human Dangers

Because you will be isolated in remote and unfamiliar places, and be without a vehicle, your interactions with strangers have an unusually threatening edge to them. While thru-hiking exercise a few common sense precautions such as:

  • Trust your intuition when interacting with others.
  • Do not go into the town of Starke, home to a state prison and lots of ex-cons (see below)
  • Hitch carefully or don't hitch at all (see below)
  • Never camp within sight of a road or close to a trailhead.
  • If you are hiking alone, never tell this to someone you don’t know — on or off the trail. Have some lies prepped and ready if someone asks. Tell them your lazy friends are dragging ass behind you, or something similar. Your delivery will make the story believable. Make a joke about it, seem annoyed at your friends, whatever, just don't sound nervous or like you're inventing the story on the spot.
  • Be rude!  The first episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt  teaches us the value of being rude. After a religious fundamentalist kidnaps four women and forces them to live in an underground bunker for 15 years, the women are rescued and appear on the Today  show. Matt Lauer asks each of them how they were kidnapped. One says. “I had waited on Reverend Richard at a York Steak House I worked at and one night he invited me out to his car to see some baby rabbits, and I didn’t want to be rude, so, here we are.” Lauer deadpans in response, “I’m always amazed at what women will do because they are afraid of being rude.”  So be rude!

Homeless People?

Family members often ask about homeless people on the Trail. This is always strange, since the question assumes the woods are filled with vagrants and besides, homeless people are not inherently dangerous. Regardless, here are the places you are most likely to meet a homeless person:

  • Ocala National Forest - you might run into some Rainbow Tribe members (see below)
  • Osceola & Apalachicola National Forests - a few campsites are free, accessible by car, and do not have on-site campground hosts. We've met people at these sites who were semi-homeless, living out of their car and drifting between free campgrounds.
  • under the US90 bridge crossing the Suwannee River - festivals at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park seem to attract at least a few drifters who end up camped under the nearby bridges (there is an old and new US90). The Trail crosses under these bridges and we've seen three different semi-permanent encampments there reminiscent of the Rainbow Tribe camps (see below).
  • the Cooper's Bluff Campsite - the pavilion & campsite along the Suwannee River is just 0.3 miles from a highway and seems to attract people down on their luck and looking for shelter


North of Ocala the Florida Trail passes within a few miles of Starke and soon after the trail goes through the town of Lake Butler. Two large state prisons are located in a rural area between these two towns, Florida State Prison and Union Correctional Institution. Both prisons house death row inmates and other violent criminals. When prisoners are released, they often end up lingering in one of these towns with little money and nowhere else to go.


We have never heard reports of ex-cons on the Trail itself (a possible benefit of the Trail's invisibility) but you might run into one while in town. We want to emphasize that there has never been an incident between an ex-con and a hiker, but nevertheless we recommend taking a few precautions so that you remain inconspicuous and safe:

  • If you can, avoid going into Starke completely.
  • Do not try to hitch into Starke.
  • If you need to resupply, do so in Palatka which is a day south of Starke via the Trail.
  • If you want to zero after Ocala, do so at the Rodman Dam Campground or in a hotel in Palatka. Do not zero in Starke. There is a "campground" in Starke, but tent camping is banned within the town limits, so people without RVs can only rent cabins, which are overpriced. In other words, you won't save any money at the campground versus a hotel in Palatka.

The Rainbow Tribe

Every February Ocala National Forest experiences a huge influx of of neo-hippies who call themselves the Rainbow Family of Living light. Exact numbers are hard to determine because the "Rainbow Gathering" is not formally organized or managed, but at least a thousand people or more arrive every year. They cluster into informal camps and hang around for 2-4 weeks with people constantly coming and going.


You might run into a few Rainbows, but Ocala NF is a big place and their camps are usually far away from the Trail itself. While they use a lot of drugs, Rainbows are mostly harmless. They are a strange bunch, however. For example, they believe they are fulfilling an ancient Native American prophecy — a strange claim on its face (they themselves are not Native American), but made stranger still because there is no prophecy.


The PCT is pretty 420 friendly. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Washington & Oregon, and legal for medical use in California. The Florida Trail is not the PCT. Marijuana is very much illegal in Florida, and due to decades of drug tracking in the state, the war on drugs is in full swing.


Theft from hikers is a crime of opportunity. No one sets out in the morning with the goal of stealing a digital camera from a hiker's backpack, but if the opportunity arises, unscrupulous people seize it. While hiking the Appalachian Trail we met hikers who were robbed. We even had things stolen from us.


