Blaze Native Trails with Confidence – Stuart Journal

Scene from the gorgeous Florida Path. Photograph by Alex Freeze

Anybody who has ever succumbed to wanderlust has doubtless heard of (or stepped foot on) the countrys two most traversed Nationwide Scenic Trails: the Pacific Crest Path on the West Coast and its East Coast counterpart, the Appalachian Path. However Floridians dont must journey practically as far to go for an exhilarating hike within the woods.

Nearly each Floridian is inside an hour of the Florida Path, but nobody is aware of have been right here, says Jenna Taylor, program supervisor for the Florida Path Associations (FTA) central and south areas. Whereas we dont have peaks, we now have such stunning sweeping views which are simply as spectacular.

One among solely three Nationwide Scenic Trails contained in a single state (together with the Arizona Path and the Ice Age Path in Wisconsin), the Florida Path spans roughly 1,500 miles from the southern terminus in Huge Cypress Nationwide Protect to Gulf Islands Nationwide Seashore within the panhandle. Formally designated a Nationwide Scenic Path in 1983, the Florida Path permits nature lovers to discover our states most distant and undisturbed areas, via cypress swamps and pine flatwoods, looking for ghost orchids, migratory birds, and the elusive Florida panther.

Hike20 2021 on the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail. Photo courtesy Hannah Campbell
Hike20 2021 on the Ocean to Lake Mountaineering Path. Photograph courtesy Hannah Campbell

Had been preventing a dropping battle towards builders, and remembering that we now have these areas is so vital, says Taylor, who, together with the U.S. Forest Service and a group of volunteers from native FTA chapters, maintains a portion of the path and its offshoots (known as spur trails) for leisure use.

Whereas the 113-mile stretch round Lake Okeechobee is the one official part of the Florida Path positioned in Palm Seaside and Martin counties, a number of of its spur trails are a lot nearer. Jonathan Dickinson State Park is residence to the Inexperienced and White Trails, named for his or her corresponding path markers. These trails convey day hikers over historical sand dunes and thru palmetto and oak hammocks and are maintained by the FTAs Loxahatchee chapter (the Tropical Trekkers chapter maintains different spur trails all through Martin and St. Lucie counties).

I at all times warning new hikers that Florida is not only flattheres undoubtedly a whole lot of range within the terrainso they should be ready for that, says Taylor, who additionally notes that the Florida Path and its offshoots will doubtless be moist throughout climbing season from
October to March. The earlier you study to embrace it and stroll proper via the water, the higher, she provides.

The Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail is one of the Florida National Scenic Trails spur trails. Photo by Alex Freeze
The Ocean to Lake Mountaineering Path is among the Florida Nationwide Scenic Trails spur trails. Photograph by Alex Freeze

Hikers who’re able to get their toes moist ought to take into account traversing the Florida Trails native hidden gem: the Ocean to Lake Mountaineering Path (OTLHT). This 61-mile spur path is marked with orange blazes and runs from Hobe Sound Seaside to Lake Okeechobee, taking hikers via ecosystems that change roughly each mile. Whereas there are a number of alternatives to hike brief sections, FTA Loxahatchee chapter chair Janet Miller recommends backpacking (or through-hiking) the path over a number of days.

You dont understand it till youre on the market, however there are such a lot of stunning wildflowers; theres at all times one thing blooming, says Miller, who has been volunteering with the Loxahatchee chapter since 2011 and is one among a number of volunteers who mow, blaze, and other- sensible preserve the path. Once you see the cypress timber and the bromeliads in bloom, its actually distinctive and delightful. The sound, the scent Theres simply one thing about it.

Backpackers have a number of choices for through-hiking the OTLHT. Skilled hikers can go to loxfltrail.org for a path map and knowledge on tenting permits, prescribed burn closures, and searching season dates. Learners can both use the Loxahatchee chapters Meetup web page to join a volunteer-led group journey (climbing and backpacking journeys are free for anybody eager to attend, although FTA membership is inspired) or register for Hike2O, an annual backpacking journey cohosted by the FTA and Loggerhead Marinelife Heart.

Micco Bluff on the Florida Trail. Photo by Van Tran
Micco Bluff on the Florida Path. Photograph by Van Tran

There’ll at all times be individuals who want and wish to connect with the ocean in several methods, says Hannah Campbell, an FTA volunteer exercise chief and president of Loggerheads edu-cation division. We thought a very cool alternative to do this can be to take them on a hike and introduce them to the coastal ecosystems which are intrinsically linked to the ocean.

