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America's Most Punishing Trail Is One You've Never Heard Of

The Florida National Scenic Trail is swampy and alligator-filled at times
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 9, 2019 9:22 AM CDT
Updated Aug 11, 2019 12:04 PM CDT
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Stock image, without alligators.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – As far as challenging East Coast hikes go, the Appalachian Trail gets all the attention. It's a relative cakewalk compared to the 1,300-mile Florida National Scenic Trail, which Outside Magazine reports roughly 30 people attempt to tackle in full each year. Eric Barton's profile of the trail—which, for context, is roughly like walking from Mexico to Canada—makes it sound rather ... uninviting. Consider the "no-man's-land between Naples and Miami," where many hikers start their trek to get the hottest portion out of the way. The trail there often devolves into swamp. "The muck soaks backpacks and drowns campsites, leaving hikers little choice but to continue in wet shoes and socks," writes Barton. And that's not the only peril there: Plenty of alligators, bears, panthers, and water moccasins occupy that stretch.

About 300 miles of the trail has yet to formally be completed, so when hikers are around Orlando they'll find themselves traversing roads and highways. Barton does explain some of its appeals: It's the sole subtropical trail in America, and the only national scenic trail (there are 13) from which you can spy the beach. But it's unforgiving, as Ohio's Andy Niekamp found. Niekamp is no novice: He has tackled the AT four times and runs a company that gives guided backpacking tours. But here, "controlled burns reduced entire sections of the trail to black ash, obliterating markings and leaving him to find his way using GPS." His shoes never actually got dry, and "coarse muck" between his toes put him at risk of infection. He managed to do it all over two months, but has this assessment: "I would probably not take clients down to do that." (Read the full story.)

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