Florida Hikes: Table of Contents # Location Nearest Length Difficulty Main Features City (mi) Central Florida Trails 1 Historic Bok Sanctuary Lake Wales 1.5 Easy Garden, bell tower Everglades Region Trails 2 Collier-Seminole State Park Naples 0.9 Easy Wetlands, boardwalk, overlook 3 Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park Carnestown 0.9 Easy Swamp boardwalk 4 Big Cypress National Preserve Ochopee 1 Easy Boardwalk through bald cypress swamp 5 Everglades National Park: Bobcat Boardwalk Trail Miami 0.5 Easy Short boardwalk 6 Everglades National Park: Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Florida City 1 Easy Wildlife viewing Trails 7 Everglades National Park: Flamingo Road Trails Florida City 1.75 Easy Wide variety of habitats 8 Everglades National Park: Snake Bight Trail Flamingo 3.2 Easy Overlook of Florida Bay Florida Keys Trails 9 John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Key Largo 1 Easy Mangrove forest 10 Dry Tortugas National Park Key West 1.6 Easy Fort Jefferson (This page intentionally left blank) Hike #1 Trail: Pine Ridge Nature Trail Location: Historic Bok Sanctuary Nearest City: Lake Wales, Florida Length: 1.5 miles Last Hiked: May 1999 Overview: An interesting, fairly easy walk through a splendid, cultivated garden. Sanctuary Information: http://www.boksanctuary.org/index.html Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 27 and SR 60 in Lake Wales, take US 27 north 1.8 miles to Mountain Lake Cutoff Road. Turn right on Mountain Lake Cutoff Road. Take Mountain Lake Cutoff Road 0.7 miles to Scenic Highway (CR 17) and turn right on CR 17. Take CR 17 0.8 miles to Burns Avenue and turn left on Burns Avenue. Follow Burns Avenue 1.4 miles to the garden entrance on the left. Turn left to enter the garden. Follow the garden road to its end at a large parking lot beside the Visitor Center. The hike begins at the Visitor Center. The hike: Believe it or not, the name Mountain Lake Cutoff Road accurately describes the area featured by this hike. Though only 298 feet above sea level, Historic Bok Sanctuary stands on the highest point of Lake Wales Ridge, a large knob that sits in the center of the Florida peninsula. Indeed, several points in the garden give commanding views of the surrounding orange groves and residential communities in the lowlands below. Historic Bok Sanctuary is the legacy of Edward Bok. An immigrant to America from the Netherlands in 1863 at the age of 6, Mr. Bok quickly became a successful publisher with a winter home at the nearby mountain lake. In 1922, Bok created a bird sanctuary on these grounds. Not content just to preserve birds, fertile dirt was brought in by the truckload to create a world class garden that was dedicated in 1929 as Bok Tower Gardens. Since renamed Historic Bok Sanctuary, the centerpiece remains a beautiful 205 foot marble tower. Though not open to the public, the tower’s carillon regularly plays beautiful melodies that can be heard throughout the sanctuary. Surrounding the tower sits a gorgeous flower garden and a short 0.75 mile Pine Ridge Nature Trail. The gardens also have an extensive trail system, so many routes are possible. This hike gives you a tour of all major points in the garden as well as a trip along the nature trail. Start from the back of the Visitor Center and begin hiking uphill through the gardens on the blacktop trail. This trail passes the sanctuary's dedication plaque and several benches as well as some colorful flowers, all of which are well-shaded by some mature trees. Once atop the hill, the blacktop trail turns to mulch as the trail approaches a reflecting pool that sits in front of the tower. This is a very scenic spot on the trail, as the pink marble tower and beautiful surrounding flowers reflect in the pool. Go to the left and detour through the white and round gardens before taking a right to approach the tower from the east. Turn left and follow the trail around the tower, possibly stopping at a bench in the oak grove to listen to the carillon in the tower, which plays every half hour. Where the trail forks on the west side of the tower, go to the left and soon arrive at the Exedra, a peaceful memorial where some of Bok's relatives are buried. Opposite the Exedra is Sunset Overlook, which provides a broad view of the Florida plains to the west. Continue straight back to the blacktop trail, begin following it downhill, and take the first mulch trail on the left. This trail takes you into the more remote section of the garden and to the beginning of the nature trail. Still in deciduous woodland, the trail goes downhill, passing a trail that joins from the right. Take the next trail to the right, which passes by a primitive restroom set in the middle of the forest. Turn on the first trail that goes off to the left and take it a short distance to Window By The Pond, which is a shelter house with a large glass window overlooking a duck pond. When I was here, I saw three different kinds of ducks, several blackbirds, some cranes, some turtles, and an alligator. This terrific spot is worth a few minutes of your time, and the chairs make for a nice rest during your hike. Exit the shelter and turn right. This is the start of the Pine Ridge Nature Trail, a guide pamphlet for which is available at this point. Follow the trail as it curves to the right through a longleaf pine forest. Notice the occasional palmetto tree, which is actually a slow-growing palm tree, in the understory. After crossing a red clay service road, the trail enters a small sandhill forest community, a very endangered ecosystem. This area is dominated by longleaf pines and some oaks, neither of which provide a thick canopy from the sun. Along this section of the trail, you can look to the left to see the orange groves that Florida is famous for. Also, you can see some areas where controlled burning has been utilized to protect the sandhill forest community. Where the trail forks, continue straight on a trail marked "Pine Ridge Trail Extension." The trail to the right is a shortcut to the parking lot. The trail goes downhill and crosses the paved entry road before forking again near a flagpole. Turn left here for a short uphill hike through sunny grassland to a knoll that offers a great view of the tower to the west. When done admiring