Florida’s Cary State Forest: A Unique Camping and hiking Experience

There are some excellent camping and hiking locations all over the state of Florida and it’s often hard to choose which one to visit. However, you can never go wrong with a trip to Cary State Forest, which offers a total of 13, 385 acres of land to explore. The forest was the second one to be established as a state forest back in 1939. It’s filled with some wonderful hiking and equestrian trails as well as a few campgrounds. The landscape is made up of mature Flatwoods and the forest is quite educational to visitors. You’ll find Cary State Forest is the northeastern region of the state close to the city of Jacksonville.

Florida’s Cary State Forest

There are several types of ecosystems in the forest and you’ll also come across cypress domes, wet Flatwoods, basin swamps, and sand hills. When hiking or camping here you may come across some of the region’s wildlife, which includes wild turkey, white-tailed deer, otters, bobcats, alligators, barred owls, great horned owls, woodpeckers, wild hogs, tree frogs, and several types of snakes. This means you need to be careful due to the alligators and the different types of venomous snakes that can be found.

In fact, some of the animals in the forest as well as plant species are listed as threatened, endangered, or of special concern. These include the Sherman’s fox squirrel, gopher tortoise, swallow-tailed kite, wood stork, and the purple honeycomb head. The forest itself is managed and looked after by the local Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and it’s a good idea to contact them regarding specific rules and regulations as well as hunting dates.

If you’re interested in outdoor activities you’ll find that numerous options are available at the forest. Some of the most popular of these include primitive camping, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, hunting, cycling, and environmental education. Visitors are allowed to hike, cycle, and horseback ride on all of the fire lines and roads in the forest unless there are notices stating otherwise. You’ll definitely be able to keep yourself physically active and burn off a few calories while visiting.

Cary State Forest has three campgrounds that are listed as being semi private. The biggest one can hold up to 100 campers while the others are quite a bit smaller and can handle 15 and 25 visitors at a time. You can find water at the largest campground only. However, there are hot showers and restrooms on hand for campers as well as day trippers. Be aware that you’ll need a State Forest permit to use the campgrounds. They run on a first-come first-served method so you may want to make a reservation well in advance.

One of the most popular hikes is the Nature Trail, which is just over a mile long. It will take you through cypress swamp and scenic Flatwoods. There’s also a boardwalk which will take you over the local wetlands. There are also two trails that are made for horseback riding. The Fireline Trail is just over 12 miles in length while the Red Root Trail is about eight miles long. These trails will allow you to pass through several ecosystems. You can also cycle and hike on the two trails.

For those who would like to learn about Cary State Forest, the local area and its history, you can visit the Environmental Education Center. This was constructed back in 1972 and is an outdoor pavilion that’s used to teach visitors. It can also be reserved and rented by visitors. However, it’s mainly used by groups such as schools and boy scouts. Since hunting is allowed in the forest during certain dates, it’s recommended that you wear bright clothing and stay along open roads during hunting season. All of the campgrounds are situated in the forest’s non-hunting locations.

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