Weekend Backpacker: Tampa
Welcome to the jungle! Strangler figs dangle from gumbo-limbo trees; monster philodendrons wave their umbrella-size leaves from the sides of mahogany trees. The six-mile loop trail at Collier-Seminole State Park is the most tropical backpacking outing in the United States, where a tangle of jungle presses up against the Big Cypress Swamp. The tallest royal palms in the state grow herein fact, the tallest royal palm in the world is said to grow along this trailand thousands of exotic trees and shrubs densely populate the tropical hammocks. Where the jungle meets the Everglades' sea of grass, the lush vegetation gives way to miles of saw grass, salt marshes, and mangroves. It's truly a botanist's paradise, enjoyable to explore.
Follow I-75 south to Naples. Exit onto SR 951 (Isle of Capri Road); head south to junction with U.S. 41. Head south on U.S. 41; the park is about seven miles south of the U.S. 41/SR 951 junction. Driving time: two and a half hours.
Backpackers must register at the park office and get the lock combination to open the gate to the trailhead. The trail is on the opposite side of U.S. 41 from the park entrance, 0.7 miles south, with a parking area behind the locked gate. State park entrance fee of about $3.25 is charged.
The primitive campsite along the trail (watch for blue blazes off the main white-blazed trail) is one of the prettiest in Florida, set high and dry in a tropical hammock. No campfires are allowed. No water is available at the campsite. Because of the heat and humidity year-round, park officials recommend that each hiker carry at least four quarts of water for an overnight trip. Bears have frequently been seen along this trail; be sure to bear bag.
Depending on the time of year and the amount of rainfall, some of the hike can get pretty swampy. Wear boots that are up to the challenge of a mile or more of ankle-deep water.
When passing by the Miccosukee Indian settlement, resist the temptation to sneak up on the village from the trailvisitors are welcome from the U.S. 41 access, but the natives don't like hikers walking from the forest into their village.
GUIDEBOOK AND MAPS
Rangers will have a simple map of the loop trail at the park office. For a detailed map, the Florida Trail Association map SF-9, Collier-Seminole State Park Trail, can be purchased via the Florida Trail Association; visit their website for an order form.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication