Posts Tagged ‘FloridaHiking’

I visited my trail sister, Robyn, in Orlando over the weekend for lunch and shopping. I met Robyn in Georgia last fall when we both signed up for a slackpacking trip and completed the first 52 miles of the Georgia Appalachian Trail. We have planned a camping/hiking trip to Georgia next fall—four days, three nights—to complete the Georgia AT and to get started in South Carolina.

Beautiful Trail at Lake Louisa State Park

We met at our favorite store, REI. Robyn is the camping guru, and she helped me gear up for our trip. After that, we relaxed over a delicious lunch and bottle of wine at a local restaurant to plan our trip.

Before I headed home the following morning, Robyn and I drove to Lake Louisa State Park, Robyn’s local state park. We hiked a couple short trails and Robyn showed me the two primitive camping sites she frequents. At $5 plus tax per person, per night, you can’t beat this for entertainment. I agree with the park’s introduction on their website: “A natural theme park awaits those with a hearty outdoor spirit. “

Cypress Knees Along the Trail

We hiked about three miles; however, the park has seven miles of paved roads and another twenty miles of unpaved multi-use trails that wind through cypress swamps, tall pines, and scrub forests. Included in the park are Lake Louisa, Hammond Lake, and Dixie Lake You can glamp, camp, or even rent a cabin. (trail map)

Lake Louisa at the State Park

Like many of the state parks, some areas showed evidence of a recent controlled burn with black charcoal markings on tree trunks. However, our surroundings were beautiful and quiet. You got to love Florida State Parks!

(Lake Louisa State Park. 7305 U.S. Highway 27, Clermont, FL 34714.  https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/lake-louisa-state-park)

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Having learned (the hard way) that Uber will not drop off or pick up in these remote areas, the logistics of my next hike became my priority. In the end, my daughter dropped me at the South Gate to the Corbett Wildlife Management Area at 2:45 PM—yes, a late start, but it stays light until after 8:00 now. I thought I might get some late afternoon clouds and see some wildlife.

Hot Open Hiking Path

I hiked north to connect to the Beeline Highway where I had ended my previous hike on the OTL—a five-mile hike—and then an additional one and a half miles to the parking lot at the Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area by way of the Loxahatchee Loop Trail where I had left my car.  

I didn’t know what to expect and wore my usual long pants and long-sleeved SPF top to protect me from sun, sand, bushes, and critters. The trail, which appeared to be a service road for the wildlife area, was wide open with little or no shade—with the exception of one mile along Beeline Highway and the short distance to get to the Loxahatchee Loop Trail to the parking lot. It was a HOT hike.

New Growth After Controlled Burn

My first stop was just over three miles into my hike, and with not a bench or log in site, I sat on the ground in a tiny piece of shade under a sand pine. No doubt I would have appreciated this trail much more on a cool, fall day. I had forgotten the pair of shorts I typically pack “just in case,” and I came very close to using my knife to cut the legs off my pants. It was that hot.

Complaints aside, the beauty of my surroundings awed me—saw palmetto, sand pine, cocoplum, flowers, and tall grasses. Ahead of me, three dark animals hurried across the trail—perhaps wild boar, as there was some evidence. Scrub jays, woodpeckers, herons, cardinals, swallow tailed kite, red shoulder hawk flew from tree to tree.

Beautiful and Scenic Hike

Around mile four, my hope for clouds arrived along with strong winds and a downpour of rain. Be careful what you wish for. However, there is something mysterious and beautiful about rain in nature. I found a little protection from the wind and rain on the side of a large saw palmetto. I arrived at Beeline a soggy hiker, trying to avoid the splash of the cars and trucks as I crossed the small bridge. On the other side, God rewarded me for my patience with a gorgeous rainbow.

This was my third section of OTL and my least favorite so far—although I had a beautiful and scenic hike for the first four miles. I arrived at the parking lot about 6:15 PM—about 3.5 hours—soaking wet and happy I had thought to throw a sweatshirt and pair of sandals in my car (reminder: next time, add sweat pants!).

Rainbow on the Beeline Highway

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Now that I had warmed up on the Eagle Trail, I was ready for Hog Hammock and Promontory Loop Trails. Hog Hammock loops with an option to return at one mile or two. The Promontory Loop Trail is a straight one-mile shoot out and back from Hog Hammock. The total hike for both trails is four miles.