Now in its fourth yr, the 33-mile Hike20 trek covers roughly half of the OTLHT over three days and requires individuals to have their very own backpack, tent, water-filtration system, and meals. Nightly conservation talks led by Campbell and different Loggerhead workers and FTA path leaders spherical out the lengthy weekend, which takes place March 3-5 this yr.

Weve created an area the place individuals can really feel snug that theyre in good palms with educated and skilled folks and that theyre not going to be ridiculed or shamed for having questions, says Campbell. Its a superb introduction to include tenting and backpacking into their life-style to allow them to attain a few of these extra inaccessible pure areas.

Ghost orchid
Ghost orchid

In contrast to different FTA-led hikes, Hike2O is a fundraiser for Loggerheads Oceans of Alternative initiative, which grants scholarship funding and help providers to underserved and underrepresented college students in Palm Seaside and Martin counties. Its not simply concerning the individuals who take part, its additionally about constructing that legacy for the subsequent technology and creating the chance to have interaction with their ecosystem and the ocean in a significant manner, Campbell says.

Campbell has hiked with the FTA since childhood and loves encouraging folks to check their abilities and study extra about their states public lands on a close-by path. I’m undoubtedly the one that is advocating that there’s reliable and delightful climbing in Florida, she says, including that taking a naturalist course or studying about native wildlife earlier than any hike is a good suggestion.

Lots of people are drawn to the OTLHT as a result of they just like the problem, she says. Its a bodily problem, its an emotional problem, its an adventurebut the perimeter profit to all of these issues is constructing a optimistic relationship with adults in nature. Wild Florida can appear uninspiring to the untrained eye, however its ecosystems are extremely distinctive and vigorous in the event you look intently.

Go to loxfltrail.org or trekkers.floridatrail.org to turn into an FTA member or register for a climbing or backpacking journey; to study extra about Hike20, go to marinelife.org/hike.

CamelBak Rim Runner X 22 Hydration Pack, $100, REI, Palm Beach Gardens, rei.com
CamelBak Rim Runner X 22 Hydration Pack, $100, REI, Palm Seaside Gardens, rei.com

Gear Up

Be ready for moist terrain, unrelenting sunshine, and bugs with these guide-recommended necessities

A small backpack or hydration pack (like a CamelBak) can carry necessities like water and snacks throughout day hikes; a 50-liter pack will provide you with loads of room for multiday hikes. A standard advice is to hold not more than 20 p.c of your physique weightthats roughly 30 kilos for a 150-pound hiker.

Path runners permit extra water to empty throughout moist hikes and forestall blisters (common sneakers will work in a pinch). Keep away from boots or different footwear with waterproofing supplies like Gore-Tex, which might entice water and moisture.

Jenna Taylor on the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail. Photo courtesy of Jenna Taylor
Jenna Taylor on the Ocean to Lake Mountaineering Path. Photograph courtesy of Jenna Taylor

Trekking poles preserve you from tripping over roots and rocks and supply higher stability so you possibly can look forward, slightly than at your toes. Wrap some duct tape round every pole so you will have it readily available for issues like tent repairs.

Sturdy wool socks (like Darn Powerful socks) regulate physique temperature to maintain your toes from sweating, add cushioning, and forestall blisters. Add medical-grade sports activities tape to your first-aid package to cowl scorching spots on lengthy hikes.

A reusable water bottle or bladder is important for day journeys. Two liters ought to suffice for a two-to three-hour hike. For longer hikes, a water-filtration system (Iike the Sawyer Squeeze) lets you filter water immediately from backcountry sources. Add an electrolyte powder to your filtered water to boost the style and replenish vitamins misplaced via sweat.

Sunscreen and bug spray with DEET must be utilized earlier than any climbing journey, even in overcast or dry circumstances. A hat and neck buff add additional safety from bugs and solar publicity.

A sleeping pad provides much-needed help when sleeping on the bottom. Reduce an accordion-style sleeping pad down to suit your particular peak to avoid wasting house and weight in your pack.

An space map or path app will preserve you on monitor when blazes arent seen. The FarOut app consists of the Florida Path and the OTLHT. Dont overlook a conveyable cellphone charger!

Kiana Emilcar and Mark Cook walk through the Loxahatchee Slough on the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail. Photo by Alex Freeze
Kiana Emilcar and Mark Cook dinner stroll via the Loxahatchee Slough on the Ocean to Lake Mountaineering Path. Photograph by Alex Freeze

Discover Your Path

The most effective native hikes by ability stage

Newbie

Practically not possible to get misplaced, dry terrain, restrooms and water fountains accessible

Riverbend Park, Jupiter: This 665-acre regional park affords 15 miles of well-marked nature trails spanning pine flatwoods, cypress swamps, oak hammocks, and moist prairies. Look out for white-tailed deer, river otters, alligators, and wild turkeys as you hike alongside the Loxahatchee River.