the tower, retrace your steps to the main trail and turn left. From here, only a short, level hike remains through the pines to the parking lot to complete the hike. Hike #2 Trail: Royal Palm Hammock Nature Trail Location: Collier-Seminole State Park Nearest City: Naples, FL Length: 0.9 mile Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: A short, easy trail exploring the wetlands where the Everglades meet the Gulf of Mexico. Park Information: http://www.floridastateparks.org/collier-seminole/default.cfm Directions to the trailhead: In southwest Florida, take I-75 to SR 951 (exit 101). Exit and go south on SR 951. Take SR 951 south 7 miles to US 41 and turn left on US 41. Take US 41 east 8 miles to the state park entrance on the right (just past the traffic light for CR 92). Pay the park entrance fee, then bear left at the first intersection. The park road ends at a large parking lot featuring a canoe and boat launch. Park here; the trail begins at an information board on the west side of this lot. The hike: Located on the western end of the Tamiami Trail (US 41), the land now comprising Collier-Seminole State Park has an interesting human history. Human habitation began in the early 1800’s when the Seminole Indians arrived from points north and east. During the mid 1800’s, the US Army made several attempts to drive the Indians out, but unlike the Indians further north, these attempts failed, earning the Seminoles the name “The Unconquered.” By the 1900’s the Indian Wars had long past, and white settlers arrived. In 1924, construction of the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades began, and this land was used as a base camp for construction eastward. The road, completed in 1928, linked Tampa and Miami, hence the name. The Collier in the park’s name comes from Barron Collier, a wealthy businessman who helped finance the construction project. In the park you can still see the Bay City Walking Dredge that was used to build this road. After the road was constructed, the former base camp became a county park, and in 1947 the park was turned over to the state of Florida and inaugurated as Collier- Seminole State Park. Today the park contains several campgrounds, 4 picnic pavilions, a boat ramp that accesses the gulf, and 3 hiking trails. The 6.5 mile Hiking Adventure Trail provides an interesting walk through swamp forest, but some sections of the trail remain underwater much of the year. The 3.5 mile Mountain Bike and Hiking Trail travels along the old Marco Road and provides an interesting trip through a combination of hammock, pineland, and marsh. Though the shortest trail in the park, the 0.9 mile Royal Palm Hammock Nature Trail described here leads through an interesting combination of hammock and marsh to an observation platform overlooking the gulf. From the information board, the dirt trail immediately plunges into the densely forested canopy, heading west. This area is known as Royal Palm Hammock because it is a tropical hammock, a densely forested highland area, on which there are a large number of royal palms. Royal palms are rare in the United States except for here and in some parts of Everglades National Park. In addition to the royal palms, the forest contains a large number of gumbo limbo and Jamaican dogwood trees with many ferns in the understory. After gradually curving to the left, at 0.2 miles you will arrive at a fork that forms the loop portion of this trail. To save the observation platform for last, I chose to turn right and use the left trail as the return route. The trail stays in the hammock for a few hundred more feet but soon arrives at the edge of the marsh where the boardwalk begins. This wooden boardwalk is a little shaky, but it was still structurally stable upon my visit. At 0.4 miles, the spur trail to the observation platform exits to the right. Turn right and take this boardwalk trail about 200 feet through a mangrove forest, climbing a final set of steps to get to the platform. From here, you look over a vast tract of grassy wetlands. Boats appear in the distance, as do wetland birds such as cranes and herons. Benches give you a comfortable place to observe the activity around you. Retrace your steps back to the main boardwalk and turn right continue around the loop. Large numbers of leather ferns appear below you in the swamp. Also in large numbers are insects, which were unusually pesky on the summer evening I walked this trail. At 0.7 miles, the boardwalk ends, and simultaneously you arrive back at the beginning of the loop. A short 0.2 mile walk through tropical hammock is all that remains to return you to your car and complete the hike. Hike #3 Trail: Big Cypress Bend Trail Location: Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park Nearest City: Carnestown, FL Length: 0.9 mile Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: A famous boardwalk trail passing through a bald cypress swamp. Park Information: http://www.floridastateparks.org/fakahatcheestrand/default.cfm Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 41 and SR 29 in south Florida, take US 41 west 6.5 miles to the signed boardwalk parking area on the right (a graveled spot beside the road, actually). Park in this lot. The hike: Comprising several thousand acres in southwest Florida, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is one of the state of Florida’s pieces of the Everglades. Unlike the nearby national park, this land has seen extensive commercial activity. In the first half of the 1900’s, several families lived off of this land, relying on gathering, hunting, and fishing to survive. In the 1940’s and 1950’s the cypress forests of the glades were extensively logged, doing considerable harm to the ecosystems of the region. Fortunately, the state of Florida took over these lands, and while the remnants of the logging era remain in the form of tram roads that comprise many of the roads and trails in the park today, the forest is well on its way toward recovery. Visitors to Fakahatchee Strand have various ways to see the recovering swamp forest. The gravel Janes Scenic Drive begins at the park office and heads northwest on one of the old logging roads. For those who want a real swamp experience, guided canoe trips are also available from the park office; contact the