Boardwalk on Hog Hammock Trail

Right away, I knew this would be a nice, easy hike. Both trails, wider and straighter than Eagle Trail, are very suitable for both hiking and biking as well as being kid friendly. Shaded by pines, cabbage palms, and cypress with many opportunities to pause on a bench and/or under a covered shelter, I enjoyed my hike–and bringing a lunch and planning a longer day of the trail would be a great escape! I stepped onto the trail and spied a small deer almost immediately. The deer, obviously accustomed to people, stood and stared at me for a bit before slowly walking away. Herons and egrets lazed in the grassy waters along the trail, and a large Florida softshell turtle crossed the trail (very slowly) in front of me.

Grassy Waters on Hog Hammock and Promontory Trails

As I hiked Hog Hammock, boardwalks occasionally lifted me off the forest floor. I imagine that these boardwalks keep hikers dry during the rainy season when the grassy waters flow into the forest. The trail widened even more when I reached Promontory, and if the trail had been painted yellow, I could have imagined skipping to see the wizard.

Easy Hiking on Promontory Trail

Overall, I had a great day hiking, and I believe there are a couple more trails in that same area that are calling me!

(Grassy Waters Preserve. https://www.wpb.org/government/public-utilities/grassy-waters-preserve/trail-information/hog-hammock-trail)

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Over two months! That’s how long it’s been since my last hike due to a foot injury at the beginning of February which left me hobbling and “hikeless.” I am so glad to get back to nature—but I am starting out light—which is why I chose Seabranch Preserve State Park for my hike on Easter morning.

Sandy Pathways Along the Seabranch Trail

Only 913 acres, Seabranch was designated a state park in 1992. I found it easily, no gate to drive through or ID to show. I parked in front of the fence that led into the park. A kiosk next to the water fountain and toilet gave me the trail information I needed.

I chose the longest of the three hiking trails, the North Loop, and hiked just under 3.5 miles on a mostly sandy, narrow and twisting trail, happy I had worn long pants to keep the wild things off my legs. My goal–to beat the forecasted rain. The partly overcast sky provided a (small) relief from the hot sun, and my legs appreciated the occasional bench along the trail.

Large, dead trees dotted the landscape of scrub and tall pines—remnants, I imagine, from a prescribed burn to help maintain the fire dependent ecosystems within the park. I passed a few people during the first fifteen minutes, and then no one for the remainder of the trail. Although mostly in the open, short sections passed through pines, needles creating a welcomed carpet over the sandy trail. Little wildlife appeared in the quiet landscape, perhaps due to the hot day or impending storm. I spotted one swallow-tailed kite my entire hike.

Pine Needles on the Sandy Trail

I found the well-blazed trail easy to follow most of the time—and relied on my AllTrails app to pull me back on course if I got distracted searching for life. Although the first part of the trail twisted through the scrub, the last mile moved onto a road–wider, but still very sandy.

I finished my hike in about 1.5 hours with my legs feeling that the sandy trail had worked them out better than any gym could. Although I prefer a shaded hike, I’ve gotten use to Florida’s hot, sandy trails. I enjoyed my morning hike and hope to return to hike the remaining two trails.

(Seabranch Preserve State Park. 6093 S.W. Dixie Highway, Stuart, FL 34997. (772) 219-1880) Website: https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/seabranch-preserve-state-park)

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Several months ago, I created a list of fun goals to achieve in my retirement. Fourth on the list is “Hike the Florida Trail.”  To accomplish this and to help prepare me for overnight hiking, I chose to day hike a section of one of the off-shutes/secondary trails of the Florida Trail system, the first (or last, depending on perspective) section of the Ocean to Lake Trail which runs about sixty-one miles from the Hobe Sound Beach to Lake Okeechobee.

Sugar Sand Trails at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

This would be my longest day hike thus far, and I knew that during the week, I would most likely be the only person on the trail. My backpack was a bit heavy for a day hike—16.4 pounds—but this would help get me use to carrying more weight for overnight camping trips. I felt prepared with plenty of food, water, sunscreen, and an extra pair of socks and trail runners.

I parked at Riverbend Park shortly after they opened and took an Uber to the Hobe Sound Beach, pretty simple. At 9:17 a.m., I walked to the water; I wanted to make certain I didn’t miss a step. I began my walk west and loved the beginning of this trail. I walked under beautiful Banyan trees and over the bridge in Hobe Sound. However, the next section on Dixie Highway made me glad I started north and hiked south so to get this section out of the way. At 10:07 a.m., I entered the Jonathan Dickinson State Park just off US 1 and started my trek across the sugar sand trail.

Tall Grasses in the Breeze on the OTL Trail

It was quiet, and hot, and I was grateful for the breeze, overcast sky, and the beautiful scenery as I hiked through the various ecosystems—sugar sand trail decorated with sand pines, prairies of tall golden grasses moving with the breeze and contrasting beautifully with the palmetto scrub, pine forests, and cypress swamps.  After walking through several wet areas, I became even more grateful when I came upon the occasional wood bridge over the deeper waters. Thank you, Boy Scouts.

