As of right now (February 10, 2023), I’m at mile 866 out of 1,287 miles of the Florida Trail.
The old cliché in hiking and backpacking is that you need vast sweeping views of mountain ranges and flowing white rivers down a canyon into a majestic waterfall. The Florida National Scenic Trail (FT for short) offers none of that. The highest point of the FT is 345 feet.
Mellow right?! Nope.
The Florida Trail: Start in a Swamp
The Florida Trail is the opposite of mellow. It’s as close as you can get to how the continent looked 50 million years ago. I am walking on ancient ocean floor, that’s wild and very fascinating to me.
As I get older, these hikes become more about natural history and geology to me than crushing miles of fast hiking times (though I respect all hiking styles). As they say, HYOH or “hike your own hike.” This trail will throw you right in to your uncomfortable zone, helping you figure out what’s working and what’s not pretty quickly.
The Florida Trail starts in Big Cypress or “the swamp” (as most hikers refer to it), a 30 mile stretch through thigh deep mud and water, often labeled the “toughest stretch of hiking in the United States."
Orange splats of paint (called blazes) painted on the trees every hundred-ish yards are the only markers.
Alligators, Bugs, and Pigs. Oh My!
I’d never seen an alligator before this hike; now I see them almost daily. Often I’m maintaining eye contact, murmuring something along the lines of “just getting some water and moving on bud!” They add to the prehistoric vibes this trail puts out.
Oh, and BUGS. So many bugs. You better be in your tent by sundown, or you are a blood bank. A lot of nights get below freezing, which is a challenge in itself, but often leads to relief from the mosquitos for a couple days following. Small victories!
Wild pigs can be scary, so I’ve learned to tell if they are around an area I want to camp. If the ground is dug up, I move on. They seem to be the bravest when it comes to getting close to your tent at night.
The scariest animal by far is the good old American canine. This trail has 365 miles of road walking, and a lot of these roads are in the country, so dogs off-leash are a thing. It’s really the only time I wish I used trekking poles or carried pepper spray.
Gear choices are more important here than most other trails. Even without the swamps, you are gonna to get wet every day from condensation alone. A good rain jacket or even an umbrella are clutch. Wool socks, shoes that dry fast, and good sun protection are all required.
You have plenty to distract you out there, but town stops are very coveted when they do happen. If I can leave a town with a shower AND laundry, I almost look like an athlete, but one day on-trail and it’s right back to questionable looking riffraff at best. You learn to deal with the funk.
The trail provides. I talk to the trail; it talks to me. Things can get tough out there, but somehow everything works out in the end if you can teach yourself to live and be present in that moment, and that moment only. Embrace the suck and experience a freedom that is hard to find any other way.
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About the Author
Cory is a thru-hiker, minimalist, and snowboarder from Mt. Hood Oregon. He is very tired of eating ramen. You can follow his hike on Instagram at @weens.w0rld.