On the Florida Trail, there are plenty of designated campsites with picnic tables, benches, fire rings, names, and marked blue-blaze trails leading to them. Nevertheless, you will end up stealth camping a lot, both legally and illegally.
The way most hikers on the AT use the term today, "stealth camp" means to camp somewhere other than a designated campsite, as in, "I wasn’t going to reach the shelter before dark so I stealthed somewhere near the trail.” In our eyes, that's not really stealth camping since it's perfectly legal. Along much of the Florida Trail you stealth in this way, camping wherever you find an open, flat, and dry spot.
Originally stealth camping referred to instances where you couldn’t find a place to camp legally or safely and so hid to avoid being seen by private property owners, motorists, land managers,
rangers, et cetera. In addition to hiding behind thick cover, setting up after dark, and leaving before dawn were techniques to avoid detection since you were either trespassing or camping
without permission. The Florida Trail forces you to do this, mainly in two areas:
At mile _____ a northbound thru-hiker must choose to take the eastern or western spur around Orlando. Either way, the thru-hiker faces a very long roadwalk with private land on either side of the road and no place to legally camp. The western spur begins with a 64-mile continuous roadwalk. Obviously that mileage cannot be hiked in a day, and so you are forced to jump a fence and stealth at night. The eastern spur contains a 30-mile roadwalk with open pasture on both sides of the road, no water source, no shade, and no place to hide at night. We recommend hitching this thirty-mile roadwalk, rather than contend with these problems.
On the eastern spur, beginning in the town of Oviedo, the Florida Trail follows a paved bicycle path border on both sides by private land and suburban homes. Hotel stays are possible, but hikers
we have talked to have stealthed in small patches of woods.
North of Camp Blanding, beginning at mile ___, the Florida Trail follows a former railroad bed, though it has not yet been paved. Camping is not legally permitted along this path, but it cannot
be walked in a day, so you have to stealth. The land is mostly rural and wooded areas provide opportunities to stealth safely.
Occasionally the Florida Trail follows dirt roads used by trucks or off-road vehicles. It is very, very important that you do not camp on the road, since trucks can come racing down them in the middle of the night. They aren't expecting a tent and won't be looking for one. Do not get run over in your sleep!
The most problematic places are:
As we discuss on the weather page, El Nino years can make Florida's normally dry winters quite wet.
Even in a normal year, "dry" is a term relative to the wet summers. The Trail can be and often is, quiet wet in many places. If you only have a tent, you may find yourself slogging through water
or mud into the night trying to find a dry spit of land big enough for a tent, as we have done more than once.
The risk of flooded or saturated ground, especially in an El Nino year, is why we recommend using a backpacker's hammock, like a Hennessey Hammock or a Clarke Jungle Hammock. With a hammock, you can set up and sleep over standing water, or sleep soundly knowing that your tent will not flood in the middle of
the night. You could even spend the night in the center of Bradwell Bay Wilderness, or out in the open in Big Cypress, two otherwise impossible propositions.
Mention sleeping above the water to any Floridian who has visited an alligator farm, and visions of gators rocketing from the water to snatch chickens suspended from strings leap to mind. It is
an unnerving image, but as we discuss on the animals page, alligator attacks are rare. As far as we
can determine, an alligator has never leapt strait up out of the water to attack a person in a tree or otherwise suspended above the water. Most of the time people are too big for alligators to
consider us food, and a hammock makes you look even bigger.