with the Fishing Pier Trail (a 783-foot with two prime fishing spots). There’s also the Lake Observation Trail, roughly a quarter of a mile with a gorgeous vista of West Lake. If you’re into birding, try the Mud Flat Trail which provides excellent opportunities for viewing migratory birds. Best of all: thee South Trail, which takes hikers through a coastal mangrove swamp to observe over 200 species of wildlife, including woodstorks, tree crabs, green anoles, and more.

National Key Deer Refuge

Located just off Big Pine Key, this quiet spot includes dozens of miles of wilderness where visitors can get in some individual exploring. More casual outings include the Watson Trail, which winds around a number of solution holes and takes you past pine rockland, hardwood hammock, and wetlands. The more hiking you do, the better the odds you’ll catch a glimpse of the tiny key deer. To maximize your chances, stop by the Blue Hole, where these charming creatures often stop for a sip of water.

Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress undoubtedly has some of the most challenging trails in all of South Florida. This 729,000-acre preserve is home to over a dozen marked trails as well as plenty of uncharted backcountry territory. Start with the Fire Prairie Trail, a roughly 5-mile route that’s friendly to even the most novice hikers, then move on to one of several sections of the Florida Trail, which will guarantee you a glimpse at snakes, gators, and other fauna like otters up close and personal. Our pick: the nearly 30-mile section from Oasis Ranger Station through Alligator Alley. Like most Florida hikes, is best done in the drier, winter months. Go in the spring or summer and you might not be able to clear the whole thing, as waters can come up to your waist.