I want to be honest here. I'm not much into hiking rural trails. Let's just say when I'm surrounded by dense foliage and tall trees and can't be sure of the pathway under my feet, I feel a bit claustrophobic. That leads (pun intended) to panic because I realize I could really get lost. Since I have... gotten lost, that is, I don't enjoy that feeling, whether real or imagined; so, a good hike for me is staying on a paved path. You have little chance of getting lost that way.
So, call me biased or just trying to be politically correct in choosing trails that are easy to follow and for the most part wheelchair accessible. Florida has miles of hiking trails that crisscross the state, but these trails are tops in accommodating diverse recreational opportunities and their accessibility.
Blackwater Heritage, the most western rail-trail in the state, stretches from Milton in Florida's Panhandle north to Whiting Field Naval Air Station. Blackwater Heritage merges with the 2.2-mile Military Trail for a total of 9.2 miles of asphalt. The 12 ft. wide pavement allows for walking, hiking, biking, inline skating and non-motorized wheelchairs. An unpaved equestrian trail parallels the paved trail a portion of the way.
Situated in Central Florida's Seminole County, the Cross Seminole Trail provides just 3.7 miles of paved recreational opportunity; but, the trail offers a green space that is rare in such an urban area. Currently the trail extends from Winter Springs to Oviedo, but eventually it will connect to the Seminole-Wekiva Trail creating a 30-mile continuous trail through some of Seminole County's most populated areas.
The current paved trail is open to walking, hiking, biking, inline skating, equestrian and non-motorized wheelchair use.
Now featuring more than 70 miles of paved trail, once completed, this trail system will stretch 106 miles through the Florida Keys becoming perhaps the most traveled among Florida's trails. It is designed as not only a recreational trail, but as an alternate transportation corridor for the Florida Keys which will link the Keys' island communities. As it parallels U.S. Highway 1, which is designated as a national Scenic Highway and All-American Road, it incorporates 23 of the historic Flagler Railroad bridges. When completed, it will offer spectacular scenic views to sightseers, hikers, bikers and in-line skaters.
Sixteen miles of asphalt pavement extends from Gainesville's Boulware Springs Park through the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area. Additionally, the La Chua trail in Paynes Prairie offers the rare opportunity to see bison, wild horses and sandhill cranes. Recreational opportunities on this trail include walking, hiking, biking, in-line skating, wheelchair and limited equestrian access.
One of Florida's most rural rail-trails, the Gen. James A. Van Fleet State Trail stretches 29.2 paved miles through the Green Swamp, one of Florida's most natural areas. The Green Swamp is the headwaters for the Withlacoochee (South), Hillsborough and Peace rivers that provide some of the most popular canoeing in Florida. Recreational opportunities on this trail include walking, hiking, biking, in-line skating, wheelchair and equestrian access.
Secluded yet easily accessible from Interstates 10 and 295, the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail begins just five miles from Downtown Jacksonville. The former railroad corridor is teaming with a diversity of habitats that brings a variety of wildlife to the area. This trail is covered by a dense canopy that will help keep trail-goers cool on sunny days. While equestrian trails are beging developed, the presently provides 14.5 miles of paved asphalt suitable for walking, hiking, biking, in-line skating and wheelchair access for the disabled.
Stretching from Tarpon Springs on the north to its southernmost point in St. Petersburg, the Pinellas Trail snakes through some of Pinellas County's most picturesque parks, scenic coastal areas and residential neighborhoods. Popular with locals, the trail is open to a variety of recreational opportunities, including walking, hiking, biking, in-line skating and is wheelchair accessible.
The 41.3 paved miles of the Suncoast Trail begins in northern Hillsborough County and extends north through Pasco and Hernando counties, paralleling the Suncoast Parkway. It will eventually connect other trail projects, including the Pinellas Trail. The Suncoast Trail has several access points that provide opportunities for walking, hiking, biking and in-line skating. The trail is also wheelchair accessible for the disabled.
Developed along an old railroad corridor, this 16 miles of paved trail provides a variety of recreational opportunities, including walking, hiking, biking and in-line skating. An adjacent trail provides access for equestrians.
In perhaps what is Florida's longest paved trail, the Withlachooche provides 46 miles of asphalt for walking, hiking, biking, in-line skating and wheelchair access. Seeking unpaved trails? Further exploration is possible in the Croom area of the Withlacoochee State Forest.