6 Beautiful Hikes in the Florida Panhandle for All Hikers and Nature Lovers

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, the US Gulf Coast is typically under the radar for a hiking destination, especially when thinking about hiking in Florida. What could Florida offer? There are no mountains. There are no canyons. But get that thought out of your head. Florida offers some incredible hiking experiences, especially along the panhandle from Tallahassee to the Alabama state line, where beautiful and unexpected natural wonders will be found around every turn.

As you travel the I-10 corridor through the Florida panhandle, take the time to get off the highway and visit one of these six amazing hikes – you won’t regret it.

Sink filled with deep water at Leon Sinks in Tallahassee, Florida

One of the many deep water-filled wells in Leon Sinks

Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj

1. Leon Sinks Geological Area

Tallahassee, Florida

Moderate 4.4 mile loop

While Florida isn’t known for its rugged mountains, it does offer a unique geology to explore. Located in the Apalachicola National Forest, the Leon Sinks Geological Area offers hikers the opportunity to see what is known as karst geology, a large area of ​​soft, porous limestone that has been cut over the centuries by the elements to form sinkholes, natural bridges. and streams that disappear underground.

This erosion has created huge sinkholes, some over 300 feet deep, which are filled with crystal clear water. Erosion also created the largest underwater cave system in the United States.

Although you can’t explore the water caves, you can see the beauty that nature has created above ground by connecting three trails. Use the Sinkhole Trail to visit several beautiful water “ponds”, including the Hammock, Big Dismal and Black Sink sinkholes. A short connecting trail, the Crossover Trail, connects Sinkhole to the Gum Swamp Trail for incredible wildlife viewing on walkways through a cypress and eucalyptus swamp.

Pro tip: There is a small daily use fee per vehicle to enter the Leon Sinks. The trails are easy to follow, with brushstrokes of paint indicating the way and informative interpretive signs along the route that describe the geology and fauna that you will find here in greater detail. The larger sinkholes have observation decks overlooking the sparkling waters.

A gopher tortoise along the Garden of Eden Trail, Bristol, Florida

A gopher tortoise makes an appearance along the Garden of Eden trail

Photo credit: David Printiss / TNC

2. Garden of Eden Trail (Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines preservation)

bristol, florida

3.3 miles moderate to difficult round trip with loop

One of the toughest and most challenging hikes in the Sunshine State, the Garden of Eden Trail at the Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve is a roller coaster hike that starts along a tree-lined trail of grass and pine trees, then winds its steep path down and up ravines for an incredibly beautiful view of the Apalachicola River from the top of Alum Bluff.

If you hike this trail in the spring, say March or April, the path comes alive with a splash of color provided by the Florida red anise blooming on the trail.

Pro tips: This is an environmentally sensitive area and as such dogs are not allowed. Due to the difficulty rating of this hike, be prepared to spend at least 2 hours on the trail. Bring lots of water and snacks for this one too. There is no admission charge.

Pine Flatwoods Nature Trail in Ochlocknee State Park, Sopchoppy, Florida

Saw palmetto and pine trees line the Pine Flatwoods Nature Trail in Ochlocknee State Park.

Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj

3. Ochlockonee State Park

Sopchoppy, Florida

Easy 2.6 mile loop

At the confluence of the Dead and Ochlocknee Rivers is a beautiful little secluded park: the 543-acre Ochlockonee River State Park. Its small size is more than made up for with a walk along the banks of the park’s beautiful namesake river along a trail lined with tall pines and swaying savannah grass punctuated by patches of saw palmetto.

This hike uses two trails – Ochlockonee River and Pine Flatwood Nature Trails – to create this loop where you’ll undoubtedly spot white-tailed deer, high-flying hawks and maybe even a gopher tortoise. A real highlight of this walk through the pines is a visit to Reflection Pond, a beautiful grass pond with a dazzling mirror surface that reflects the deep blue Florida sky and the fluffy white clouds passing by.

There is a small per-vehicle entrance fee charged. Swimming is allowed at the designated spot on the banks of the Dead River.

