Florida’s own National Scenic Trail, the Florida Trail, is a 1,400-mile footpath stretching from the northern edge of the Everglades at Big Cypress National Preserve to Pensacola Beach. Attracting hikers from around the country, the Florida Trail runs for nearly 100 miles through the wild lands of Wakulla County, Aucilla WMA, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, and the Apalachicola National Forest.
In St. Marks NWR, hikers enjoy more than 50 miles of solitude along the estuarine fringe of the Gulf of Mexico. A sweeping view awaits backpackers at the Ring Levee campsite, where the sweep of the Big Bend is never more obvious from land. West of the visitor center, hikers encounter the remains of historic Port Leon, Wakulla County’s first county seat, and have to hail a boat to cross the St. Marks River into St. Marks. The community of St. Marks is a favorite stop for long-distance hikers looking for a warm shower and a cold drink. Briefly following the St. Marks-Tallahassee State Trail, the Florida Trail turns west to cross the Wakulla River along US 98 and heads back towards the shoreline, leading hikers past remnants of Civil War-era salt works; into The Cathedral, a hallowed ground of ancient sabal palmetto; and Shepherd Spring, a glistening pool of milky blue water. In this section, visitors can access the Florida Trail from Greenwood Road, Spring Creek Road, or Wakulla Beach Road. St. Marks NWR is the only National Wildlife Refuge that permits overnight camping for backpackers; permits must be obtained in advance from the visitor center and are only granted for backpackers making the full 53-mile traverse of the refuge.
As hikers enter the Apalachicola National Forest, they have access to several small communities with services that appeal to backpackers, motels, restaurants, and groceries, in nearby Medart, Panacea, and Sopchoppy. The Sopchoppy section of the Florida Trail parallels this magnificent tannic river and includes a traverse of Monkey Creek on a brand-new long-span bridge constructed by volunteer labor and F-Troop trail crew from the Florida Trail Association. Farther west, Bradwell Bay is considered one of the toughest hikes in the United States, according to Backpacker magazine, with nearly 8 miles of knee-to-waist-deep water to wade through in order to see virgin pines and cypress deep within the swamp. Six trailheads through the Wakulla County portion of the Apalachicola National Forest provide day hikers quick access to beauty spots and historic sites, including the Langston Homestead near Smith Creek and steephead ravines along the Ochlockonee River, where Florida azalea and Florida anise bloom each spring.