Everglades National Park
Everglades visitors must tread lightly on the fragile lushness of this shallow,
50-mile-wide "river of grass." But their care is rewarded with sightings of alligators, flamingos, roseate spoonbills, egrets, herons, hawks, and other colorful wildlife. A network of short hiking trails samples every corner of the Everglades, from hammocks of gumbo-limbo trees to royal palm, palmetto, mahogany, and pine groves. For information on paddling the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway, see "No-Man's-Land" (May 2001).
Contact: Everglades National Park, (305) 242-7700; www.nps.gov/ever.
Ocala National Forest
With average daily temps around 50°F and not a flake of snow in 30 years, this central Florida forest is the ideal winter backpacking escape. Bound by cypress and gum swamps, with subtropical flowers and hammocks draped in Spanish moss, it features short boardwalk trails and 65 miles of the Florida Trail.
Contact: Seminole Ranger District, Ocala National Forest, (352) 669-3153; www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/florida.
Big Cypress National Preserve
Big Cypress harbors many of the same swamps, sodden prairies, and tropical wildlife as the Everglades, but receives far fewer visitors. The Florida Trail winds through the preserve for 41 miles, and some overgrown trails on the western side beckon the adventurous hiker. Winter offers drier hiking and fewer mosquitoes.
Contact: Big Cypress National Preserve, (941) 695-4111; www.nps.gov/bicy.