Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Florida Trail: Oasis Visitor Center to Loop Road

This past weekend I finally convinced my dad to do a wet hike on the Florida Trail with me.  When I first presented the idea in the past he said no way because hiking miles and miles through water did not sound like his idea of a good time.  I chose the Southern terminus of the Florida Trail to start with.  Early Saturday morning we drove both of our cars down Tamiami Trail to Loop Road in the Everglades.  On the way down Tamiami we saw more birds than I could count along the canal.  We left my car down there and drove his up to the Oasis Visitor Center on Tamiami Trail.  On the drive back up we saw a few hunters participating in Florida Fish & Wildlife's Python Challenge.  As I'm sure you've heard, the Florida Everglades is having a bit of a problem with former pet Burmese Pythons that were let loose and have grown to mammoth proportions.  They have no predators of their own and have been eating all the wildlife, including deer and alligators!

We checked in with the ranger station and got a permit (they like to know who is out there in case you get lost/go missing).  The ranger warned us to look out for cottonmouths/water moccasins which are pretty prevalent on the trail.  On the way to the trail we saw a bunch of tourists photographing a small 8 foot gator, while on the other side of the road this huge mama sat unnoticed!

Unfortunately, there is almost no signage for Southbound hikers on the Florida Trail and we initially set off on a shorter trail designated for tour groups.  We turned around and had to ask a ranger to point us in the right way.  If you are doing this hike, head west on Tamiami Trail and keep an eye out for a very narrow path with an orange blaze on a skinny tree (we walked right by it a couple times).  Once we were on the trail the blazes were prevalent and we had no issues with getting lost.  Even though it is dry season, the trail is still very muddy and wet.

 Florida Trail near Oasis Visitor Center

You might ask, "What shoes do you wear on a wet hike?".  We pondered this ourselves for a few days before.  We figured that if we wore sneakers or hiking boots they would just turn into heavy bricks on our feet.  Crocs didn't seem like a good alternative either.  In the end, we settled on wearing water shoes (the ones with mesh uppers and rubber bottoms).  We knew it would be a gamble and weren't sure if they would hold up but they ended up being the perfect choice.

The first mile or so was through thick, shoe-sucking mud.  After that it was almost a relief to get into the shin deep, cold water.  I know this sounds like a terrible hiking idea, but it was really enjoyable.  The temprature was about 70-75 degrees and the water felt wonderful.  It was also crystal clear so you could easily see what you were stepping on.  This continued on for another few miles as the cypress trees thickened and we saw more and more Bromeliads on the trees.  Here is where we ran into 3 Cottonmouths all within a 1/2 mile distance.  They were prominently sitting on the trail, not easily missed.  We bushwhacked our way around them and gave them a wide berth.


Around mile marker 5 the trail heads east for a mile.  This East-West traverse was our favorite.  I can't describe it as anything else but magical.  The plants that grew here were different from what we had seen so far.

 EW Traverse section (Robert's Strand)

Around mile marker 4 the trail heads south again.  It eventually gets up onto dry land but I guess trail maintenance was due because we had to push ourselves through thick brush (and some sawgrass) to get through.  At one point we stopped for a quick lunch at the first bit of dry land we had seen all day.

Lunch Break

Just north of MM 3 there is a campsite called Frog Hammock Camp.  We explored it for a bit and realized people probably don't camp there often.  It was totally dry but the water pump seemed like it hadn't worked in years.

The last 3 miles were relatively dry and around 2 miles from Loop Road we saw a white-tailed doe.

2 Miles to Go

When we arrived back at the car, I went to rinse my muddy feet off in a creek and scared off a baby gator.  Overall, it took us almost 7 hours to hike 8 miles.  The mud and water resistance on your legs really slows you down!  We drove back up to the Visitors Center where we enjoyed a couple of beers my dad had brought in a cooler.  Great end to a long hike!

Baby Gator

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