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What Florida lacks in elevation gain, it makes up for in biodiversity. Hike this 8.8-mile out-and-back in the Osceola National Forest to see all sorts of flora and fauna. Be sure to wear bug spray because mosquitoes are common in swampland, but the extra dose of DEET is worth the potential species-sightings of the route. Pine hammocks are the homes to multitudes of woodpeckers and butterflies, and Florida black bears wander in and out of the forest. Those hikers interested in near-harmless spider species may be drawn to beautiful spiders common to the area like the golden silk orb-weaver and the yellow garden spider and their magnificent webs.
From the Turkey Run trailhead on the left side of Colorado Road 250, follow the well-maintained path west for about 1.8 miles. Then, continue on the path—following the orange-blazed trail—another 1.8 miles north by northwest until hitting Forestry Road 234. Don’t be alarmed if along the trail, the scenery changes dramatically. Often, you’ll be trotting along when suddenly you notice you’re in a large, scrubby meadow created by past forest fires. Or other times, you might find yourself in the middle of a swamp that might seem to have come out of nowhere.
After crossing Forestry Road 234, you’ll continue along the path in the same direction for .8 miles along the east side of Still Road. When Still Road bends to the east, you’ll reach the end of this section route of the Florida Trail. With 4.4 miles under your belt, turn around and head back in the same direction you came.
There is no potable water on this trail, so bring at least a gallon per hiker. Florida summer weather usually reaches about 90 degrees, and winter weather reaches the mid-70s. There aren’t many moments of shady respite on this trail: The trees that line it let in a lot of sunlight.
Keep your eyes peeled for these harmless arthropods that call Florida home, specifically the golden silk orb-weaver and yellow garden spider. You can identify the golden silk because of the feathery tufts on its spindly, orange and brown legs. Although the male spiders remain small, up to a quarter-inch in length, the female spiders are a bit more intimidating in appearance: They grow up to 3 inches in length. They sit smack-dab in the middle of their web, not hiding from their prey, but that doesn’t mean they’re harmful for humans. Their bite is less severe than a bee sting. Hikers usually run into their sticky webs (which can be about 3 feet in diameter) because the they’ll spin them in the swamp, open woods, and in trees and shrubs at the edges of dense woods.
Yellow garden spiders have a black abdomen with symmetrical patches of bright yellow and reddish brown legs with black tips. They love to camp out along edges of water bodies, grassy hillsides, and wind-protected areas where two different habitats meet. Don’t be scared by their size: females are 0.75 to 1.1 inches long, which is up to three times longer than males. They’re harmless, though; even though they hang out in the center of their webs, they’re more flight than fight when it comes to confrontation.
Permit: Osceola National Forest has no formal backcountry permit or reservation system.
More info: Osceola National Forest, (386) 752-0147; or the Florida Trail Association, (352) 378-8823; floridatrail.org