Nice Florida Birding and Wildlife Path, Hobe Sound: This family-friendly sand path at Hobe Sound Nationwide Wildlife Refuge traverses via hilly scrub dunes, a palm hammock, and a mangrove forest to the Indian River Lagoon. Look ahead to yellow-crowned night time herons, osprey, and least terns alongside the .7-mile loop. (An all-terrain wheelchair is on the market for path use on the nature middle.)

Petravice Household Protect, Fort Pierce: Initially slated for a townhome improvement, the Petravice household preserved this 35-acre house as public land in 2022. A large and flat 1.5-mile loop path results in a bridge over the north fork of the St. Lucie River and connects to Captain Hammonds Hammock Protect.

Spanish moss in a Southern live oak tree hammock.
Spanish moss in a Southern reside oak tree hammock.

Intermediate

Convey a path map, choice to camp in a single day

DuPuis Wildlife and Environmental Space, Palm Seaside and Martin counties: This 21,875-acre pure space is interspersed with ponds, moist prairies, cypress domes, pine flatwoods, and marsh. Select from 4 climbing loops starting from 5 to fifteen miles. Campsites can be found (Miller recommends Loop 4 for an in a single day journey). Go to myfwc.com to test seasonal searching dates and acquire permits for group tenting.

Kitching Creek Path, Hobe Sound: This out-and-back Jonathan Dickinson State Park path winds via roughly 5 miles of pine flatwoods and alongside creeks to a primitive campsite with room for a number of tents. Name the ranger station prematurely to acquire a backcountry allow and choose up a path map upon arrival. (Newbie possibility: The Hobe Mountain Path is a .4-mile boardwalk leading via sand pine scrub to an commentary tower with 360-degree views of the park and the Atlantic Ocean.)

Sana Ahmed on the OTLHT. Photo courtesy of Hannah Campbell
Sana Ahmed on the OTLHT. Photograph courtesy of Hannah Campbell

Superior

Put together for an hours-long day hike via various terrain

Steven J. Fousek Protect, Port St. Lucie: Whereas this 494-acre park affords trails for all ability ranges, a 10-mile hike via Paleo, Hackberry, and Teague Preserves will provide you with the very best alternative to see hickory, Florida elm, sugarberry, reside oak, and a number of other species of birds and different native wildlife. Entry a map of your complete path system on the kiosk in Paleo Hammock.

Cypress Creek Pure Space, Jupiter: Spanning each side of Indiantown Street, this hike winds via greater than 2,000 acres of hydric hammocks, dome swamps, and extra. Miller recommends this path to hikers who wish to be in a wooded space however notes that a few of the trails aren’t well-marked. Be ready with bug spray, sunscreen, meals, water, and a map.

Participants of the 2021 Hike20 trek. Photo courtesy Hannah Campbell
Members of the 2021 Hike20 trek. Photograph courtesy Hannah Campbell

Go away No Hint!

The Florida Path Affiliation abides by the Go away No Hint Heart for Out of doors Ethics seven guiding ideas and encourages native out of doors lovers to do the identical. Please do your half to help and defend nature.

1. Plan forward and put together. Know the rules and particular considerations for the realm youll go to. Put together for excessive climate, hazards, and emergencies.

2. Journey and camp on sturdy surfaces. Sturdy surfaces embrace maintained trails and designated campsites, gravel, sand, or dry grasses. Camp no less than 200 toes from lakes and streams. Stroll single file in the midst of the path, even when moist or muddy.

3. Eliminate waste correctly. Examine your campsite for trash or spilled meals. Pack all leftover meals, rest room paper, and litter. Make the most of rest room services every time potential. In any other case, dig a 6- to 8-inch deep cathole no less than 200 toes away from water, camp, and trails.

4. Go away what you discover. Go away rocks, crops, and different pure objects as you discovered them. Keep away from introducing or transporting non-native species.

5. Decrease campfire impacts. Use a light-weight range or established hearth rings for cooking and preserve fires small. Use solely lifeless wooden from the bottom that may be damaged by hand. Burn all wooden and coals to ash, put out campfires fully, then scatter cool ashes.

6. Respect wildlife. Observe wildlife from a distance. Don’t comply with, method, or feed animals. Shield wildlife and your meals by storing rations and trash securely.

7. Be thoughtful of different guests. Be courteous. Yield to different customers on the path. Let natures sounds prevail. Keep away from loud voices and noises.

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