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Hiking Tips For Visiting Wildlife Preserves In Florida

Here are some hiking tips for visiting wildlife preserves in Florida, inspired by a recent trip to Boca Ciega Millenium Park!  As someone who likes to take spontaneous trips into the wilds of Florida, I've learned how to pack light and still be safe.

Living in Florida, we take a lot of day trips to different places around the state.  Generally, we stay within an hour's distance from Ozona, Florida, where home sweet home is.  If there's one thing I've learned with both kids and adults is that you never know when someone is going to get hot, tired, or just want to go home.  Better to be close by!

I guess that would be my first hiking tip.  You'll want to be ready to go home at a moment's notice.  In Florida, barring everyone's mood, the weather can change drastically.  One minute it's bright and sunny and the next the sky is pouring rain and there are thunder and lightning.

Luckily, if you've been here long enough, you get really good at weather predictions.  My motto is to be prepared for anything, especially when you have the kiddos with you!

Visiting a Wildlife Preserve is Safer (For the Most Part)

Living in Florida, it is often safer to visit a wildlife preserve.  There's usually park rangers and workers nearby if you stick to the main trails.  However, that doesn't mean your 100% safe.  You're still in the wilds of Florida and that means you're in the world of the wild animal kingdom now.

In Florida wildlife preserves, that's a whole other game.  We have wild boars, alligators, and brown bears, oh my!

In all fairness, I've never seen a brown bear, but I recently found out that's good because if you see one, he is most likely hunting you.  That's a really comforting thought, right?  Yikes!

Don't Molest the Animals

In a Florida wildlife preserve, you're going to see signs everywhere not to molest the animals.  This is the number one hiking tip to live by!  What they mean is, don't feed the animals.

In most cases, in Florida they mean don't feed the alligators.  Alligators are supposed to be afraid of you.  If they are not, they have been fed or provoked by humans.  They then begin to see humans (and their pets) as food or associate you with food.  That's no Bueno!

This means you are not only putting your life in danger, but the lives of other humans, pets, and the alligator!  If the alligator nabs a pet or human, it will be put down.  Nobody wins in this scenario so please respect this all-important rule.

If Your a Newbie Hiker, Stay On the Beaten Path

I would never suggest someone go off the beaten path in Florida (or anywhere for that matter) unless they know the area.  You never know when you're going to walk right into a few inches of swampland water, where alligators sun themselves or into a rattlesnake.

Even if you do know what your doing and are an expert hiker, you still need to be cautious and safe.  Florida is a beautiful, lush state, but it can also be home to many dangerous animals.

Also, follow the rules of the park.  This may sound like a given, but many people try to bend the rules and stay in Florida parks after the park closes.  This is bad because all the workers are gone for the day and it just happens to be wake up time for nocturnal animals.  Follow the signs!

Brackish Water and the Rules of Swimming

First of all, let's cover the basics of the Florida landscape.  If you swim, ride a jet ski, whatever, in fresh water, just assume there's an alligator under that water.  In fact, assume all his friends, family, and loved ones live there too.

Secondly, if you swim in brackish water, which is saltwater mixed with freshwater, you're dealing with a whole different creature.  You may have two predators watching you in their natural habitat.  The bull shark and the Florida alligator.

How do I know this?  Not only do I know this through research, but I had an encounter when Angel, my oldest daughter, was little.

We were standing on the banks of brackish water and saw an alligator, whom might I add was not afraid of humans, and right next to him swimming was a bull shark.  Yup.  It was cool.  I saw that, but  I was very glad to be on dry land!

Hiking Tips For Visiting Wildlife Preserves


  • Water, water, and more water!  I mean, this is a given for any hiker but can never be repeated enough.  Always bring more water than what you think you need.  Florida is hot and in the summertime, you'll get hit by a heatwave that could cause dehydration and heat exhaustion.  
  • Use a backpack.  I stopped bringing my purse for these little excursions and traded it out for a backpack.  Why?  You don't have to carry it.  It holds everything.  Maybe even all your secrets :-)
  • Bring a camera.  I can't tell you how many times I forgot to bring my camera and would miss out on the perfect opportunity to capture an alligator swimming or a key deer.  Bring your camera everywhere and make sure it's fully charged.
  • Bring a mini first aid kit. Like most mom's, I tend to carry some medications and bandages in my backpack.  Just in case!
  • Make sure your phone is fully charged!  This is also important in case you get lost or you happen upon Bigfoot, hehe.  Also, keep a phone charger in your car.  Again, this is quite literally a life saver for the modern age.
  • Wear boots.  I admit that I don't follow this one enough, but I still suggest it.  If you get lost or stuck in the wild, you'll want to have shoes that can trudge through the swampy parts.  

Hiking Tips For Snacks and a Picnic

If you're staying for a picnic, bring it in a cooler in Florida because it is freaking hot.  Your food will get soggy unless you do and those cold drinks can make all the difference in the world when you want to cool down a complaining child.  

Bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I know, I know.  It's not exactly the gorgeous picnic you were dreaming of, but hey, it works.  Protein keeps bellies full longer.

If looking for a quick snack for the hike, do peanut butter crackers for the same reason.  You can also bring a cold vegan quinoa salad with nuts and cranberries.  So good!

You can also try this Raw Fairy Trail Mix!  It keeps you satiated and gives you a natural energy boost.

Fun Hiking Tips

  • Leave surprises for other hikers.  Before your trip into Florida wildlife, be sure to take the time to paint some rocks for collectors or buy a bag of toy dinosaurs or colorful erasers.  It's fun!
  • Ask the universe or the fairies to give you a physical sign.  Just because...Trust in the fact that they always will.  I found a zebra stuffed animal and other treasures long before the rock groups were a thing.
  • Take fun pictures!  Nature pics are gorgeous, but a silly hat or sunnies can make for a good picture too.  
  • Most of all, have fun!  Just do it safely.
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