park for details. Somewhere in between these options is this 1 mile hike, one of the longest and most famous boardwalks in the Everglades. You may not be able to hike every boardwalk trail in this region, but this one should definitely make your short list. Since this trail passes beside much standing water, insect repellent or even long sleeves and pants are recommended for this hike. Begin following a gravel road past a donation station (where you can make a financial donation to the park) with black standing water on either side. A dense swamp forest lies behind the pond on the right, and a restored Indian village lies behind the pond on the left. At 0.15 miles, the gravel road ends and the boardwalk begins. This is not the newest boardwalk, but it was still quite sturdy on my visit. You could walk quickly and get to the observation platform at the end of the boardwalk sooner, but you’ll be missing a lot if you do that. Interpretive signs along the boardwalk give information about the plants and animals that populate the forest around you. Orchids provide brilliant shows of color in season, but there are always things to see including birds such as herons, cranes, and songbirds or land-bound animals such as raccoons or the occasional alligator. The boardwalk alternates between land that is permanently submerged and land that meets air during the dry season. At 0.45 miles, the boardwalk ends at a small observation platform beside another dark-watered pond. Some well-placed benches make this your best opportunity for wildlife viewing. On my visit, I saw a heron wading in the water, some fish swimming near the surface of the water, and a mother gator keeping watch on her baby gators, which appeared to be 6-9 months old. The trail ends at the observation platform, so you will have to retrace your steps back along the boardwalk to return to your car and complete the hike. Hike #4 Trail: Kirby Storter Boardwalk Trail Location: Big Cypress National Preserve Nearest City: Ochopee, FL Length: 1 mile Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: An easy boardwalk trail leading to a bald cypress swamp. Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead is located in Kirby Storter Roadside Park, a sunny picnic area on US 41 in extreme south Florida. The roadside park is located 44 miles west of SR 997 in Miami or 13.3 miles east of SR 29 in Ochopee. The hike: When most people think of the Everglades, they think of the namesake Everglades National Park. In fact, Everglades National Park contains only about half of the region known as the Everglades. The rest lies on private land or on state and federal land west of the national park. One of these other federal lands is 720,000 acre Big Cypress National Preserve. The preserve is located immediately north and west of Everglades National Park. Unlike the national park, which consists primarily of wet sawgrass prairie and tropical hammocks, Big Cypress National Preserve features some large bald cypress trees, hence the name. Thus, visitors who are seeking a true “swamp” experience are often more impressed with this part of the Everglades than the national park itself. In addition to a gravel scenic road, three trails give the hiker access to the preserve. The 0.3 mile Tree Snail Hammock Trail, located on the scenic road, takes visitors on a short walk through a tropical hammock similar to those you see in the national park. When I hiked that trail, I did not see any of the colorful tree snails for which the trail is named, but while crossing the entrance bridge I did manage to frighten an alligator off of a log in the water beneath me. I was safe on the bridge, but this is as close as I have ever come to an alligator. Also on the gravel scenic road, the Florida Trail begins its 1400 mile journey across the state. 26.5 miles of the trail lie in the preserve, but the fact that most of this trail lies under knee-deep water for much of the year makes for unpleasant hiking. A final option, the Kirby Storter Boardwalk Trail, combines the best of both worlds, allowing the hiker to see the swamp forest without the inconvenience of wet feet and legs. Also in the area is the Ochopee Post Office, a locally famous tourist stop known for being the smallest operating post office in the United States. While not worth driving out of your way for, it is worth a stop if you are driving past it on US 41 on your way to this hike. The boardwalk begins at an information board at the far end of the sunny roadside park. While the information board says this trail is 1 mile long, and hence I have listed it as such here, this is the shortest 1 mile trail I have ever hiked. The boardwalk heads east through a sunny cypress dome featuring small cypress trees in the canopy and lots of grass on the floor. A small shaded observation platform gives you an opportunity to view the dome in a quiet place. Past the platform, the trail descends into the swamp forest, losing about 2 feet of elevation along the way. For an area as flat as the Everglades, 2 feet is a large elevation change, and very quickly the sunny cypress dome is left behind for the shady swamp forest. Now you are in the tall timber, and the large bald cypress trees which give the preserve its name surround you. The swamp forest is cooler but also more humid compared to the cypress dome, as standing water can now be seen beneath the boardwalk covering up the roots of the cypress trees. At the midpoint of the hike (0.35 miles, by my rough measurements), the boardwalk ends at a platform overlooking some relatively deep water in New River Strand, a major tributary of Sunday Bay and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. The water here is too deep to support even bald cypress trees, so your chances of seeing waterfowl increase at this platform. On the hot sultry afternoon I visited this area, very little was stirring, and all I saw were a couple of alligators and a blue heron. After you have seen what there is to see at the platform, you have no choice but to turn around and retrace your steps along the boardwalk to the roadside park to complete the hike. Hike #5 Trail: Bobcat Boardwalk Trail Location: Shark Valley, Everglades National Park Nearest City: Miami, FL Length: 0.5 miles Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: