Though it stretches nearly the entire length of the state, this 1,100-mile trail is unknown to most locals. Only a few dozen hikers per year attempt a thru-hike, but those who do have the chance to see panthers in Big Cypress Swamp, pick wild citrus along the Kissimmee River, and dip in rejuvenating springs in Ocala National Forest—and do it all by themselves. It’s also a portal to the past: “Many people forget Florida is in the South, and we have so much heritage, ranging from Spanish explorers through the Civil War. You see so many relics that it’s like a path through Florida’s history,” says Wright.
The ideal Florida Trail thru-hike begins on New Year’s Day in the dark and mysterious Big Cypress Preserve, abutting Everglades National Park, and ends south of Pensacola in March, on a high-rise-free beach at Fort Pickens in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. This timing keeps the heat and mosquitoes to a minimum, and stunning winter sunsets—when the entire sky turns sherbet orange—to a maximum. With only six shelters, plan on tenting when you’re not resupplying in the occasional sleepy southern town (like Lake Butler, where the trail breaks to the west).
Driving To reach the southern terminus, follow Loop Rd. off of US 41 south into Big Cypress National Preserve. The Florida Trail kiosk is on the right after 13 miles.
Contact Florida Trail Association membership ($30) is required to hike on occasional private property: (352) 378-8823, floridatrail.org.