Hitting the Trail

Safety tips and scenic destinations for local hiking.

Going for a hike, as opposed to being told to take a hike, is a consensus choice for enjoyable exercise. Floridians are fortunate: The 1,300-mile Florida Trail extends Big Cypress National Preserve near the Everglades to its beachfront terminus at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The state’s outdoor wonderland is among only 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States. It’s chock-full of easy and brief walks, all-day hikes and multi-day backpacking journeys, all of which are ideal for exploring Florida’s vast wildlife and habitats that include coastal dunes, pine flat woods, sawgrass prairie and dwarf cypress trees.

Sandra Friend, the prolific Florida travel writer and author of more than a dozen books on hiking in Florida, tells enthusiasts on her personal website, sandrafriend.com: “Florida’s prime hiking season is October through April. The bugs aren’t so bad, temperatures are cooler and there’s not much rain. We’re flip-flopped from the rest of the country in this respect.”

An introduction to hiking on one of the well-known trails in Naples or the surrounding areas of Collier and Lee counties can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. But regardless of distance or difficulty, being prepared and following common-sense guidelines can mean the difference between a rewarding outing and potential catastrophe.

For beginning and advanced hikers alike, enjoyment starts before the journey. Preparation—choosing the proper route to wearing the right attire and proper hydration to knowing and following basic trail etiquette—is paramount.

Knowing your fitness level and determining the estimated length of a hike are the logical first considerations. Do you regularly engage in cardiovascular exercise, or are you beginning a fitness routine? An honest self-assessment works best and will help determine if a 30-minute walk, a two-hour hike or a full day’s trek is ideal. The longer and more difficult a hike, the more important hiking essentials become.

Carrying navigation equipment, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid, nutrition, hydration and emergency shelter materials can be necessary.

Proper footwear, whether lightweight, low-cut running shoes or sturdy boots, is also essential, and should be determined by the severity of the hiking terrain. Shoes should be worn with woolen or synthetic socks, not cotton, to help deter blistering; they dry more easily, as well.

Remaining hydrated by drinking 16 ounces of water and eating 200-300 calories per hour is also recommended on moderate hikes. Carry a basic first-aid kit and other personal items such as toilet paper. Using sunscreen and insect repellent and wearing a wide-brimmed hat are also important. Nature is calling; go take the next step toward hiking for fitness and fun.