On this Wednesday morning, I saw no one until I crossed paths with a park biologist, checking her hog traps, a few miles in. I had noticed areas where the hogs had dug up the ground around the trail. We chatted for a bit before I moved on. I had miles yet to go! 

By the time I hiked out of Jonathan Dickinson State Park at 2:45, I had been hiking for 5.5 hours and over 10 miles, and my body had begun to protest. As I crossed Cypress Creek, the waters called to me, “Jump in! Jump in!” If the water was clearer, and I knew what the heck lurked below, I may have done just that to cool off. Instead, I sat on the wooden bridge and enjoyed a rare moment in the shade. I met only one other person at 3.88 miles from Riverbend Park, a young man, Brian, who had parked at Riverbend for an out-and-back.  I had passed two campsites—Scrub Jay and Kitching Creek—with no sign of life. Other than that, I saw a few hawks and scrub jays.

A Pause at Scrub Jay Campsite

I turned into Riverbend Park at East Slough Trail at 5:50 p.m., close to sixteen miles from the start with about a half mile to my car. My weary legs had slowed me down at the end, and if they would have allowed it, I would have jumped for joy when I saw the exit sign! It was already getting dark when I got to my car.

I have begun planning for my next hike—East Slough Trail at Riverbend to BeeLine Highway.

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I have explored Riverbend Park many times over the years—mostly to kayak. I love this park. It’s close by and has several great paddle trails as well as easy walking trails. The purpose of my visit on this day was to find the trail that connected with the Ocean to Lake Trail (OTL), part of the Florida Trail System. I wanted to hike the 9.4-mile section that starts just east of Jonathan Dickinson State Park at Hobe Sound Beach and needed an end point where I could park my car. However, there is not a car park at 9.4 miles, and Riverbend appeared to be my only option.

Trail at Riverbend Park

Riverbend rocks trail signage, and in addition to the cross trails being labeled, each cross trail includes an Exit sign. I love that being lost is never really lost. So, I can’t really blame the Riverbend folks for ending up at the wrong end of the park when searching for the OTL. I just got caught up in enjoying the journey and wasn’t paying attention.

In the end, I walked nearly three miles to find the OTL Trail which turned out to be less than a mile from the parking lot. However, getting a bit lost now and then certainly has its “ups.” This park has great trails for walking, hiking, biking, and paddling. Its website brags 680 acres and 10 miles of interconnected trails as well as 7 miles of equestrian trails and 5 miles of canoeing/kayaking trails. As I searched for the OTL Trail, I enjoyed the gorgeous afternoon and beautiful scenery, and, with the exception of the man who walked behind me with his earbuds in and talking to someone on his phone as if he was in a New York deli, I enjoyed the sweet serenity of the park and did not mind getting sidetracked at all.

Beautiful Views at Riverbend Park

The good news is the OTL trail is very close to the Riverbend parking lot, but the not so good news is that ending my hike at Riverbend adds five or six miles to my trip from Hobe Sound Beach making it closer to 16-miles. However, I accomplished what I set out to do, and I have set plans for my next hike!

(Riverbend Park. 9060 Indiantown Road, Jupiter, FL 33478. (561) 741-1359. Website: https://discover.pbcgov.org/parks/pages/riverbend.aspx)

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I completed the White Loop Trail at Jonathan Dickinson State Park on New Year’s Day and enjoyed it enough to bring me back for more! This time, my bestie, Barb, joined me, and we hiked the 4.9 miles of the Green Loop Trail in just under two hours.

If you come from almost anyplace other than Florida, you will find the Florida trails different. Mainly flat and often sandy, in many cases, there is little or no shade, but dang, you are out in nature in beautiful sunny Florida surrounded by the Florida scrub and who knows what else.

Sugar Sand Pathway of the Green Loop

This was a Monday holiday, so there were others around the park on bikes and on foot. The campsites were full. We hiked the Green Loop Trail, going counterclockwise. On the east side of the trail, we trudged through sugar sand as we headed north with the sun at our backs. The trail was narrower on this side with some shade and even some ups and downs!

Our View from the Wooden Bridge

We walked along the railroad tracks on the west side of the trail—the same tracks that bordered the White Loop I hiked on New Year’s. This trail was wider and paved in areas. Although this made the hike faster, we enjoyed the narrower sugar sand path and the added work it required more. Heading south, we started to see mountain bikers flying along their trails to our east but very little wild life other than that. The south end of the trail brought us to a lake and some welcomed shade—a short break for us before we ended our hike.

A Bit of Cool Shade Before the End

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