A short, easy boardwalk trail through the northern end of Shark Valley Slough. Trail Information: http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/shark-valley-trails.htm Directions to the trailhead: Take US 41, the Tamiami Trail, west out of metropolitan Miami. The trailhead is at Shark Valley, which is located 18 miles west of SR 997, the last intersection in metro Miami. Pay the park entrance fee, and park in the large blacktop parking lot at Shark Valley. The hike: For my general comments on Everglades National Park, see the next hike in this section. If you have always thought of the Tamiami Trail (US 41) as a great wilderness scenic drive based on how it appears on a map, you will be very disappointed with the US 41 you see today. Dead straight for most of its length, the route follows the south bank of an ugly manmade canal. Even worse, the Miccosukee Indians have set up a series of casinos and souvenir stands across the road from Shark Valley, so this area almost has the appearance of a tourist trap. Yet once you get inside the park, the feel of a great wilderness emerges. The canals along US 41 supply the park with much needed water, although the supply is not as great as it once was or should be. Nevertheless the wet areas that remain still teem with life, and Shark Valley, located just inside one of the inlets from the canal, provides a great opportunity to see it. In fact, one does not even need to hike in order to see Shark Valley and the downstream Shark River Slough. Guided tram tours depart regularly from Shark Valley, allowing you to view the so-called River of Grass from the comfort of an open-aired cart. These tours take visitors through the heart of the Everglades and culminate at an observation tower in the middle of the slough. Either after the tour or while waiting for the tour to begin, the park offers a pair of short trails departing from near the Shark Valley Visitor Center. The gravel Otter Cave Hammock Trail takes visitors on a 0.8 mile round-trip journey through a small tropical hammock, home to much wildlife. The Bobcat Boardwalk Trail described here is shorter and closer to the Visitor Center, so it makes a perfect diversion if you have just a few minutes to kill before the tour begins. The trail begins along the paved tram road about 300 feet south of the Visitor Center. The hiker-only boardwalk, in contrast to the tram road on which bikes are allowed, begins immediately. Although the elevations only vary by a few inches on this trail, the trail alternates between sunny wetland prairies and tropical hardwood forests. The hardwood forests grow on the dryer, higher lands, whereas only the sawgrass community can survive on the lower wetlands. Several benches along the way provide rest should you need it. After only 0.35 miles, the boardwalk ends on the other arm of the tram road. A right turn would take you on the 15 mile tram journey to the observation tower, so you should turn left and walk the 500 feet back to the Visitor Center. Keep your eyes open even as you get close to the Visitor Center: when I hiked this trail, I saw a mother and her several week-old baby alligators swimming around in a shallow pool on this last leg of the hike. This goes to show that something interesting awaits at every turn and straight stretch in the Everglades. Hike #6 Trails: Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails Location: Everglades National Park Nearest City: Florida City, FL Length: 1 mile Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: A pair of easy, but very different, paved nature trails on the eastern edge of the Everglades. Trail Information: http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/pine-island-trails.htm Directions to the trailhead: From the southern terminus of Florida’s Turnpike in Florida City, take SR 9336 west. SR 9336 becomes the main park road when it enters Everglades National Park. Pass the Visitor Center, and pay the park entrance fee at the gatehouse. Continue another 1.7 miles to Royal Palm Road and turn left on Royal Palm Rd. Royal Palm Rd. ends at the large blacktop parking lot at Royal Palm, the trailhead for both of these trails. The hike: Some national parks protect canyons, others protect mountains, and still others protect caves and waterfalls, but Everglades National Park protects life. Many first time visitors to Everglades National Park fail to understand why a “swamp” would merit protection as a national park (it was not until 1947 that this park was finally established). The early settlers failed to see the merits of this area, as over three-fourths of what used to be the Everglades have been drained for agricultural cultivation and suburban development. What remains is a still-vast 1.5 million acre wilderness that contains seven distinct wildlife habitats (most parks only contain one or two). Those who want to get to know the park really well should pick up a copy of “A River of Grass” by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, still the best work available on the Everglades. Everywhere you look something interesting and alive awaits your viewing, whether it be a bird, a fish, a turtle, an unusual plant, or the ever-present alligators. One of the best places to do this viewing is at Royal Palm, the first destination along the main park road. Of course, very little can be seen through a car window, so you and everyone else will need to walk one of the many short trails here and elsewhere in the park in order to really see anything in the Everglades. Two short paved trails depart from Royal Palm: the Anhinga Trail, which leads through a sawgrass slough (pronounced “slew”), and the Gumbo Limbo Trail, which leads through a heavily forested hammock. Hiking both of these trails will give you a good introduction to the many-faceted Everglades. Begin behind the restroom building, where the Anhinga Trail heads left and the Gumbo Limbo Trail heads right. The Anhinga Trail offers better wildlife viewing, so I hiked the Anhinga Trail first. The blacktop trail starts along a dike separating a pond to the left and a forested marshy area to the right. Immediately the wildlife show begins. Schools of large black fish could be seen in the water on the left along with various sizes of alligators. Contrary to popular