Best Hikes in the National Forests in Florida (FL)

Overview

The National Forests in Florida manage three national forests: the Apalachicola, Osceola and Ocala. Combined, these national forest lands span almost 1.2 million acres in north and central Florida. That 1.2 million acres includes about 500,000 acres of wetlands and more than 85,000 acres of designated federal wilderness. The best hikes in the National Forests in Florida described below are included in more than 1400 miles of trails. Official Website.

Apalachicola National Forest

Apalachicola National Forest is the largest national forest in Florida and is located in the Florida Panhandle, southwest of Tallahassee. The Apalachicola is one of the most biodiverse forests in the country and is home to the largest recovered population of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers in the world. 

Ocala National Forest

Nestled just north of Orlando between well-known theme parks and white, sandy beaches, the jewels of the Ocala National Forest attract visitors from around the world. Ocala is the southernmost forest in the continental United States and protects the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest.

Osceola National Forest

Located between Lake City and Jacksonville and bisected by Interstate 10, the Osceola is Florida’s northernmost and smallest national forest. It includes several wildernesses and a wildlife corridor that stretches north towards the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia.

StateFlorida
Nearest Metro AreaTallahassee, FL (Apalachicola)
Orlando, FL (Ocala)
Jacksonville, FL (Osceola)
Area Size567,742 acres (Apalachicola)
385,000 acres (Ocala)
226,000 acres (Osceola)
EstablishedMay 13, 1936 (Apalachicola)
November 24, 1908 (Ocala)
July 10, 1931 (Osceola)
Hiking Trails233 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in the National Forests in Florida

(*** = Best Hikes in the National Forests in Florida)

Florida Trail (Cathedral of Palms) (Apalachicola) – 6.2 mile loop

This is a great section of the Florida National Scenic Trail that includes a cathedral-like forest of palm trees. Be prepared to cross some swampy, muddy sections with plenty of spiders and snakes.

Florida Trail (Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs) (Ocala) – 9.7 miles one-way

Quiet but enjoyable section of the FNST. Alexander Springs is a broad and naturally gently sloped spring pool is a constant 72°F and extraordinarily clear. Follow orange blazes south to the 32 acre, Clearwater Lake. There are shorter spur and loop trails near each end point if you’d prefer.

Juniper Springs Nature Trail (Ocala) – 0.8 mile out and back

An easy, accessible walk between the swimming area at Juniper Springs and the lovely Fern Hammock Springs. The trail is part footpath and mostly boardwalk as it follows the sinuous path of the two spring runs through a dense subtropical forest. Juniper Springs is one of the oldest and best-known recreation areas on the East Coast.

Leon Sinks Loop (Apalachicola) – 3.6 mile loop

The land in this area is underlain by a layer of limestone, eroded and dissolved by rainwater and groundwater to form caverns, holes, and tunnels. This type of terrain is called “karst” and results in many geological features such as wet sinkholes, depressions, natural bridges and a disappearing stream. The loop around the site views the numerous sinkholes and geological features. Portions of the trail remain closed to restore the habitat.

St. Francis Trail (Ocala) – 7.2 mile loop

This trail works its way through floodplain forest habitats along the St. Francis Dead River to the ghost town of St. Francis at the south edge of the Alexander Springs Wilderness Area. St. Francis was a thriving river port in the late 1800s as steamboats worked their way from Jacksonville upriver along the St. Johns to Sanford. Here, they’d stop to exchange household goods for citrus and timber. The town faded away after river traffic vanished in the wake of railroads, but the St. Francis Trail lets visitors take a long walk through floodplain forests and pine flatwoods in search of the past.

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