11 Reasons The Florida Trail Is Awesome

There is no doubt about it, it’s easy to hate on the Florida Trail. From brutal roadwalks to terrifying wildlife and days of swamp wading, the FT has been pegged with a bad reputation. While some of that is earned, I’ve come to understand that this trail is just misunderstood.

When I set out to thru-hike the FT at the beginning of this year with my partner, SpiceRack, I was a hater just like the rest of us. My expectations were nonexistent, and the only reason I considered hiking the darn thing was because it formed a major piece of our larger ECT journey. Yet, what I discovered is that my misgivings were rooted in fear. The truth is, I was scared — scared of gators, swamps, getting shot by hunters, and flat monotony. Florida was unlike any other place that I’d backpacked, and I let my uncertainty erode thirst for adventure.

The forest that stole our hearts.

When we finally traded speculation for lived experience, we quickly fell in love with the FT. And we fell hard. The scary things were still intimidating, but as anyone who has done a hard thing will tell you, you just do it. Quickly, Spice and I began joking, “the FT is way better than the AT,” in response to the smooth trail and the enchanting pine forests. And the scrolling miles only reinforced this statement. We were both surprised by how much we were enjoying ourselves. Those days were some of my sweetest ever spent on trail. Today, the FT stands as one of our favorites.

So instead of focusing on what makes this trail ugly, let’s dive in to what makes it great. Here are eleven reasons the Florida Trail is awesome.

1. Weird Plants

Nothing is familiar in Big Cypress. Bromeliads cling high on the dwarf cypress, and I don’t blame them. The ground is soggy!

I’m not much of a tree person, but it was impossible to not be impressed by the flora of the FT. Humongous live oaks arced like breaching whales, spreading their canopy in a lofty ceiling that made me feel as though I was inside rather than out. Cathedrals of palm trees combined with smaller oaks to mimic gargantuan Joshua trees. Bald cypresses, sprouting from the dark swamps with their oddly bulging bottoms, at first freaked me out before winning me over with their magnificent root nests and peaceful presence. Then there was my favorite, the longleaf pine, whose slender grace and park-like forests allowed my mind space to breathe and wonder. Even that filthy imposter, the loblolly pine, has the most delightful name to its credit.

Among these giants, there are the small and wonderful. The harsh exposure of a palmetto prairie is beautiful, especially during a misty sunrise. The perfectly adapted bromeliads make the sky their home, eschewing dirt for the air as they cling to the branches of terrestrial trees. And then there are the delicate tufts of deer moss that carpet the forest floor, glowing a milky blue in the shafts of sunlight that reach the ground. So many others deserve mention. Just watch out for poison wood (no joke).

2. The Cuisine

Why boiled peanuts aren’t available everywhere is beyond me. A true delicacy. Photo credit: SpiceRack

Florida is ‘different’ in a lot of ways, and that includes hiker resupply and town food. Fans of seafood will do just fine. For lovers of pizza and fried food, pretty much every gas station (and there are A LOT of them) boasts a hot bar that is cheaper than good, and good enough for hikers. However, my personal favorite is the boiled peanuts. Scooped from heated vats of salty juice, sucking these softened legumes from the shell is a slurpin’ good time.

Finally, Publix is the grocery chain of dreams. They are a Florida institution, and one of the best reasons to live in the state, in my opinion. Great hiker-food selection, amazing deli sandwiches (aka Pub subs), and the friendliest chain grocery store to vegans and other dietarily restricted people that I have ever encountered.

3. Cool Wildlife

It’s hard to get used to this. Maybe impossible.

American Alligators hog all the attention, but the state is home to other creatures that are rare or impossible to see on other trails. Spice and I were (mostly) delighted to see otters, hogs, armadillos, tons of crazy birds, and myriad snake varieties. We did miss some of the big ones like manatees, panthers, and bear. If you hike through Florida, chances are you’ll see an animal that you haven’t before.

Thoughts on gators:

We were terrified of gators before attempting the FT, and we still are. It was difficult to find reliable and consistent advice for how to coexist with these dinosaurs, so we asked every local we could. The sometimes contradictory advice varied drastically, and we pieced together a mosaic of wisdom from those who had survived (so far).

Common sense is the key. Pretty soon, we avoided gathering water at dusk. And you can be darn sure that I thought long and hard about risking dehydration when my only water source was a murky pond filled with baby gators. Where was mama? Ultimately, the risk of gator attack is low (the majority of human fatalities occur during the warmer months when it is too hot to hike the FT), but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. Although I never felt at ease in their presence, the cool-factor gained by seeing hundreds of gators was an essential part of the FT experience, and worth all the primal dread that these creatures evoke.

