When many people think of Florida, they think of palm trees, beaches, and Disney World. As a huge peninsula, we certainly have some beautiful beaches. And Disney World is, well, Disney World. But most people don’t realize that Florida still has some wonderfully wild spaces left in our rapidly changing state.
While the Everglades are well known for being remote, there are many other settings to spend a quiet day or even take a short walk. Thankfully caring local and state leaders have had the foresight to preserve these areas as parks, and you can take a walk back in time exploring these trails. As I wander these paths, I imagine what life was like for the early pioneers and original inhabitants of our state. They must have faced many challenges settling the territory.
Diverse ecosystems are highlighted by these parks. In some places the terrain is wet, dense, and jungle-like; other areas can be dry scrub or pinelands. Some of these trails actually cover different habitats mere yards apart. One minute you can be walking through a dry sandy path, and a few feet later you enter a thick cooler hammock. There are various critters inhabiting these places. Lizards, snakes, and gopher tortoises thrive in the sandy patches. Squirrels and birds dart through the hammocks. Deer graze and sandhill cranes forage in the grassy fields. If you spot a dead pine tree, look up. You’ll likely see woodpecker holes in the trunk. If you’re lucky you’ll see an osprey or hawk surveilling the terrain from the top. Take care on your hike, though. These may be designated parks, but they are still wild places. You can encounter snakes, alligators, and invasive wild hogs. While some of us enjoy seeing these critters, others might not feel the same way!
Winter is the best time for this exploration. The cooler dry air keeps the mosquitoes at bay, and the crisp days are too gorgeous to stay inside. We Floridians have only limited days of cool weather to enjoy—those are the best times to go on these adventures. So check your local parks to see what trails they have to wander. The Florida Trail Association lists interesting ones to explore. You can go for a day trip or just take a short walk. Either way you’ll discover a different Florida and hopefully see a beautiful part of our state that we need to preserve and protect. And admit it, the trails are a lot prettier than the treadmill at the gym. So go ahead, take a winter walk on the wild side.