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Remote sites to visit and camp in the Florida wilderness

If you're looking to really get away from it all, here are a few spots in the Florida wilderness. Inexperienced campers should find someone who has been there to accompany them. This type of camping isn't for solo beginners.

Everglades National Park/Ten Thousand Islands

One of the state's true treasures, the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway is a challenge for even the most experienced paddlers. Paddling opportunities include day trips from Flamingo, Everglades City and Collier-Seminole State Park, or hardy souls can island-hop their way down along Florida Bay or stay "inside" and paddle the backcountry.

There is no fresh water on the islands, so you will have to carry what you plan to drink, plus an extra gallon or two in case you get stranded in foul weather. But the effort is well worth it. If seclusion is what you seek, you will find it here.

For information, go to

Cape Canaveral National Seashore

The Indian River Lagoon System, or IRL as it is called by locals, extends 156 miles along Florida's east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet to Jupiter Inlet. Considered North America's most diverse estuary because of the overlapping tropical and subtropical climates that support more than 4,300 plants and animals, this area is a paddler's paradise.

Check in at Canaveral National Seashore, south of New Smyrna Beach, and explore the Mosquito Lagoon. Backcountry camping is allowed year-round. Permits are required and reservations are suggested. The campsites have no facilities, and campers must be self-supported.

For information, go to

Ocala National Forest

The word Ocala is derived from the Timucuan phrase for fair land or big hammock. There is plenty to see and do in Florida's premier national forest.

A 65-mile segment of the Florida Trail can be found here, and because of the varied terrain, multitude of camping sites and frequent access points, it is an ideal overnight backpacking trail for beginners.

The trail is well-marked with orange blazes and signs. Side trails have blue blazes. Turns are marked with two blazes. If you go more than 100 yards without seeing a sign, stop, backtrack and find the trail. A short distance into the woods there will usually be a mile marker to the next organized campsite.

For information, go to

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, near Port St. Joe in the Panhandle, offers the best of both worlds. You can backpack or paddle to a secluded wilderness campsite.

Nature lovers flock here to see more than 250 species of birds and the annual migration of monarch butterflies. Nine miles of beach offer solitude unlike any other place in Florida.

On a good day, you can paddle or hike along the Gulf of Mexico; if the wind kicks up and the seas get rough, take the more sheltered route along St. Joe's Bay.

For information, go to www.

Biscayne National Park

Accessible only by boat, Biscayne National Park is crowded on weekends, but during the week, you could be camping by yourself.

The best way to explore the mangrove-fringed islands is by canoe or kayak. Experienced sea kayakers can make the 7-mile, open-water crossing of Biscayne Bay to camp at Elliott Key or Boca Chita Key. Boca Chita is the most popular of the park's islands. The grass-covered camping area has waterfront sites with picnic tables and charcoal grills. The key has toilets, but no potable water.

Elliott Key is the largest of the park's islands and has both oceanfront and wooded camping areas. Grills are available, as well as restrooms.

For information, go to

Torreya State Park

Legend has it that the ancient yew tree used to build Noah's Ark can be found within this state park's boundaries. There are also those who believe the countryside surrounding this area of the Panhandle was the original Garden of Eden.

The park, named after the rare Torrey tree, sits on a 150-foot-high bluff overlooking the Apalachicola River. The woods are thick and inviting.

While this Florida state park does have a full-service campground, trust your instincts and head out on the 7-mile loop hiking trails. It is a rare pleasure to camp beneath the stars in the "mountains" of Florida.

For information, go to www.

Suwannee River Wilderness Trail

Made famous in the song Old Folks at Home by Stephen Foster, this river starts in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and twists and turns for 207 miles before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico near the town of Suwannee.

The river has dozens of access points, which allow for a variety of day or overnight trips. It is possible to wilderness camp, stay in state parks or use one of the state's new "river camps."

It is recommended paddlers, regardless of skill level, should carry their craft past Big Shoals above White Springs, the only Class III rapids in Florida.

For information, go to www.

Big Bend Paddling Trail

This 105-mile paddling trail, located on the Gulf of Mexico between the St. Marks River lighthouse and the Suwannee River, was the state's first attempt to service long-distance sea kayakers.

With well-marked primitive campsites located a day's paddle apart, Big Bend is the best place to try your first overnight expedition. Paddlers must secure permits before heading out.

For information, go to

Remote sites to visit and camp in the Florida wilderness 12/12/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 3:30am]
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