The bottom line is, never leave your backpack out of site and you won't give someone the opportunity to steal from you. We have seen a lot of backpacks left outside storefronts. Don't do it.

  • Need to dig a hole?  Take your pack into the woods with you.
  • Running into a post office to pick up a maildrop?  Bring your pack inside.
  • Eating at a restaurant?  Put your pack under the table.
  • Shopping for groceries?  Put your pack in a shopping cart and push it around with you.
  • Checking into a motel?  Take your pack into the lobby with you.

You may get pushback from a manager committed to their corporate anti-shoplifting policy who will say something like, "We don't allow backpacks inside the store/restaurant/etc. Would you please leave it outside?" Be rude (see above) and tell them you will not. Explain you are hiking the trail and do not have a car, that your pack doesn't leave your sight, and you absolutely will not leave it outside. Would they ask a woman to leave her large purse outside? Of course not.


photo by Drozd via Wikipedia
photo by Drozd via Wikipedia

Hitchhiking is a part of trail culture on the FT and every other National Scenic Trail. We have hitchhiked into town many times and have yet to be disappointed or scared. Some drivers have turned out to be a little weird at most, but aren’t we all.


In their guidebook, authors Friend and Keatley claim it is impossible to hitch in Florida, and that drivers may assume you are homeless. That is simply not true. Hitching a ride might take a little longer than on the AT or PCT, but it will happen. The folks who will pick you up tend to be either hikers, hunters, boaters, government wildlife biologists, environmental scientists, farmers, outdoor enthusiasts, or locals who know the trail, so they are typically excited to meet you and help out.


That said, there is always risk from accepting a ride from a stranger. If you will be hiking alone and are uncomfortable hitching, there is good news. Unlike the AT and PCT, the Florida Trail winds within a mile or two of most towns. You can easily walk in without the need to hitch. Additional tips and options include:

  • Design your resupply plan so that you do not need to hitch into town at all by sending a maildrop to the Rodman Dam Campground and skip hitching into Palatka.
  • Do not go into Starke or hitch anywhere near it — Starke is home to a state prison and after their release, many ex-cons end up hanging around the town.
  • There aren't many buses near the trail, but you can call a taxi. Friend and Keatley's guidebook lists taxis near trail crossings. (As of 2015, Uber has virtually no presence in rural Florida.)
  • The FTA includes a list of Trail Angels in its "thru-hiker packet." Call a trail angel on the list rather than hitch.
  • When possible, hitch with other hikers.
  • Take rides from people who are clearly a part of the outdoor community like day hikers and fishermen.
  • Don't take unsolicited rides.
  • Have a few canned excuses ready in case someone who pulls over makes you uncomfortable. Examples: "Oh no, I forgot my _________ back where I had lunch," or “Oops made a mistake, thanks for the offer but I gotta go in the other direction.”
  • Once in someone's car, be alert. Ask to be dropped off in a safe place (gas station, convenient store) ASAP if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Keep your phone handy and in sight while riding with someone.


How to get picked up in the first place?

  • wear a bright colored shirt (rather than olive drab, brown, or black) since bright colors look clean even when dirty
  • wear your bright orange hunting hat
  • stand near a wide shoulder where a car could easily pull over
  • make a sign that says "Florida Trail hiker - headed to town" in clean letters against a bright white background - Tyvek is good for this

Carry a Gun?

No. If the reasons why you shouldn't carry a gun aren't already self evident, then we probably can't convince you otherwise, but let's give it a try:


The risk of accident alone when carrying a gun, to yourself and others, is not worth it. Additionally, all evidence shows that rather than making you safer, the presence of a gun increases the likelihood that you will be killed. Security guards have their guns taken from them at alarming rates, and you run a similar risk of having your own gun turned on you.


Male hikers are not asked if they carry a gun as often as women. Why? Perhaps it is because the NRA and others claim guns are great equalizers between men and women. In a 2013 speech, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre said, “the one thing a violent rapist deserves to face is a good woman with a gun.” It's a powerful soundbite, but no scientific study has ever demonstrated that the risk of becoming victim to a crime, any crime, is decreased by gun ownership. In fact, study after study has shown that owning a gun makes women in particular more likely to become victims of gun violence. The Atlantic examined this unique and overlooked danger to women, and the myth of guns providing self-defense has been covered recently by the Guardian  and The Los Angles Times.