Explore Florida’s trails

11/19/2010  |  KELLI ROBINSON
education destination

Natural beauty at the very heart of Florida’s allure beckons to visitors from sunny shorelines, hardwood hammocks, breezy bays, and the world-famous River of Grass. Transporting visitors to these natural splendors are thousands of miles of trails traveled on foot, bicycle, horse, canoe and kayak.

Offering a multitude of educational and cultural experiences through museums, festivals and architecture; however, one of its lesser known educational experiences takes place on some of Florida’s oldest and unexplored attractions — its trails. With over 8,000 miles of existing land-based trails and over 4,000 miles of water trails, the Sunshine State offers a look at the trails’ natural inhabitants.


The Great Florida Birding Trail is a 2,000-mile self-guided highway trail connecting nearly 500 birding sites throughout Florida. The trail features detailed guide booklets and special highway signs identifying Birding Trail sites. The guide booklets contain site descriptions, directions, and maps showcasing the wonderful birding opportunities in Florida. Each Birding Trail section consists of a series of clusters, with each cluster containing up to 15 sites highlighting communities and special ecosystems like the Lake Wales Ridge. Divided into four sections, the Great Florida Birding Trail features sections in the Panhandle, East, West and South Florida areas. http://floridabirdingtrail.com


As one of the trails to run almost continuously beside a major river, the Suwanne River trail varies from flat dirt roads to high sand hills and limestone rock bluffs. Along the trail, you’ll see clusters of huge cypress and oak trees in the middle of primitive swamps. As visitors venture outward from the river, they will have an opportunity to experience recreational trails, parks, museums, cultural sites and other nature and heritage attractions in adjacent cities, towns and rural landscapes throughout the area. www.floridatrail.org.

Through the early 1900s, the St. Marks Trail was a historic railroad corridor that was used to carry cotton from the plantation belt to the coast for shipment to textile mills in Europe. Today it is a canopy of foliage arches over a premier rail trail. The trail begins at Florida’s capital city, runs through part of the Apalachicola National Forest, and ends at the coastal community of St. Marks. Along the coast, cyclists find fresh Florida seafood, fishing, and the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park.


History comes alive along the Fort Fraser Trail in Polk County. Named for a military fort erected north of Bartow during the Second Seminole War, the trail included informational signs that chronicle the history of the citrus industry, the Peace River and pioneer medicine. The trail runs from State Road 540 to State Road 60 along an abandoned rail line through groves, fields and pastures. Amenities include picnic facilities, benches, restroom and a park-and-ride lot. Eventually, the trail may extend north into Lakeland to connect with the city’s bike trail system.

A tidal estuary with extensive salt marshes, the Hillsborough River Paddling Trail runs from Crystal Springs to the City of Tampa’s Rowlett Park. Because of the length, and huge variations along the route of the Hillsborough River, the paddling trips have been separated into four sections: the North, Seventeen Runs, Middle and South Sections. The scenic North section is short and well suited for beginner paddlers. The river’s headwaters begin here as a slow-moving sheet flow through a heavily vegetated riverine forest with no discernible channel. The Seventeen Runs section is a very rugged and narrow section of river that is not maintained and should only be attempted by experienced paddlers.

The Middle section is suited for beginner to intermediate paddlers, with some portages possible. The South section is rated for intermediate paddlers because of its length and the possibility of winds and motorboat traffic.


With 190 miles of clearly marked waterways and trails, The Great Calusa Blueway meanders through the coastal waters and inland tributaries of Lee County, covering the Pine Island/Estero Bay area, Calooshatchee River and Sanibel/Captiva islands. Guiding kayakers along the trail with its easily identifiable signs, paddlers have a chance to explore the area’s back bays and estuaries while experiencing wildlife viewing at its best. Although guided tours are available, paddlers may explore the aquatic reserves, wildlife refuges, creeks, bayous, rivers and mangrove forests on their own. Many of the trails follow the course charted some 2,000 years ago by the area’s earliest residents, the Calusa Indians. The Great Calusa Blueway has been recognized as one of the best U.S. kayaking destinations by both Paddler and Canoe and Kayak magazines.

For more information, please visit www.calusablueway.com.

The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail (FKOHT) is a multi-use bicycle and pedestrian facility which will ultimately extend 106 miles from Key Largo to Key West. The FKOHT serves as a route for alternative transportation between the island communities and a recreational greenway for hiking, running, bicycling, in-line skating, fishing and kayaking. Twenty-three of the Flagler Railroad bridges, originally constructed from 1906 to 1915, and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, form a central component of this multi-use trail.

To learn more about Florida’s trails or plan your next trip to the Sunshine State to explore them, visit http://VISITFLORIDA.com.

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