belief, alligators do not normally attack humans, unless they are provoked. If you see an alligator up ahead, chances are it will run back into the water before you get anywhere near it. Just to be safe, MAKE SURE it runs back into the water before you get anywhere near it; if it doesn’t, choose a different path. Soon you will reach the beginning of the boardwalk, and you will need to turn left to begin the boardwalk. The long stringy plants that grow all along the boardwalk here are sawgrass. You can touch the sawgrass, but do not grab and pull, or else you will learn why it is called sawgrass. When I hiked this trail in mid-May, plenty of colorful red flowers were growing in the trees along this section of trail. These plants are called airplants because they seem to grow in the middle of the air; in fact, they get their nutrition from the tree. Where the boardwalk splits, take the left fork, which represents a short spur that dead-ends at an observation deck. When I was hiking out along this boardwalk I noticed one of the large black fish mentioned above in the water and a large alligator partially hidden in the mud nearby. While I was at the observation deck I heard a large splash behind me, and when I retraced my steps back to the main boardwalk the alligator had moved...and there was no fish! There will be very few dull moments when hiking this trail, as the life cycles of the Everglades continue around you as you hike. Back on the main boardwalk, the boardwalk heads out to the edge of Jerry’s Slough, the deepest water on this trail. Here you will find your best chance to see wading birds, the most common of which are egrets and herons. Make sure to bring a good camera so that you will return home with many captured memories. I hiked this trail for the first time on a free day during a company trip in February 2001. I enjoyed my experience, but the photos I took did not turn out well because the subject was too far away from me. This experience compelled me to purchase a zoom lens camera, and when I finally returned in May 2008 with my “new” camera in hand, I took some of the best wildlife photos I have ever taken. The trail passes one more observation deck before the boardwalk ends at the east end of the blacktop dike. Turn right to head back to the trailhead. Keep your eyes open for things you had missed before and new things that had since moved into your field of vision. On my second journey down this trail, I saw a pair of baby alligators (recognizable by their small size and the yellow stripes on their backs) swimming near their mother. When you get back to the trailhead, angle left to begin the Gumbo Limbo Trail, another paved trail, which heads into the forest. This is a real jungle! 50 yards ago you were staring across a large sawgrass prairie, and now you are walking through a tight corridor bound by seemingly impenetrable walls of green and brown. As such, the wildlife viewing opportunities are fewer, but there are still plenty of interesting things to see. Small lizards run around everywhere, and many of unusual (for the rest of the country) plants can be seen, including the large gumbo limbos, the red peely-bark trees for which this trail is named. 0.2 miles after starting the Gumbo Limbo Trail, you will pass a solution hole on the right. Although it rarely rears its head, the limestone bedrock lies only a few feet below the surface of the Everglades. In places this bedrock collapses, perhaps due to a small cave, and a solution hole, a.k.a. sinkhole, is formed. The solution hole serves as a year-round storehouse of water, a supply much needed during the winter season when much of the park becomes dry. Thus, you will more likely see wildlife in this area than in other sections of this trail. In another 0.2 miles the trail crosses a wide two-track gravel path. This is the old Ingraham Highway which used to connect Florida City with the Gulf of Mexico. These days the main park road and US 1 serve that purpose, but you drove on part of this old route when you drove in on Royal Palm Road. Just past this crossing, the trail exits the forest at the southern end of the Royal Palm parking area, thus signaling the end of the hike. Hike #7 Trails: Pinelands, Pay-Hay-Okee, Mahogany Hammock, and West Bay Trails Location: Everglades National Park Nearest City: Florida City, FL Length: 1.75 miles total Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: A series of short, easy hikes along the main park road to Flamingo. Trail Information: http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/pine-island-trails.htm Directions to the trailhead: These trails depart from the main park road. Each trail has a separate parking area and trailhead easily found via the park road signs. Driving from Florida City to Flamingo, you will pass the parking areas for these trails in the order listed above. The hike: For my general comments on Everglades National Park, see the first hike in this section. These short trails are grouped into a single log entry because they all depart from the main park road leading to Flamingo. Separately these trails would not merit discussion, but taken together these trails give a good overview of the many habitats the Everglades has to offer. After passing Royal Palm (described elsewhere in this log) while driving toward Flamingo, you will first come to the trailhead for the Pinelands trail, which is located 7 miles into the park. As its name suggests, this 0.5 mile paved loop trail leads through a grove of slash pine trees. Start at the information board at the northwest end of the parking lot; you can go either direction around this short loop. For its entire distance the 40-foot slash pines comprise the canopy, while the understory is comprised of a dense covering of palmettos. At some points the palmettos grow out over the trail, making the trail very narrow. Also, you may notice some evidence of recent fires, likely the result of controlled burns conducted by the park in order to preserve this pinelands area. If these burns were not carried out, the forest would soon revert to the cypress domes you see nearby. Complete the loop and return to your car. The next trail, located 6 miles past the Pinelands Trail, is the short 0.25 mile boardwalk trail to Payhayokee Overlook. Depart from the information