For decades the Florida Trail began deep in the wilderness off a dirt road called Loop Road (scroll down for directions). In 2013 the southern terminus was moved to the Oasis Visitor Center off US41
(52105 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Florida 34141). A plaque set into limestone rock sitting in the lawn in front of the main building marks the new official terminus.
The Forest Service claims the reason for moving the terminus to a visitor center from its wilderness location was so that the Trail could get more publicity and attention. People who were in the meeting tell us the Forest Service was concerned about the absence of parking and restrooms at the old terminus. If that really factored into the decision, it seems the Forest Service fundamentally doesn't understand that our National Scenic Trails are supposed to be wilderness trails. The termini of the AT and PCT do not have parking and restrooms, nor would we want them to. Regardless, there is now a parking lot with composting toilets off Loop Road near the old terminus, so it's a moot point.
We strongly believe that the official southern terminus should be restored to its original location off Loop Road. Until that happens, we encourage thru-hikers to begin their journey there
(scroll down for directions).
Getting to the New Southern Terminus
The historic and traditional southern terminus is a spot eight miles south of the Oasis Visitor Center (via the Trail) off a dirt road cut through the Everglades called Loop Road (SR 94). The eight miles of trail between here and Oasis has been blazed blue. We strongly believe that the official southern terminus should be restored to this location, so that when a hiker first steps onto the FT, they immediately enter wilderness. Until that happens, we encourage thru-hikers to begin their trek here, rather than at Oasis.
How to Find It
You are basically looking for a blue blazed footpath on the north side of the road. There is no monument or sign that says Florida Trail. There used to be a kiosk, but after the official terminus was moved to the Oasis Visitor Center, the kiosk disappeared. There is a metal pole and a small box for a trail register, however.
The most obvious landmark off Loop Road is a parking lot on its south side used by swamp buggies. The trail is a few yards east of this parking lot, on the north side of Loop Road. If friends or family are dropping you off, they can park in that lot.
At its northern terminus, the Florida Trail dead ends into the parking lot of Fort Pickens, (Fort Pickens Rd, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561), which is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The footpath ends at a kiosk with info for day visitors, but nothing officially marks the end of the Trail — no monument, no sign. GPS for the kiosk: 30°19'42.87"N 87°17'22.48"W
Traditionally hikers turn left (south) and walk 120 yards to the high arched entrance to the fort. This archway is the most iconic spot to have your picture taken as a record of reaching the end. Just past the archway is a gift shop with a trail register for FT hikers.
If you don't want to stay at the Fort Pickens campground and would rather celebrate finishing the trail on Pensacola Beach, the gift shop is your best bet for chatting someone up and getting a ride.
Getting Home from Fort Pickens
After reaching the northern terminus, the next step is to get back to Pensacola Beach, the place with the giant beach ball water tower you walked past earlier that day. You have four options:
1) walk back the way you came
2) if staying at the Fort Pickens campground, you might meet someone who will give you a ride
3) chat someone up at the gift shop and get a ride that way
4) you can call a cab, but will have to walk out to the entrance to Gulf Islands NS to get picked up
At Pensacola Beach you can pick up a current bus schedule from the Visitor Center located near the intersection of Via De Luna Dr and Ft. Pickens Rd (basically under the giant beach ball). Their number is 850-932-1500. The local bus can take you to either the Pensacola Greyhound station or Pensacola International Airport, both located on the mainland.
If you are southbounding, getting to the northern terminus is much easier than getting to the southern terminus.