50 Hikes 50 States Florida

When thinking about Florida, not many people would say it’s a hiking state. Sun, sand, seniors. They don’t think about hiking, despite that fact that one of the hardest thru-hikes in the country is the Florida Trail. (If you don’t get eaten on the FT, you’ll die by heat, by weird Floridians, or by sinking in a swamp.)

What’s Quintessential About Florida?

So when I perused Florida for my “Florida hike” in this 50 Hikes 50 States Project, I had to return to my criteria.

  • Within 2 hours of a major airport
  • A 3-5 mile loop
  • Quintessentially unique to that state.

Major airports dot Florida’s landscape (Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale), so criteria item number one is easy. Loops are also easy to find. But quintessentially Florida? I had to scratch my head.

When most folks think of hiking in Florida, they think beach (check out Johnathon Dickson State Park in Hobe Sound), swamp (try the Everglades National Park), or pine forest (think Blackwater or Ocala National Forests.) Since I had lived in Florida for over twenty years all over the state, I had hiked all of these areas.

They’re all hot and buggy.

Space? The Final Hiking Frontier

See the Assembly Building in the distance?

Granted, there are tricks to avoid the heat; hike early, hike late, hike in the winter. And there are tricks to avoid the bugs: wear bug spray, hike in the winter, hike elsewhere. The Florida Trail Association maintains lists of how to better enjoy hiking in Florida, which is a good read. By the way, I’m a huge fan of FTA. They were the first hiking group I ever joined and had me falling in love with Long Leaf Pine/Wiregrass/Pitcher Plant Forests (see Mississippi.)

Even with my experience hiking all over Florida and my friend’s experience hiking Hillsborough County’s super fun Hiking Spree in Tampa, I really stumbled on the third criteria above: “quintessentially Florida.”

Besides sun, surf, sand, and seniors, what else is Florida known for? And then it hit me in my S literations. Space! Florida has Space! As in Go-to-the-Moon Space. Why not find a hike that included all these “s”‘s and we could add another S and hike the Seashore, as in the Canaveral National Seashore.

Snowbirds of a Different Feather

Visiting Florida is always difficult for me. I have roots that go deep; family and friends that go deeper. For this crazy 50 Hikes Project, I always seem to be rushing through the weekend to do as much as I can, and of course, Florida was no exception. How could we not only hike Florida, but also squeeze in Georgia, see family, enjoy friends, and catch our flights?

We flew into Tampa. From there, we scooted up to Gainesville to dine with our daughter, then we drove to Georgia to hike Okefenokee, and finished up in the darling and quaint Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. There I had a vegan Greek burrito in a cute bistro, The Patio Place, that was to die for. We loved Fernandina Beach so much, we might have to move there eventually!

Don’t Miss Timucuan. It’s Important

Make a pit stop and do some thinking.

On Sunday morning, we set our sights for Canaveral National Seashore. But first we made a pit stop at a place I’ve been before and is a must-stop for anyone visiting the Space Coast. Tucked in a corner just south of Amelia Island is the Timucuan National Preserve. There you’ll find a plantation home made of original seashell tabby. But the most important item to experience is the still-standing slave quarters. Be sure to read the interpretation and the tale of Mrs Kingsley. It will knock your socks off, and I hope one day Hollywood tells her story so more people will learn it.

Toes in the Sand

South to Titusville we drove for another couple of hours, arriving at the New Symrna Beach entrance to Canaveral National Seashore. With 72 degrees, bright blue skies and a gentle breeze, we parked in lot 3 and crossed the road to our trailhead. The Castle Windy Trail meanders through oak scrub of saw palmetto, Sabal Palm, cypress, and Florida rosemary.

It’s not a long trail. But our purpose was to get to the intracoastal waterway, which here at the park is the Mosquito Lagoon along the Indian River. Fortunately for us, the clear skies granted us a view all the way to the south and the Assembly Building. This structure is where NASA puts together the vehicles that will launch from the pad nearby. With nothing on the docket to launch in the near future, we didn’t see any spacecraft. But it was fun to be toes in the sand while looking at the Kennedy Space Center in the distance.

Launch Yourself

Like my skort in the above pic? Get it here and use my code, SS15Chr96, to get money off!

If you want to get closer to the launch pads, you’ll want to either go to the amazing Kennedy Space Center (the best tourist place to visit in Florida, hands down) or at least hike in the Titusville Section of the park near Allenhurtst. There’s not much “hiking” there, but you can get a good view of the space pads.

Since our out-n-back hike on the Castle Windy Trail had clocked a bit over a mile, we decided to cross back over to parking lot 3 and hike along the Seashore.

My toes were happy.

My soul jumped for joy.

There really is nothing like walking in the sand on a winter’s day after arriving from a cold, snowy clime. That morning, Denver’s weather reached 17 degrees. Florida felt divine.

We ambled along the shore for another couple of miles, then turned around and went back the way we came. Honestly, although I loved the instant feeling of a fresh breath when we arrived to the beach, I am not a fan of beach hiking. I actually find it quite boring. And difficult.

The angle of the beach always jars my hips and knees, and I can never quite get the hang of walking in the sand despite having grown up on beaches and living on them my whole life. My sister, on the other hand, is the Queen of Beach Walking. She can have it. Me, I’ll take it once or twice a year.

Shrimping for Lunch

From there, we scooted to Titusville to meet friends at Dixie Crossings. Yup, it’s a tourist trap, but isn’t everything in Florida? If you’re looking for good shrimp, Dixie’s got it. I wasn’t; I settled for a mediocre veggie burger. The fritters were good, though.

And then from there, we crossed the state back to Tampa to join another friend for dinner at the hole-in-the-wall Alpha’s in Apollo Beach. I used to live near here, and Alpha’s was our go-to for yummy and reliable comfort food. Their eggplant Parmesan is still as good as I remembered; it was great to be back in town with good food and good friends.

On Monday morning, we jammed one more thing into our jammed weekend. On the way back to the Tampa airport, we had to stop at another one of my favorites, The Floridian. Everyone will tell you to go to the Columbia House in Tampa to get a good Cuban and some black beans. Me, I’ll tell you to avoid Columbia House and go straight to The Floridian, which is practically next door. I scooped up some black beans and rice, plantains, and Cuban bread, the best in town, before jumping into our plane back to Denver.

And then, the next week, I headed to Utah to attempt my Utah hike for a second time.