board at the west end of the parking lot and immediately find yourself on the boardwalk, which is made out of synthetic wood. At first there may or may not be water depending on the time of year, but as you get closer to the raised observation platform, you will see some water under the boardwalk. The observation platform gives the best view in this section of Shark River Slough, the vast wetland prairie that gives the Everglades its nickname “The River of Grass.” Indeed, this trail is located on the very southern edge of the slough, and looking north from the platform, the grasslands extend as far as the eye can see. After observing the river of grass, continue around the boardwalk, keeping an eye out for wading birds or alligators to return to the parking lot and complete this trail. The next trail is the Mahogany Hammock Trail, located another 7 miles past the Payhayokee Overlook and 20 miles past the park entrance. This trail is another synthetic wood boardwalk, but at 0.5 miles it is somewhat longer than the previous one. The boardwalk begins at an information board at the west end of the parking lot, crosses an arm of the Shark Valley Slough allowing additional views of the River of Grass, and enters a lush shady hammock on the other side. Environments such as these form on land that is only a few inches higher than the surrounding slough. While the slough is so moist that it only supports grass plant life, this higher land is considerably dryer and hence can support taller trees. Mahogany trees are the tallest trees on these hammocks, hence the name of the trail, but they are closely rivaled by the red-barked gumbo limbo tree. To early explorers and Seminole Indians, these hammocks provided much-needed shade and a dry area to sleep while traveling through the Everglades. The trail forms a loop, so after completing the loop around the hammock, return back across Shark River Slough to complete the hike. The last of the short trails in this section of the park is the 0.5 mile West Lake Trail; it is located only 7 miles north of Flamingo, the end of the park road. The trail begins not at the lake but at an information board near the midpoint of the parking lot. Most of the boardwalk trail is a shady, sultry trip through a dense mangrove forest. Interpretive signs explain the differences between red, white, and black mangroves. The boardwalk splits to form a loop that takes you a short way out into West Lake. You will immediately notice a difference when you emerge from the mangrove forest onto the open lake. While there is no longer any shade, a nice breeze will be present even if the air has been still on every other trail to this point, so you will probably find the section on the lake more pleasant that the one in the forest. West Lake is saltwater, as you can tell by the corroding effect it has on the steel piers that support his section of the boardwalk (don’t worry: it was in no danger of collapse on my visit). After watching the lake for shorebirds, retrace your steps back through the mangrove forest to complete the hike. Hike #8 Trail: Snake Bight Trail Location: Everglades National Park Nearest City: Flamingo, FL Length: 3.2 miles Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: A flat, easy hike to an observation platform yielding excellent views of Florida Bay. Trail Information: http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/flamingo-trails.htm Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead is located on the main park road 4 miles north of Flamingo. Trailhead parking, which consists of a paved pullout on the side of the road, is marked with a brown park sign. The hike: For my general comments on Everglades National Park, see the first hike in this section. Most visitors to the Everglades stick to the main park roads, the tram rides, and the short boardwalk trails, and much good wildlife viewing can be had that way. However, if you want to see the Everglades without the crowds, you will have to leave these easier alternatives and head for the backcountry. In most of the Everglades, visiting the backcountry would require rafting in a canoe or wading several miles of knee-deep water. Fortunately, the park maintains a trail system just northeast of Flamingo that allows visitors to access the undeveloped backcountry without this trouble. While the trails are easily accessible from the main park road, their length and the lack of immediate rewards mean that the crowds do not flock to these trails as they do to the shorter boardwalks. Most of these trails yield a similar hiking experience, but I have chosen the Snake Bight Trail because it is the shortest trail leading to Snake Bight, an inlet of Florida Bay. Begin by walking around a vehicle gate and following the wide two-track dirt trail. This trail is also open and easily accessible to bikes, though on my visit I had the trail completely to myself. Don’t be scared by the trail’s name: a bight is simply an inlet of a larger body of water, and encountering snakes is very rare in the Everglades. The entire trail is dead straight, as are many of the roads in the area. If you look to the left, down the entire length of this trail is a borrow pit filled with water. Since the Everglades are so flat, any road or trail built at land level would become submerged during the wet season. The solution was to create a small dirt dike by digging a hole nearby and using the dirt from the hole to create the dike. You are walking on the dike, and the hole, called a borrow pit, is the area to the left. The standing water in the borrow pit leads to the one warning about this hike: to continue a play on words, while “Snake Bite” would not be an appropriate name for this trail, “Insect Bite” would be, as the water in the borrow pit makes ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Thus, even if it is 95 degrees, you will want to wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt with a collar on this hike. I learned this lesson the hard way: even though I used a double layer of insect repellent on my arms, I still ended up with 43 insect bites (it took a couple of minutes to count them). Don’t repeat my mistake; come prepared. At 1.3 miles the Rowdy Bend Trail, another two-track hike/bike trail, enters from the right. In another 0.3 