Did you know there are approximately one million acres of state forest land available for public use in the State of Florida? And the pristine landscape of Picayune Strand State Forest comprises 69,975 of those natural acres for local residents and visitors to explore. Escape to Picayune Strand State Forest, if only for a moment.
Located just a 40-minute drive out of Naples from Collier Boulevard, Picayune Strand State Forest has trees which stood the test of time, loggers and even unrelenting land developers of yesteryear.
Picayune Strand State Forest offers miles of hiking trails for nature trail connoisseurs, bird lovers, butterfly spotters, and horseback riders. Although the trails are soggy at this time of year, (as in dress in full waders in some areas) there is still an opportunity to pre-plan camping, birding, and outdoor experiences for this Fall camping season.
“There’s lots of places to hike here. I think there’s an esthetic value of being away from everything in Collier County when you are here. The trail has meandering spots. Whenever I get a chance, I go out there,” says Greg Ihle, one of the Department of Forestry Managers who greets visitors to Picayune State Forest.
Ihle frequents the Sabal Palm Hiking Trail most often, which is a 3.2 mile trail of majestic cypress trees saved from loggers in the 1940’s, and is a birdwatcher dream come true, with the many species of wood storks, ibis, woodpeckers, and hawks there.
Ihle works alongside Bill Muirhead, another expert Department of Forestry Ranger in providing visitors directions in where they are hiking to, and where the best wildlife and tree viewing areas are located. “We’ve spotted swallow tail kites here about a week ago, and they released the rehabilitated bald eagle here a while back.”
Department of Forestry also takes reservations for group tours, such as a recent Boy Scout Troop who hiked the Green Trail. Scouts successfully traversed the wet trails of The Sabal Palm Hiking Trail, with waders and a hardy canoe during this peak rainy season here. The trail was actually “passed out” meaning “to cut a new trail” as an Eagle Scout Project in the 2001 by Doug Nickerson of Troop #165. Today, the trail is most accessible from January through May, when it is not as wet there.
For the next winter camping season starting in November, the Department of Forestry is scoping out another primitive camping area for happy campers. “Right now we have two primitive campgrounds. There’s the North campground, and there’s the more primitive campground, where campers pack in and pack out at Kirkland Hammock,” explains Ihle. By the Fall season, there will be another location they have not determined yet, but it will provide ample spaces to pitch a tent, and experience wildlife firsthand at a state forest.
The name Picayune actually is a Cajun word meaning “little,” and lies to the west of the Fakahatchee Strand. It is the smaller of the two strands, and the forest has two tracts which include South Golden Gate Estates and Belle Meade. The Picayune Strand State Forest is crucial to managing the flow of water into the Ten Thousand Islands and Rookery Bay.
At the Belle Meade tract, horseback riders have a twenty-five mile horse trail, and an equestrian camping area with the support of various stables to house horses, as campers experience Picayune State Forest.
Whereas, at the Sabal Palm Hiking Trail, hikers can traverse on foot with an entrance off of Collier Blvd into the pine flatwoods, where hawks, eagles, falcons, woodpeckers, owls, and black and white warblers can be spotted easily.
When venturing into The Picayune Strand State Forest, first obtain a map of the trails at the Department of Forestry office located 2121 52nd Avenue South. Travelers, campers, hikers, horseback riders, and outdoor sports enthusiasts can also visit www.fl-dof.com for more information.
IF YOU GO:
Picayune Strand State Forest
2121 52nd Avenue
Naples FL 34117