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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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At the start of a new year, I love to spend time in nature. It’s such a spiritual and cleansing experience. In past years, I have paddled some awesome Florida rivers during the holiday, such as Blackwater River and Royal Palm Hammock, Fisheating Creek, and Withlacoochee River South. This year, I chose to hike in one of Florida’s beautiful state parks, Jonathan Dickinson, and I had an amazing experience hiking and a once-in-a-lifetime sighting!

Jonathan Dickinson–White Loop Trail

For those not familiar with Florida, this state park consists of over 10,000 acres in Martin and Palm Beach Counties with sixteen natural communities which can be explored by hiking, biking, camping, birding, fishing, and paddling. Truly, there is so much going on in this park with many trails for hiking. I chose the 7.5 White Loop trail for my hike (turned out to be closer to 8.0), which took me on an adventure through the Florida flatland and pine scrub areas.

I started my hike at 11:15—definitely not the best time to start a hike on an open trail in Florida. I hiked under a mostly clear sky with very little shade opportunities—and I had forgotten to bring my hat.  I hiked for just under four hours which included short stops for a snack and rest in the only two areas with a place to sit.

The White Loop Trail

The most memorable part of this hike occurred about six miles in—right before the section that runs along the railroad tracks. I had paused under a tree in one of the few shady parts of the trail to stretch my legs and hips. I was on the ground in a squat when I looked up to see a Florida panther on the next knoll walking in my direction—about 60 yards away (I returned to the spot a few days later to take pictures and measure the distance.). It took me a few seconds to understand what I was seeing as this beautiful, large, tan creature swaggered my way, owning the trail, like a hero in an action movie trailer. At first, I saw him through the dead branches on the trail (See pic below; I was in the bottom right.), then stood up to see him more clearly. The thoughts that went through my mind: “Does it know I’m here yet? “Will it attack me when it does—or will it run away?” “What do I have to protect myself?” “How long do I have before it gets to me?” I grabbed for my mace and gave it a practice squirt behind me as the slight breeze came from the front, and then I watched as the panther slowly turned into the scrub and disappeared. To describe it as surreal doesn’t do the experience justice, and I die thinking that I didn’t take a picture, but my survival instinct had kicked in, and the encounter was brief. Needless to say, for the rest of my hike, I became much more aware of my surroundings—listening and watching for unexpected visitors.

Location of Panther Sighting

Regardless of the hot sun, I loved the hike. This well-blazed trail was grassy and often sandy, and except for passing three people on the first part of the hike just past the Park Drive crossover, I was alone all day. I ended up ankle deep in water in a few wet areas I came across. Some I could navigate around, some not. I imagine that it would have been worse if there had been a recent rain. I was not bothered by bugs; however, about mid-way through with my hike, I changed from long pants to shorts—and I’m guessing that’s when I got the bites on my backside.

Overall, I had packed well for my hike–plenty of snacks, water, and sunscreen. However, I also had lessons learned, such as, don’t forget the hat, bring the extra pair of socks, pack more electrolytes, and consider safety.

The new year and Florida natural areas never disappoint me with their awesomeness. Happy New Year!

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