miles, you arrive at the boardwalk/observation deck that marks the trail’s end. Watch your step on the ground just before the boardwalk; it will likely be muddy and slippery even if the rest of the trail is not. The boardwalk offers a nice view of Snake Bight, the open waters of which lay out to the south. Watch for shore birds, which on my visit consisted of egrets and herons. Take a few minutes to sit and rest on the bench at the boardwalk as you admire the bay, and then retrace your steps back along the trail to your car to complete the hike. Hike #9 Trails: Wild Tamarind and Mangrove Trails Location: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Nearest City: Key Largo, FL Length: 1 mile Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: A pair of short interpretive trails featuring two very different habitats. Park Information: http://www.floridastateparks.org/pennekamp/default.cfm Directions to the trailhead: The park is located on the gulf (south) side of US 1 at mile marker 102.5. Enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and park in the large parking lot in front of the Visitor Center. The hike: Most visitors to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park will end up on a boat at some point during their visit, heading for the coral reef located some 6 miles offshore. Indeed, largely due to the advocacy of John Pennekamp, an assistant editor of the Miami Herald, and Dr. Gilbert Voss, a researcher at the Marine Institute of Miami, the park was formed in 1960 in order to protect this reef. While this park is a great place to view this reef, the reef actually stretches for over 150 miles from Biscayne in the northeast to beyond Key West, making it the third largest coral reef in the world. The reef is accessible only by boat, but there are several options to see the reef. In addition to ramps for private boats, the park offers snorkeling tours and features a glass-bottom boat from which one can see the reef and the fish that inhabit it. My trip on the glass-bottomed boat was a memorable experience, as I saw first-hand interesting forms of life on the ocean floor I would never have been able to see otherwise. In addition to the reef, the park also features several picnic areas and a pair of man-made beaches. Unlike other parts of Florida, the beaches here are man-made because the reef disrupts waves that would otherwise wash sand ashore. The park also features a pair of nature trails. The trails would not make a destination by themselves, but they provide a nice side excursion to the main attraction. Perhaps the best idea is to arrive early for the boat tour to avoid the long lines and use the intervening time to grab a snack or explore the nature trails in the park. The first nature trail, the Wild Tamarind Trail, begins across the main park road from the Visitor Center at a large information board. This 0.5 mile loop trail explores a tropical hammock, an area of high ground (relatively speaking) covered with dense tropical forest. A large number of interpretive signs give information about the plants and animals found around you. Hammocks such as this one used to be very common in the Florida Keys, but development has caused their number to dwindle, and this hammock is one of the few undisturbed remnants we have left. Where the trail forks to form the loop, I chose to turn right and hike the loop counterclockwise. The entire trail is paved with gravel and lined with interesting rocks. You will see a few wild tamarind trees for which this trail is named, but the largest trees in the forest are gumbo limbo trees, easily recognized by their red peely bark. On my hike, every 6 or 7 steps sent a brown lizard scurrying before me into the forest along the trail. All too soon, you will close the loop and return to the trailhead. To get to the Mangrove Trail, follow signs for the boat tours to arrive at the main park road, turn left, cross a wooden vehicle bridge using the sidewalk, and walk another 300 feet to a large blacktop parking area. Turn right and proceed to the far (south) end of the parking lot where the boardwalk Mangrove Trail begins. This boardwalk has definitely seen its better days, as many of the planks are visibly loose and many others creak under your feet. While the boardwalk forms a loop with a wooden observation tower at the far end, on my visit the outer section of the boardwalk was closed for (much needed) repairs, so I was only able to walk part of the boardwalk. As the name suggests, this boardwalk takes you through a mangrove forest, a short tree with broad leaves that lives near where saltwater meets freshwater. Very few plants can live in this harsh transition environment, so the mangroves form a green wall around the trail as they do many of the boating channels leading out of the park. Interpretive signs tell about the differences between red and white mangroves and give some information about how mangroves survive in the transition zone where other plants cannot. Walk as much of the boardwalk as you can. Near the trailhead the water is shallow and the mangroves grow taller making for some nice shade, but the outer section of the boardwalk passes through deeper water and shorter (above water) mangroves, making for a warm sunny hike. Enjoy this unique trip through a dense mangrove forest and then retrace your steps to the visitor center and complete the hike in time for your boat to depart. Hike #10 Trails: Fort Tour and Moat Wall Trails Location: Dry Tortugas National Park Nearest City: Key West, FL Length: 1.6 mile Last Hiked: May 2008 Overview: A memorable walk through historic and remote Fort Jefferson. Park Information: http://www.nps.gov/drto Directions to the trailhead: Not applicable; see below. The hike: Accessible only by boat or seaplane, Dry Tortugas National Park is perhaps the most remote and difficult to access park in the United States national park system. Nevertheless, a visit to the Dry Tortugas is one you will not soon forget, for in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, you will run across a most unexpected discovery: a fort! Specifically, Fort Jefferson, built in the mid 1800’s, was the largest brick fort in the United States at the time of its construction. Human history in the Dry Tortugas began long before the fort was