4. Unique Landscapes

A new scene around every bend of the Suwannee River.

For a flat state, Florida packs in a ton of interesting terrain. The landscapes on the FT, with a few exceptions in highly developed Southern Florida, are constantly changing. I feared boredom on the FT, but discovered instead that the rapidly changing ecosystems were more mentally engaging than many stretches of objectively more beautiful trails.

Instead of missing the mountains and their sweeping vistas, I focused closer in at the strange and unique things all around me. Costal sawgrass prairies were replete with wildlife, the jungle along the Aucilla River was actually Jurassic Park, and the white sand beaches on the Gulf Coast were nothing short of paradisiacal. Most interesting of all, were the rivers and swamps. Wild and mysterious, there was always something new to see when the water turned black and the mud sucked. The heart of Florida is ancient, and there is no better place to see this than in the layers of history carved by the meandering Suwannee River, or the silence of the unreachable depths of Big Cypress.

5. Supportive Trail Community

The FTA knows how to get things done. This bridge was completed less than a week before I crossed it.

For such a quiet trail, the FT community is a passionate and tight-knit bunch. The trail angel network is full of friendly faces who are eager to help out hikers any way that they can. The Florida Trail groups on Facebook buzz with hiker updates and fulfilled requests for rides to town or places to stay. And the trail itself is meticulously maintained. The Florida Trail Association (FTA) and volunteers work hard, and do so with the earnestness of proud parents. Only with countless miles of boardwalks is the FT feasible, and despite the work that remains, that the trail exists at all is close to miraculous. Additionally, the whole trail is exceptionally well-marked with orange blazes, and essential water caches are reliably maintained.

6. It’s Really Flat

Altitude sickness is not an issue on the FT.

Elevation in Florida is measured in inches, rather than feet. That’s awesome if you’re not a fan of sweating up, and crunching down mountains and knobs. In fact, there isn’t a single pass on the FT. Of course, the Florida Trail isn’t actually completely flat, but it is by far the closest any National Scenic Trail will ever come to being a pool table. If your knees ache at just the thought of the Appalachians, Rockies, Sierra, the FT might be for you.

But don’t go thinking that flat equals easy. Between the roadwalks, swamps, and incredibly repetitive foot strikes, the FT is notoriously hard on feet. Blisters abound, and a 20-mile day can ache like a 30 on more varied terrain.

7. Route Choices

A big portion of french fries was just one of the perks of choosing to hike east around the Big-O.

The Florida Trail is officially 1,500 miles long, but most thru-hikers will trek closer to 1,100. This discrepancy is the result of multiple route options recognized and maintained by the FTA. These empower hikers to take ownership of their adventure. The two big decisions are the loops around Lake Okeechobee and Orlando. Choosing either east or west can significantly alter the thru-hike experience, whether it’s strolling along gorgeous bike paths on Orlando East or trading Starbucks for swamps by going West. Refreshingly, there is no ‘perfect’ way to hike the FT, which can be liberating after a summer surrounded by purists on the AT or PCT.

8. It’s A Waterworld

Juniper Spring is a little off-trail, but absolutely worth the short detour.

No surprise, the Florida Trail is inexorably linked to water. It defines regions, and water depths are discussed as much as Sierra snow levels are on the PCT. Going SOBO, we started with the turquoise Gulf before sipping from the invisibly clear springs of Eglin AFB. Then we crossed the Apalachicola River and dove into the muck of Bradwell Bay. Brackish marsh in St. Marks came next, then the long wags along the banks of the Aucilla and Suwannee.

The available water south of Orlando definitely leaves something to be desired, but even the sulfurous brew pulled by pitcher pumps and the pesticide-laced canals around Okeechobee had their exotic charm. I certainly gained a renewed appreciation for safe, drinkable water as I walked over 100 miles next to some of the most polluted fresh water in the country.

And for all the damage that human development has sown on the Southern Florida watershed, nature paints a more hopeful image. The Black Lagoon in the swamps of Big Cypress floods with exceptionally clean water, and a pure source can always be found in the center of a cypress dome. Best yet are the springs in Ocala National Forest, which offer an opportunity for hikers to swim in tremendous pools of limestone-filtered water that burn electric blue in the midday sunshine. Juniper and Alexander Springs are as close as I’ll ever come to calling something ‘must-visit’. Seriously, the water variety in Florida is astounding.

9. Blended Cultures

Never seen a gut pit before. It is what you think it is.

Like the landscapes, Florida culture is like no other in the world. For better or worse, hiking through this state definitely put us out of our comfort zone. That was a positive addition to our adventure, even if it didn’t always feel positive in the moment.

