What is the Florida National Scenic Trail?
The Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) is a congressionally-designated, long-distance hiking trail that weaves its way across Florida from Big Cypress National Preserve in the south to Gulf Islands National Seashore in the western end of Florida’s panhandle.
The FNST is a national treasure, being 1 of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the country, and 1 of 3 contained entirely within a single state. The National Scenic Trails System was created to preserve the country’s scenic, historic, cultural, and natural wonders, and the Florida National Scenic Trail provides the opportunity to see unique features in each of these categories.
The Trail is currently about 1,000 miles long, with 1,300 total miles planned. The Forest Service has divided the Trail into four main geographic regions: the Southern region, the Central region, the Northern region, and the Panhandle region.
The USDA Forest Service is the official administrator of the Trail, though the FNST is managed and maintained by 27 different land managers and many dedicated volunteers, including those from the Florida Trail Association.
In the 1960s, the Florida National Scenic Trail was just a dream. The Trail’s founder, Jim Kern, saw a need for long-distance hiking opportunities in the state
of Florida, and so he founded the Florida Trail Association to gather like-minded individuals to help him satisfy this need. The first blaze of the Florida National Scenic Trail was marked in the Ocala National Forest in October of 1966, but the Trail was not officially designated as a National Scenic Trail until 1983.
FNST ribbon cutting ceremony with Trail founder Jim Kern, Credit: Florida Trail Association
How to Find and Use the Trail
The Florida National Scenic Trail is within one hour’s drive of most Floridians, and there are many great resources available to help you use and locate the Trail! While the FNST is mostly a hiking trail, users can also camp, swim, bike, horseback ride, paddle, and picnic on some sections of the Trail. FNST visitors can check with local land managers to see which uses are allowable near them.
There are many resources available to help you find and use the Trail, such as the FNST ArcGIS map, Forest Service kmz files, and the Florida Trail Association. To explore these resources:
You can find the Florida National Scenic Trail using your computer or smartphone via ArcGIS!
The US Forest Service continually updates the ArcGIS map with current data for trail management and planning purposes. The ArcGIS map allows you to explore the Trail, and trail features, such as campsites and trailheads.
The ArcGIS map is available online here.
The Florida Trail Association
For navigational maps, tips, and more information on hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail, you can visit the Florida Trail Association's website here.
Visit our Maps & Publications page to learn more about how you can locate the Florida National Scenic Trail.
Recreation Opportunities on the FNST
One of the greatest aspects of the Florida National Scenic Trail experience is that it can vary greatly depending on the user’s location. From the swamps of Big Cypress to the beach walks of Gulf Islands National Seashore to the dikes and levees around Lake Okeechobee, there are vastly different environments to be found.
While hiking is the primary activity taking place on the Trail, there are many other recreation opportunities for FNST visitors.
Activities that are always acceptable on the FNST:
Hiking & wildlife viewing
Allowed in some sections:
It is always a good idea to check with the local land manager (i.e. the State Park Service, water management district, FWC, etc.) to find out what uses are allowed on and around your local sections of FNST.
Common Plants & Wildlife by Region
The flora & fauna on the FNST can also vary greatly by sections of trail. Florida is home to unique environments, some of which are not seen anywhere else in the world. This means that FNST users have prime access to some of the best nature and wildlife viewing opportunities in the country.
Southern Region: Swamplands, pine flatwoods, scrub, and saw palmetto are frequently seen on the southern portions of the FNST. Some of the common types of wildlife seen in this region include: alligators, cattle, panthers, Florida black bears, and many different bird species.
Central Region: Wildlife common to this region include sandhill cranes, white-tailed deer, feral hogs, wild turkey, cattle, the Red Widow spider, Florida pine snake, black bear, and gopher tortoises. Palmetto prairies, ranch land, scrub, oak hammocks, and pine flatwoods can all be seen in the central region.
Northern Region: Wiregrass, longleaf pine, pine plantations, hardwoods, and oak hammocks are commonly found in this region. Additionally, users can find red-cockaded woodpeckers, black bears, rabbits, wild turkey, deer, red-tail hawks, and gopher tortoises.
Panhandle Region: Pitcher plants, hardwood hammocks, salt marsh, pine flatwoods, orchids, and dune grasses can all be found in the northern region. Users can spot bald eagle, osprey, black bears, otters, sea turtles, and piping plovers in this region.
The US Forest Service has partnered with the University of Florida to conduct FNST visitor assessments for more than a decade. These assessments are available to the public in addition to visitor assessment highlights by land manager. Other pertinent publications related to the Florida National Scenic Trail, including the FNST User Conflict presentation and FNST marketing studies, can also be found here.