constructed. In 1513, the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first put the island on the map. He called the islands Las Tortugas (Spanish for “turtles”) due to the large number of sea turtles he found there. The name “Dry” was added later to warn sailors that no fresh water could be found on these islands. In the early 1800’s, the United States government decided to build a series of forts along the east coast to protect coastal shipping channels from pirate attacks. With its location at the southwestern end of the Gulf Stream and at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, the Dry Tortugas made an ideal location for the last of these forts. Despite some concerns about whether the small sandy island could support such a large structure (concerns that turned out to be well founded), construction on Fort Jefferson began in 1846. Due to shortages of building materials and the Civil War, the fort was never fully completed, and no military action was ever seen at the fort. The fort was abandoned in 1874, proclaimed a national monument in 1935, and redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992. Today the easiest way to access the national park is by daily departures of commercial ferries or seaplanes out of Key West. Since 70 miles of open waters must be traversed to reach the fort, the ride will probably not be smooth and easy, but for those willing to make the journey an unforgettable trip through beautiful natural environments and unique human history awaits. This location gives the proverbial feeling of being stranded on a desert island, and in fact overnight camping is allowed in designated areas on the island. Whether you are staying the night or simply arriving and leaving on the same day, you will want to explore everything the fort has to offer, and the tour suggested here will let you do just that. From the public boat dock, cross the moat on a wooden bridge and enter the fort. This bridge provides the only access to the fort, so you will have to exit this same door when you leave. With water all around you and the sun directly overhead (in the summer, at least), it can be a little hard to keep your sense of direction, but as you enter the fort you are walking just north of west. The self-guided tour of the fort, marked by an outline of a Civil War-era soldier, begins at a sign just inside the fort walls. The fort features three distinct levels, and the tour begins on the lowest level, the ground level. Notice how thick and sultry the air feels on the floor of the fort, a result of the brick walls blocking airflow from outside. Imagine how Union soldiers dressed in wool uniforms would have felt in this fort! Tour stops point out the various ruined buildings in the fort including the gunpowder store, the sleeping quarters, and the original lighthouse. Also, notice how the floor of the lower level often has a slope to it, a result of the fort’s foundation settling into the sand. The tour soon leads up to the second level. The fort is shaped like a hexagon, and each corner of the hexagon features a stone spiral staircase that connects all three levels. The second level features some of the nicest brick arches in the fort. These arches are not only easier than a flat surface to build but also hold up better under enemy fire. Notice the unusual cave-like stalactites and stalagmites formed under some of these arches, a result of water washing though limestone gravel located on the top level. Also, notice the nice breeze drifting through the holes in the walls on this level, making this level much more comfortable than the ground level. Finally, notice the whitewash that covers some of the walls and ceilings. This whitewash was added so that more light would be reflected around the fort’s corridors, making for a less dreary living environment and easier, safer walking at night. The tour finally leads to the top level, the roof of the fort. A nice sea breeze blows up here, and some great views of the fort and its surroundings can be had. The fort’s lighthouse lies directly behind the tour’s point of exit onto the roof. This lighthouse no longer operates, as it was replaced by Loggerhead Lighthouse in 1857. Loggerhead Lighthouse is visible on Loggerhead Key to the west behind the fort’s lighthouse. You never know what you might see from the roof of the fort. In addition to the usual sightings of birds on nearby Bush Key and boats entering and leaving the dock, you might see a boat carrying refugees from Cuba, as Dry Tortugas is one of the most popular landing points for such boats. Indeed, on my visit I could see a Coast Guard ship anchored just east of the island patrolling these waters for that type of visitor. After a brief walk across the roof of the fort, the tour route heads down another of the spiral staircases to the bottom level and the tour’s last stop. This dark corner of the fort looks like a small prison cell. In fact, the fort was used as a Union prison during the Civil War, and after the war the fort gained its’ most famous inmate: Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor that treated John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Lincoln. Take a minute to explore the cell, and then retrace your steps to the entrance of the fort, stopping at the Visitor Center along the way to see a short film about the fort’s history. In addition to walking around inside the fort, one can also circumnavigate the outside of the fort on the Moat Wall Trail. From the boat dock area, pick up the gravel path that heads parallel to the fort wall and away from the main dock, keeping the fort to your left. First you will pass the seaplane dock, then a nice view of bird-covered Bush Key (a popular nesting spot for sea birds), and then the ruins of a Civil War-era dock (a popular spot for snorkelers). The gravel trail ends where the brick moat wall begins, and you can continue your trip around the outside of the fort on the 6-foot wide moat wall. This “back side” of the fort is probably my favorite place on the island: the crowds and noises of the docks are replaced by a few snorkelers and the sound of waves lapping against the moat wall. Enjoy this spot for a while, then continue around the fort to arrive back at the boat dock and complete your tour of Fort Jefferson.