Hiking, and certainly thru-hiking, isn’t on the radar of most Floridians. Hunting and fishing are huge, and the locals enjoy the land, just not in the same way I might. Swarms of trucks, OHVs, and airboats hoon around the popular spots, but there is also a cadre of naturalists in their midst. One dewy-eyed hunter I encountered had decided to sit quietly as he remembered childhood visits to the same spot, and consider his deep love for the very animals that he hunted. His touching honesty opened my eyes to a shared humanity that often hides below the surface, masked by superficialities. Isn’t that what thru-hiking is all about?

Less seriously, I also learned that they speak a different dialect in Florida. Words whose meaning I thought I knew turned out to mean something else entirely — prairie, bay, hammock, and tramway, to name a few.


Never before hiking the FT have I been so grateful to be a white, cisgendered, heterosexual male. Generally I feel very safe while thru-hiking, but this is in large part due to the privilege of being and looking like an average white dude. Women, people of color, members of the queer community, or other minorities might not feel as comfortable as I do in the backcountry. The reasons why are especially apparent on the FT. Some people believe that trails are no place for politics or social issues, wishing to keep them separate, but that’s not possible on the FT. Slogans and symbols exist along its entire length.

Trails are often insulated from these issues, but the FT is not, and walks right through them. It’s a turbulent time to be a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Florida, and many rural parts of the state feel like the deepest of the Deep South. I don’t want to deter anyone from this adventure, but use your best judgment and look out for one another. Spice and I felt much safer together rather than flying solo. If you don’t think this statement applies to you, then forget it, or perhaps let it be a call to consider what it means to be a minority on the trails in different parts of this country. We all experience them differently.

10. The Quiet Florida

Wow, isn’t that peaceful?

For being located in such a populous state, the Florida Trail somehow manages to stay relatively quiet and remote. Notice how I said “relatively”. The FT sees a lot of pavement, strip malls, housing developments, levees, and exuberant hunters. However, I was struck by the chunks of solitude and peace scattered throughout the state. From the empty beaches of Gulf Island National Seashore near the bustle of Pensacola, to the eerie inaccessibility of Big Cypress near the heart of the Everglades, there is no shortage of solitude once the roads are left behind. Other hikers are few, and the trail often feels empty.

11. Winter-Friendly

On the beach in December. What’s winter anyway?

There are few trails as suited to winter hiking as the Florida Trail. While the state does see some cold weather, it is rare and short-lived. Usually, days are warm and pleasant, while nights are cool. A typical three-season gear setup should be just fine. So yeah, it’s not the perfect trail, but for hikers willing to get weird, the FT is a great option for getting on-trail when it isn’t feasible to hike elsewhere. The trail is ‘in-season’ from November through March, to avoid sweltering temps. And the relatively short completion time (5-12 weeks) means that start dates are flexible. That said, most NOBOs start in early January, with SOBOs heading out a little bit later. What a way to kick off a new year!

Bonus: Easiest Catholes Ever

Easy digging, any way you turn.

Florida is almost entirely sand, and that makes for easy digging. Bathroom emergencies were no more, and I was proud of each cathole I dug. LNT compliance feels goooood.

Florida Trail: It Takes You By Surprise

Embrace the weirdness, and the FT will bring great rewards.

The Florida Trail might just be the most maligned long trail in the country, and honestly, it’s easy to understand why. But what these criticisms miss is all the magical weirdness that makes the FT one of the great hikes in the US. And with continued improvement, year after year, it’s only going to get better.

For my part, the most important step on my journey towards FT fandom was putting shoes on the dirt and seeing it for myself. Once I did, the positive differential between my expectations and reality blew me away. And that’s where I’ll leave it. The Florida Trail isn’t for everyone, but it is absolutely worth considering, and I hope that I’ve helped you to understand why. However, if you’re still confused, then give it a shot. Like Spice and I found out, you may learn that the unknown is really just the undiscovered.

Featured image: Owen Eigenbrot photo. Graphic design by Zack Goldmann.

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Comments 20

  • John Wilson : Jul 27th

    Really enjoyed the article. I too have experienced parts of the Florida Trail! Thanks for a great and informative post.

    • Owen Eigenbrot : Jul 27th

      Glad to hear it, John!

    • OldTimer : Jul 28th

      Awesome review. Spot on description of Florida’s back country.

    • NJ Brown : Jan 5th

      Just returned from FT. Living in Gulf Coast Texas, there were few surprises…like Texas, the FT resides on lots of private land; one should have permission. The South has “quaint” ideas about much; best not to rile folks; as they can save yer arse. I liked it and found the many FT Chapter folks very nice. I am a female, 118 lbs, white; 72 yrs old.
      I liked it.

