Hiking South Florida
South Florida is best known for our sprawling beaches and exciting nightlife, but did you know that behind all of the glitz and glamor of South Beach there is a secret world yearning to be discovered? That world is one where you can hike, canoe, camp and kayak. South Florida is beautiful almost every day of the year, but early November to late May is the best time to hike in South Florida. When the rains begin again in late May, most hiking spots will be visited by mosquitos and that famous South Florida sun (and humidity). Safety note: Always bring enough water, a first aid kit and a compass or GPS. Also, never hike alone unless you are very comfortable with using a compass/GPS and finding your way out of a densely forested area.
Everglades National Park
There are two entrances to this, one in the north called Shark Valley, 36000 SW 8 Street, Miami, FL 33194, one in the south which is the main park area, 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, FL 33034. The area to the south is very large and has one road that goes about 40 miles or so all the way to the tip of mainland Florida to an area called Flamingo. Flamingo is almost impossible to hike in the summer, but can very beautiful in the winter. You can also camp here, as well as in Long Pine Key. There is a small shop, and you can also rent boats and canoes, as well as launch your own. If you rent a canoe, you can take it up the canal into the Everglades, or out into the Bay. If you go out into the Bay and work your way a bit up the east side to the north, you have a very good chance of seeing some great bird activity and porpoises. Check the Everglades National park Website for more details.
The rest of the park has many other spots you can check out: Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail (both of these are at the first stop called Royal Palm). Anhinga almost always has birds and alligators, as it sits in a spot that has water even in the dry season called Taylor Slough (pronounced slew). Gumbo Limbo Trail is a fairly quick semi-loop trail that goes through a hardwood hammock.
Long Pine Key is home to the largest stand of remaining Dade County Pines. Pine rockland areas outside of the park are down to less than 2% of their original area and have an extremely diverse group plant species. Pines are the single canopy species and periodic natural and prescribed fires remove other fast growing trees that would eventually shade out and suffocate the pines. The fires also serve to clear the forest floor of debris which opens up the floor to light allowing the true diversity of the pine rockland, the small shrubs and wild flowers, to flourish. There are several trails here that follow fire break roads. There is also a short trail called the 3 in 1 trail that goes through pineland, a marl prairie, and a hammock. The marl prairie is an open area that is seasonally flooded in the wet season because its elevation is just slightly lower than the surrounding pine rockland and hardwood hammock. Maps of these trails can be found on the Everglades National park Website.
Mahogany Hammock is a raised boardwalk within a hammock (almost always owls here, but you have to look carefully for them). This is an easy, looped trail.
There are also several canoe trails: Noble Hammock and Nine Mile Pond and Hell’s Bay have marked canoe trails. Noble Hammock is a looped trail going through mangroves laden with tillandsia and some orchids. The Nine Mile Pond canoe trail is looped and goes through more open areas than the Noble Hammock trail. The trails are marked with numbered pvc poles that stick out of the water.
There is also a much longer trail called Hell’s Bay’s trail that goes all the way through the 10,000 Islands using the Wilderness Waterway. You would need a permit to make this full trip as it is certainly not for beginners. It earned its name as it is hell to get in and hell to get out.
The Everglades has an entrance fee of about $10 or so and that is good for a week and everyone in the car/van gets in for that price. You can also get a year pass that works the same way and that is about $25 or so (the year pass is a bargain). These prices are set to rise soon.
Great Miami-Dade County Parks to Hike
All of these great Miami-Dade County Parks do not have an entrance fee to hike. Be careful where you park as sometimes parking is limited.
–Camp Owaissa Bauer, 17001 SW 264 Street, Homestead, FL 33031, in Homestead, this area has some small caves here and some nice trails.
–Castellow Hammock, 22301 SW 162 Avenue, Homestead, FL 33170, this is a nice hammock with a marked trail that ends near a large solution hole. There are always hummingbirds here in the winter. They can be found near the entrance in between the parking lot and the beginning of the trail. The trail is looped and goes through a well maintained hammock. Large oaks and other native trees can be found here.
–Hauttie Bauer Hammock Preserve, 26715 SW 157 Avenue, Miami, FL 33032, this is a small hammock that used to be Orchid Jungle and was turned into a park. It has a small trail through the hammock that ends near the old orchid house.
–Matheson Hammock, 9610 Old Cutler Road, Miami, FL 33156, (this address will get you to the main entrance), but you need to go west of Old Cutler Road, not in the actual park to hike, as there is a large hammock there with some massive oaks and other hardwood trees. There is a small, unmarked parking lot just on the west side of Old Cutler Road across from the north entrance to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The lot has two entrances that have pipe gates on them and is not paved.
–R. Hardy Matheson County Preserve, 9610 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, FL 33156, this one is in plain sight, but no one knows about it, so keep it hush, hush. Whatever you do, don’t write a blog about it!! This is a linear trail next to Snapper Creek Canal that goes all the way from Old Cutler Road to Biscayne Bay. In the winter, you can almost always spot a manatee or two (or 20 as I did once with a fellow Extension agent) in the canal. Keep your eyes trained on the water as you walk and look for small disturbances in the water. The manatees will poke up their noses to breathe. There is also a nice hammock here that you can find by going a bit south after you enter. There is no real parking lot for this park, so park somewhere close that is a legal spot.
Hiking in South Florida is not what you think of when you most people think of the “hiking”. Our highest natural elevation is about 14 feet! Hiking South Florida can be very rewarding, however, as our birds, plants and wildlife are top tier. Enjoy the great outdoors!