Friday, November 17, 2017
Outdoors

Now that it's getting cooler, here are 5 great Tampa Bay area hikes for the fall

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Thanksgiving usually kicks off the hiking season in Florida's state parks and forests. The nights are cool. The skies are clear and you don't have to worry about mosquitoes or no-see-ums. You don't need much to get started, just a comfortable pair of walking shoes and a day pack to carry water, snacks and a compass.

Don't know where to go? No worries — here are five favorites that will get you going in the Great Outdoors:

SCOTT KEELER | Times (2014)

Visitors hike along a trail near Lake Maggiore in the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

BOYD HILL NATURE PRESERVE

Located on the shores of Lake Maggiore in St. Petersburg, this 245-acre city park has more than 3 miles of trails and boardwalks. One of the gems of St. Petersburg, the Boyd Hill trail traverses a variety of habitat, including floodplain forest, freshwater marsh and pine flatwoods. Boyd Hill has an educational nature center, so leave a half-hour for a self-guided tour.

Times (2012)

An overhead view shows a portion of the hiking trails at Weedon Island Preserve.

WEEDON ISLAND PRESERVE

Just a 15-minute drive from downtown St. Petersburg, it is known for its canoe and kayak trail. But this county preserve has more than 3 miles of trails and boardwalks as well.

Times (2010)

An overhead view shows a portion of the hiking trails at Weedon Island Preserve.

OSPREY TRAIL AT HONEYMOON ISLAND

A few miles northwest of downtown Dunedin, the 2.5-mile Osprey Trail snakes through one of the few remaining stands of Florida slash pines. This is an ideal place to see osprey nesting. The raptors love the 80-acre slash pine forest, a reminder of what the county must have looked like at the turn of the century.

Times (2012)

A couple of hikers walk along the trail at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park in New Port Richey.

J.B. STARKEY WILDERNESS PARK

Located in western Pasco County, east of New Port Richey, it has more than 13 miles of trails that go through a variety of habitat. This Pasco County Park also has great biking, horseback riding and camping. If time is an issue, walk the 1.6-mile nature trail, one of the best in our area.

Times

You're sure to spot some wildlife while walking the trails at Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County.

FORT DE SOTO PARK

It has been voted "Best Beach" in the nation but in addition to blue water and sugar sand this Pinellas County Park also has four hiking trails that are ideal for families with small children. Arrowhead Nature Trail, at the north end of the park, is a must. Pick up a free map at the ranger station to guide you through the natural communities.

THE FLORIDA TRAIL

For more of a challenge, consider a multiday backpacking trip. The Florida Trail, a 1,400-mile network of footpaths that stretches from Big Cypress Swamp to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, is one of the best marked and maintained trail systems in the United States.

The path is well marked with orange blazes and signs. Side trails have blue blazes, and turns are marked with two blazes. Boardwalks guide backpackers through wet portions, and campsites are within easy walking distance of each other. In some areas, the trail is flat. But in others, it can be downright challenging.

One of the best segments runs through the Richloam, Croom and Citrus tracts of Withlacoochee State Forest. With nearly 160,000 acres of wilderness to explore, Withlacoochee has trails that will challenge beginners as well as experts. The Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest has some of the best backpacking in Florida, which is one reason why it was named one of the "10 Coolest Places in North America" by the World Wildlife Fund.

After you have knocked off a few Florida trails, you might look for something to put on your bucket list. The Appalachian Trail, commonly known as the "A.T." in hiking circles, is a 2,181-mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine. This trail, which runs through 14 eastern states, was completed in 1937 and became America's first National Scenic Trail.

Roughly 2,500 people start the hike each year, making it one of the most well-traveled trails in the country, but only half actually finish its full length from Maine's Mount Katahdin to Georgia's Springer Mountain. Folks who go all the way are called "thru hikers."

If this is on your bucket list, set aside five to six months to complete it. Once you have knocked off the A.T., try the Continental Divide Trail, 3,100 miles along the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada, and the Pacific Crest Trail, 2,663 miles from Mexico through California, Oregon and Washington to Canada. Finish all three treks and you will earn the coveted Triple Crown of long-distance hiking.

Comments

Captainís Corner: Snook bite remains aggressive

We are in the midst of prefrontal conditions, so there should be good fishing today. Bait seems to have moved on the last full moon and judging by the amount of bait fry that has filtered onto the flats, it spawned also. Load up the wells with the sm...
Updated: 17 minutes ago

Captainís Corner: Calm seas closer to beaches rewards with kingfish

Strong east winds have made it challenging for offshore anglers. The first few miles are quite tolerable since the land buffers the shoreline. After that, sea conditions have been tougher. Anglers searching for kingfish have been rewarded with calm s...
Published: 11/16/17

Captainís Corner: A little wind doesnít stop hot fishing in November

Despite many windy days, November fishing has been amazing. The water is cooling off, and the fish are becoming more aggressive. Itís getting to be the time of year when the cold fronts start to make their way out of the north. When this happens, win...
Published: 11/15/17

Captainís Corner: Fly fishing success possible, even in wind

When your day to fly fish arrives, do you hope for a day without wind? Knowledgeable fly fishers know there are many ways to deal with different wind situations. Avoid open water, and select an area that offers protection. Stay close to shore and use...
Published: 11/12/17
Updated: 11/14/17

Captainís Corner: Low tides and cold fronts make for rewarding fishing

Fall and winter low tides combined with cold fronts passing through can lead to highly rewarding fishing. It takes winds blowing 20-plus miles an hour out of the northeast combined with an astronomical low tide around the new moon and full moon phase...
Published: 11/12/17
Updated: 11/13/17

Captainís Corner: Reef fish abundant offshore; mackerel, kings better near shore

Before this recent cold front, we were able to travel where we wanted, and the calm seas allowed us to make the mistake of running past the best depths for our type of fishing. The 40- to 50-foot depths produced almost nonstop action from reef fish, ...
Published: 11/12/17
Captainís Corner: Mackerel still going strong in bay area

Captainís Corner: Mackerel still going strong in bay area

The fall king mackerel run is still going strong. The fish have seemed to come in waves; one week there are numerous fish more than 30 pounds, and a week or two later no one can find any more than 20. It also seems the fish are not moving south all t...
Published: 11/11/17

Captainís Corner: Cold front should push fish into backcountry waters

The approaching front is forecast to drop temperatures for a couple of days. This should push more fish into the backcountry rivers and creeks that feed the bay. Once the front passes and the weather stabilizes, fishing should return to normal. This ...
Published: 11/10/17

Captainís Corner: Kingfish domination

With calm seas and water temperature just the way they like it, kingfish will dominate much of the nearshore and offshore activity. Light wind and strong tides from the weekendís full moon have allowed nearshore waters to cleanse, so baits are being ...
Published: 11/08/17
Captainís Corner: November means strong snook fishing

Captainís Corner: November means strong snook fishing

November is the month that moves most inshore fish from the flats to the backcountry creeks, docks and rivers. Itís a month when you can enjoy great weather and great fishing without waking up at the crack of dawn. The South Shore in particular has s...
Published: 11/07/17
Updated: 11/09/17