As a "trailblazer," I have long enjoyed the history, geography, ecosystems and wildlife that make Florida such a wonderful state for outdoor exploration. One of the first trails I began to explore actively is the Florida National Scenic Trail, a 1,000-mile walking and biking system that traverses the state and meanders through some of the most picturesque areas in the U.S. As time went by, I learned about the many other places in Florida that lay claim to countless trails and habitats: our award-winning state parks, our state and national forests, our wildlife management areas and our water management districts.
I started hiking these areas whenever I could, and it soon became an addiction, to say the least! I was taking photos and videos and keeping logs of my trips, and eventually these inspirations led to the creation of my Florida Trailblazer YouTube channel in late 2010 and my blog in 2011. I wanted to be able to look back on my adventures and to help inspire others to experience the beautiful Florida wilderness for themselves.
As I would come to discover, Florida has a rich and unique past. Now, besides enjoying the beautiful serenity of nature, I like to learn about (and share) the historical treasures I find, from gravesites and historical buildings, to ghost-town ruins and American Indian mounds. I find that it adds to the adventure.
With that said, here are a few recommendations for anyone out there who is intrigued by Florida history, loves exploring or just simply wants to get out and see something truly unique. I welcome you to check out my posts (linked)-and better yet, get out there and experience these places for yourself!
Davenport Historical Site - Ocala National Forest
At Ocala National Forest, you'll find extensive hiking trails-including a piece of the Florida National Scenic Trail-scenic wilderness and beautiful views along two river ways. The Davenport Historical Site contains some great gems,including an American Indian mound and the lone grave of a Confederate soldier.
[Update: We heard from Joe Dunn in late January, who had this to say about the soldier's grave: "Back in the 1800s, the soldier used to run the steamboat landing where the mound now sits. When he died, they buried him there back in this wooded area. Just today, I got a message from a relative of the soldier at this grave site. It's his great-great-grandfather[!] He said thank you for doing a video there...he hadn't been to the site in years, and my post brought back memories. I feel like I made a difference."]
Rice Creek Conservation Area, just west of Palatka, is great for hiking and has a neat history, having served as a harvesting site for indigo and guess the other crop in the 1780s. It also has one of Florida's largest still-surviving giant cypress trees (right) at 900-plus years old!
Half Moon Wildlife Management Area
The Half Moon Wildlife Management Area in Sumter County has lots of history and scenic hiking trails. There used to be a small community in the area in the 1800s that has long since vanished, and later on, several families moved there and built homesteads. At least one of the homestead ruins is marked by a sign, and you can still see an old gravesite from the bygone, 19th-century settlement.
Torreya State Park
Torreya State Park is a beautiful site in the northern Florida Panhandle. There are very rugged hiking trails with incredible terrain and some Civil War-era historical highlights, such as Gregory House (left).
Itchetucknee Springs State Park
Many of Florida's state parks have springs (below, right) where you can take a dip; I like to go on long hikes and then cool off in one of the springs at Itchetucknee Springs State Park in Fort White. Cool fact: The head spring in the Itchetucknee River was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1972.