Pro Tips: There are some truly unique events held in the small town of Sopchoppy, including the annual Worm Gruntin’ Festival, held every year on the second Saturday in April. “Worm gruntin’” is a traditional method of using a pair of stakes to make a noise in the ground that brings worms to the surface to use as fishing bait. In addition to the worms, the festival features live music and lots of delicious food from Minas Gerais. And each month, local talent is featured on the Sopchoppy Opry.

Falling Waters State Park, Chipley, Florida

A 73-foot waterfall tumbles into a limestone sinkhole in Falling Waters State Park.

Photo credit: Florida State Parks

4. Wiregrass Boardwalk Trail

chipley, florida

2.0 miles easy to moderate round trip

A waterfall? In Florida? You bet, and it’s found in Falling Waters State Park.

Again, the karst geology I mentioned earlier is at play here, forming a 100-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide cylindrical sinkhole that is stunning to see from an observation. But this sinkhole is different. It has a 73-foot waterfall that plunges down its vertical limestone walls before disappearing into a hidden underground cavern. It’s not the only waterfall in the state, but it’s certainly the tallest.

To access the waterfall, use the park’s Wiregrass Boardwalk Trail, which will take you to two viewing platforms. The upper platform offers a panoramic view of the falls from above, while the second descends to a point below the edge of the sinkhole, where you’ll feel the cool mist of the water on your face.

Pro tip: Keep in mind it’s in the south, and as such the waterfalls are seasonal – meaning they can completely disappear during the hot summer months and dry spells. There is a small daily usage fee per vehicle charged. A park brochure with a trail map is available online.

Rocky Bayou Double Loop, Niceville, Florida

Pure tranquility will be found along the shores of Rocky Bayou.

Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj

5. Rocky Bayou Double Circuit

Niceville, Florida

2 mile easy double loop

Rocky Bayou is a finger of Choctawhatchee Bay in Niceville, Florida. Here, nestled along the shores of the bayou, is a small 357-acre state park, Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park (better known to locals simply as rocky bayou). It offers travelers a beautiful easy hike in the woods along a route I call the Rocky Bayou Double Loop. And that’s what this walk is all about – a peaceful, calming walk where you can relax and let the world’s problems fade away.

The loop actually uses two tracks. The first is the Rocky Bayou Trail, which takes you through a sandy pine forest and coastal plains and is lined with bright green deer moss. You will have plenty of opportunities to visit the tranquil bayou via short back trails. Along the route you will see numbered signage. Be sure to pick up a brochure from the kiosk at the trailhead that will identify what you are seeing.

The second trail, the Sand Pine Trail, is a 1.8-mile loop through a forest of magnolias, pines and hardwoods. When I first took this trail, I was excited to visit a lake along this trail called “Puddin’ Head Lake”. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a lake named after that? Well, Pudding Head is no more. Instead, it is now Puddin’ Head Stream, having been returned to its original state to protect a unique and rare habitat for many species of animals and reptiles such as cooter, softshell and box turtles, deer, raccoons and plants such as o Florida Anise and pitcher plants.

A park brochure with a trail map is available online.

Great Blue Heron at Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola, Florida

A great blue heron stands stoically along the trails of Big Lagoon State Park.

Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj

6. Big Lagoon State Park Trails

Pensacola, Florida

5 miles of easy walking, interconnecting trails

To say that Big Lagoon State Park’s trails are picturesque is an understatement. The 8 kilometers of sandy trail found here interconnect, giving you seemingly endless options as you wind between and around Long Pond, Grand Lagoon and its namesake Big Lagoon. Along these paths, great blue herons stand stoically as they wade in the shallows, wildflowers adorn the trail at the station with a rainbow of colors, canoeists will be seen navigating the waters as they make their way to the Intercoastal Waterway, and the sunset it’s just beautiful.

The highlight of a visit to the park is climbing the famous four-story Big Lagoon Observation Tower, where you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with spectacular panoramic views of the park, Perdido Key and the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Pro tip: Big Lagoon State Park is a birdwatcher’s dream. Known as the “Gateway to the Great Florida Birding Trail,” the park is a prime destination for migratory and wintering birds, and of course, its normal annual residents such as king rails, blue herons, cardinals, and nuthatches. Binoculars are available to borrow from the ranger station.

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