  • thetentman : Jul 27th


    Great post as usual.

    So glad to see you getting fat and happy writing for the Trek.

    Have you ever heard of Tucker Atwood? He hiked the AT in 2019 and wrote a great book about it. You should read it. The writing is great and very funny. It is called ‘No Parents, No Horses, No Bedtime!’ The title was taken from a sign he saw in Va.


    Only 5$ on a Kindle.

    You can thank me later.

    His next book was about his bike ride from Maine to Florida. ‘Turn left to Nowhere’ It is good too.


    • Owen Eigenbrot : Jul 27th

      Hey hey, thanks for the recommendation. Never heard of the guy, but I’ll check him out.

  • Jean Campbell : Jul 27th

    You mentioned juniper & Alexander springs, so I had to look them up. No one is swimming at Alexander right now after an unfortunate incident with and alligator. https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/florida/alerts-notices/?aid=81827
    Thanks, as always, for the insights!

    • Owen Eigenbrot : Jul 27th

      Holy moly, that’s insane! I definitely didn’t feel totally comfortable in Alexander, but trusted the system. It’s a much ‘wilder’ setup than Juniper, which has concrete surrounding all except for the outlet stream. I guess that a gator managed to sneak in. Would I visit again after hearing this? Probably, but not during the summer.

  • Roz : Jul 28th

    This FL girl enjoyed your article immensely! I too, have found treasures beyond treasures in the backcountry of FL. In the people, wildlife, and landscape. It is indeed a miracle the FT thrives in the ever-exploding growth of urban FL. But it does–and a huge win for nature lovers.

  • Bobo the Hobo : Jul 28th

    Thanks for keeping it positive about the FT. I followed your posts last year on the AT right up to the Gaspe.

  • matt : Jul 28th

    How are the people in FL able to identify the people that you warn might feel uncomfortable? What are the slogans and symbols you saw that made you think other people would feel unsafe?

    • Owen Eigenbrot : Jul 28th

      I think that anybody who doesn’t present as a straight, white, male might feel uncomfortable on certain stretches of the FT. That means minorities, members of the queer community, and all women, to name a few.

      Confederate flags are perhaps the most common display of unwelcoming prejudice, but there were many others that we witnessed, most falling under the MAGA umbrella of discrimination and hate. 3% stuff, KKK, and other hyper-masculine “Shoot first, ask questions later” slogans all come to mind. I get it, free speech and all, but I feel that many of the folks who fly these symbols proudly don’t understand how alienating they can be. We each interpret them differently, and it is naive to ignore that what is fine for some might be terrorizing to others. Someone might be the nicest person, but I wouldn’t approach them for a glass of water on a hot day if they’re rocking a Let’s Go Brandon T-shirt for fear of being labeled a gay hippie because I wear colorful shorts and carry a rainbow pinwheel on my backpack. They might even have a gay son who they love very much, but that phrase says so much more than “I don’t approve of the job Joe Biden is doing as President.” There’s baggage as well, as there is with all of these symbols. How am I to know if someone flying a Confederate flag is overtly racist or just a fan of conservative fiscal policy? As hikers, we are already in a vulnerable position, so I’m not inclined to find out.

      As a white, heterosexual couple, I was grateful that we could hide behind our outwardly “normal” appearance. This is a big part of my privilege that enables me to hike anywhere I want to. That said, even we were heckled by a passing driver, and I always expected a beer bottle to the back of the head during roadwalks.

      Granted, some of these things exist on just about any trail to a certain extent, but we felt that it was both more prevalent and prolonged on the FT. I hope that this provides some more perspective and context.

      • Robert : Jul 29th

        This is comment is pretty ridiculous, I hiked the FT as an openly gay man and never had an issue, labelling your political opponents as hateful bigots because you disagree with their opinions is immature, grow up and stop fear mongering.

        • Owen Eigenbrot : Aug 2nd

          Robert, I appreciate your input and am sincerely happy that you had a good time on the FT. It’s an awesome trail. Thanks for your perspective.

      • Jingle Bells : Jul 30th

        Bravo for saying it Owen! Robert- it’s reality not fear mongering; he couldn’t have been more reasonable in his assessment yet you still try to bait him. He won’t take the bait . Nobody here will because we all respect each other.

      • Julie : Aug 5th

        Thanks for taking the time, Owen, to write such a thoughtful response. Your writing, your enthusiasm, and your awareness all impress and hearten me. And your trip reports stoke my already huge fire for wilderness, nature, trails, people, culture, and movement. 😀

  • ELS : Jul 29th

    I followed you on your previous adventures and wondered how the Florida trail was for you. Excellent writing. Really enjoyed learning about the FT!


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