Hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) was a cool experience. It’s unlike the other trails that you may be used to like the Appalachian or Pacific Crest. That’s good though. It’s unique, presenting you with some challenging environments that allow you to grow your hiking experience.
If you’re thinking of thru-hiking or section hiking the FNST, this article may help you to understand the one-of-a-kind nature of this trail. We also published narratives while we were thru-hiking the FNST and a preparatory article. For those, please visit our Florida Trail page here.
There are always things you wish you could have done differently. We would have been better prepared for aggressive dogs. Although we had read that dogs are a problem on the Florida Trail, we did not anticipate being chased and nearly attacked by packs of dogs. I would take this threat seriously and prepare for it.
Be ready for cold and wet at the same time. The weather in Florida is nice most of the time, but there was one day where the temperatures dropped to nearly freezing. On top of that, it rained for more than 24 hours straight. You have to bring the right gear for this, or you will be miserable and maybe even in danger. Rambo’s rain gear was too light, and we ended up taking a tent zero to escape the cold and rain. It was not fun.
Be prepared with high SPF sunscreen. While in Southern Florida especially along the canals, the sun got intense. We had sunscreen and desert hats, but we still got nasty sunburns. We would recommend 100+ SPF. If you’re really sensitive wear light-weight pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Make sure to stay well hydrated, and pay attention to signs of heat sickness.
We were prepared for the bugs, packing 98% Deet and bugs nets (for the black flies). It did surprise us that we found ticks crawling on our legs almost daily.
Guthook’s often did not seem to have the latest information on trail stops. Always read the comments from other hikers and leave some yourself, if you find that it is out-of-date.
- Great Camp Spots-the FNST has some awesome camp areas. Florida Trail volunteers have created some unbelievable sites with picnic tables and fire rings. Of course, Florida is fairly flat, and this definitely makes finding a place to camp easier.
- Scenic Hiking-the uniquely beautiful areas on the Florida Trail are stunning.
- Adventure-how often do you wade chest deep in water while carrying your backpack overhead? Have you ever hiked through a titi swamp or a palm hammock? Would you ever have pictured yourself filtering muddy water through a handkerchief in the middle of a Cypress dome? This trail is weird. You never know what you’re going to get. It has the ability to surprise you regularly.
- Flora & Fauna-you will see a myriad of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. The plants in Florida are wild. You will see ancient oaks and cypress trees, carnivorous plants, and citrus trees to name just a few.
- Navigation & Resupply-the trail volunteers have done an excellent job blazing this trail. It was rare that we would have to open Guthook to find the trail. Resupply is not difficult. There are plenty of supply points albeit some are simply convenient stores or Dollar General.
- Other Hikers-surprisingly, we did meet other thru and section hikers. This contributed greatly to our good experiences while on the FNST.
- Closures & Road Walks-sigh. This is no joke. There were many trail closures that required long, boring road-walk reroutes. You may want to get shoes with more cushion. Those road walks are hard on your feet. We used the Altra Olympus running shoes. In 2019, most of the scenic areas in the panhandle were closed because of damage from Hurricane Michael. It’s difficult to find camping. You have to play chicken with huge, speeding trucks. You’re walking on off-camber, no shoulder roads. Trash covers the roadside. You’re visible to hundreds of people every day exposing you to an increased risk of being targeted for crime. Even when you’re on the trail, often you’re walking on a road of some kind whether it be an old logging road, a bike path, or a canal.
- Dogs-you will encounter aggressive dogs, so be ready. Take mace and have your trek poles (or something else) ready to defend yourself. Before doing a road walk, read the notes in Guthooks. Another hiker’s notes saved us from what could have been a horrible dog encounter (a couple picked us up; and right as they did, there was a pack of 10 chows running down the road toward us). If need be, hitch around the risky area. There is no reason to put yourself in danger.
- Defensive & Unfriendly Culture-you may not feel very welcome or safe at times on the FNST. There are fences and signs everywhere threatening bodily harm to your person if dare step off the roadway or trail.
- Florida Man-no offense meant here. This became a humorous catch-all term for some of the scary people we encountered on the roadways and sometimes in the woods of Florida. Attempt to camp in areas that aren’t well used by Florida Man. If you have to camp in high-use areas, try to stay out of sight as much as possible. You can easily pick out these well-used spots because they are covered in trash and tire tracks. Do not tell strangers where you plan to stop for the day or that you’re alone. This may be paranoid, but we never make real-time posts on social media accounts. We always delay our posts until we’re safely outside of the location tagged.
- Trail Culture-if you’re thru-hiking, there really isn’t one. In general, people don’t know about the Florida Trail. We were confused for homeless people several times. However, the people we met along the way were generally friendly and interested in hearing about the trail. You will rarely meet other thru-hikers; although, we met more than we thought we would.
- There are some hiker events like the kick-off and Billy Goat Day, which we didn’t attend because our timing wasn’t right. So if you look for it, you could definitely find some culture, especially if you were a volunteer. There are also some great resources about the Florida Trail. For those, you can visit our “Preparing for the Florida Trail Thru-hike” article.
- Monotony-you will walk through many logging areas that consist of rows of pine trees. This gets super boring.
- Guns, Guns, Guns-you will be hiking through many active hunting areas. People will be shooting near you and in your direction at times. You will see bullet holes in signs. We got shot at by hunters who were illegally shooting from a moving truck. They didn’t realize we were there until we yelled; although, we had our hunter orange colors visible.
Our Favorite Spots
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Kissimmee River/South Florida Water Management District
- Suwannee River
- Aucilla Tanks
- Sopchoppy River & Bradwell Bay
- St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (call in advance for camp permit)
- Eglin Airforce Base (call in advance for closures)
- Gulf Islands National Seashore
*we were not able to hike Chipola or Econfina due to Hurricane damage, but we hear they are beautiful.
We purposefully visited resupply spots that were on the trail or very close because we didn’t want to hitchhike into towns. This means that we rarely came to places where you could get a decent hotel. Overall, we were pretty happy with this arrangement.
Here is a list of all the places we stopped for resupply along the way, indicating whether we bought or dropped. Our favorite trail stops are starred, meaning they would be good for a zero. They have a decent hotel, a grocery, and good places to eat. We only took two zero days in towns. One was in Clewiston and the other in White Springs.
- Billie Swamp Safari (maildrop)
- Clewiston* (buy)
- Okeechobee* (buy)
- River Ranch Resort (maildrop)
- Christmas (buy)
- Oviedo (buy)
- Lake Mary* (buy)
- Paisley (buy)
- Rodman Campground (maildrop w/ shoes)
- Lake Butler (buy)
- White Springs (buy)
- I-10 Intersection S. of Madison* (buy)
- Aucilla River Store (buy)
- St. Mark’s* (buy)
- Bristol (maildrop w/ shoes)
- Ebro (buy)
- Crestview* (buy)
- Navarre* (buy)
The Florida National Scenic Trail was a fun, challenging trail, and we’re grateful for the experience we gained and the people we met out there. If you have any questions about this trail, please contact us. Leave us a comment or suggestion as well. Thanks for reading! For more articles on the Florida Trail, click here.