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Florida Trail - Overview

The Florida Trail one of eleven National Scenic Trails in the United States, is currently over 1,000 miles long with a total of 300 miles planned.  It extends from Big Cypress National Preserve in the south to Fort Pickens at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach in the north. Also known as the Florida National Scenic Trail (which applies only to its federally certified segments), the Florida Trail is within an hour of most Floridians.  But that doesn't mean it's heavily used. No matter what segment of the trail we travel, we seldom see backpackers or even day hikers.

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The Florida Trail passes through a unique range of environments not seen anywhere
else in the world; this means that there are amazing wildlife and nature viewing
opportunities. The Trail crosses both urban areas and remote wilderness areas,
and traverses a variety of semi-tropical ecosystems. From swamps to forests to
prairies to springs, there are endless habitat exploration opportunities. Additionally,
the Florida Trail is the only National Scenic Trail to include a beach walk.

There are many Florida residents who regularly drive 10 to 15 hours to backpack in the southern Appalachians and the majority of them have never set foot on the Florida Trail. They want expansive mountain  vistas, waterfalls, and brilliant fall colors.  While it’s true you can’t really experience these in Florida, the Florida Trail
offers wonders that are every bit as awe-inspiring as the mountain landscapes. But because they’re more subtle, you have to tune your senses to
a different frequency to notice
and appreciate them.  The
example I use when I’m trying to
get this point across to
backpackers who look down
their noses at the Florida Trail,
is the Three Lakes Wildlife
Management Area about 70
miles south of Orlando.  During
a single day on a 10-mile stretch
of the Trail through this area we
experienced an amazing 
diversity of habitats as we
walked through pine flatwoods,
dry sand hills populated by scrub
oak festooned with numerous
species of bromiliads and
orchids, wet hammocks of Live
Oaks and Sabal Palms, and
Palmetto prairie interspersed with shallow grassy wetlands. We meandered around the shores of large shallow lakes, waded across flowing creeks, and clomped across boardwalks through flooded cypress domes and sloughs. This diversity of habitats produces a great variety of wildlife that are relatively easy to spot because of the openness of the landscape.   Of the hundreds of species of mammals, birds, and reptiles that live in the area, we regularly see White-Tail Deer, wild boar, raccoon, wild turkey, Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Turkey Vultures, and a long list of wading birds and ducks.  

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