What Makes Picayune Strand State Forest a Great Place to Visit?

View of the Picayune Strand State Forest from the water

Which state has the most beautiful forests?

The answer could be Florida, particularly within the Everglades.

You wouldn’t think the everglades would be thick in gorgeous foliage and dense beautiful forestry, but it is. If you can manage to get past the many mosquitos (and we sure do have many) and the ever-eerie presence of alligators looming in the waters, you are bound to witness some of the most beautiful and breathtaking nature in the country.

Perhaps no better place is more exemplary of this beauty than the Picayune Strand State Forest. Picayune is a testament to the region’s immense appeal.

Truly Off-the-Beaten-Path

Picayune Strand State Forest is not easy to access. It isn’t always extremely family-friendly or even convenient. Amenities are few and far between and posted signage could use some improvement. It is a massive 72,995-acre area and remains the fourth largest state forest in Florida.

The state park is, for the most part, an untapped wilderness and untethered beauty. If this sounds appealing to you, you’re in for a treat.

Some people want cute boutique shops within walking distance of the park or accessible parking lots right up on the beach. These are all features not available at Picayune. Picayune is one of the best national parks and forests of Florida if you seek a quiet and isolated escape. You can escape the urban scene of Naples and take a break from the beach havens of Marco Island to experience a true wild escape to the fringes of Florida’s everglades and the heart of Florida’s most epic and grand state park.

What Can You Do?

Picayune Strand State Forest provides two main trails. The first is a 22-mile romp called the Belle Meade Tract. It is a popular spot for visitors to bring their horse. Due to its size and isolation, it is not recommended for hikers.

Hikers though can find a more accessible trail way with the Sabal Palm Hiking Trail. It is a 3.2-mile trail. It carries you through a dense cypress tree thicket, with many of them at least 100 years old. This trail is acknowledged for its woodpecker sightings. Keep an eye out for two rarities: the hairy woodpecker and red-cockaded woodpecker.

Visitors can also hunt, though there are restrictions. Contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for more.

Fun Facts

As part of the Big Cypress Basin, the majority of the forest is actually underwater about half of the year. The wet season inundates the majority of its 73,000 acres during the spring and summer, giving you far fewer places to explore. While maintenance is done periodically, the roads are warped due to the seasonal wetland rise.

The park is also one of the only places in the entire state where you have a slim-to-decent chance of seeing a wild Florida panther. The creature is rare- absurdly so- as it is estimated that only about a few hundred still remain in the wild. But if you do want to see one, this is one of the best places.

The Picayune Strand State Forest also has a fascinating and bizarre history and one that informs your visit. In the 1940s, rich potential land buyers were flown over the region and pushed to buy acreage for ambitious development projects.

Unfortunately for them, the wet and dry season is not a recent development. After they bought land and tried to visit it or develop it, it was covered in swampland. Due to the seasonal high water, development was very rare and most acreage was never even visited by foot, let alone developed on.

Picayune Strand State Forest is a fascinating place to see. If you want to escape from your Marco Island vacation rental for the day and see a part of Florida away from the crowds and the noise, this is, absolutely, your ideal place to be.

Explore Picayune Strand State Forest on the southwest coast of Florida with recreation, wildlife viewing, and horseback riding available.
Picayune Strand State Forest

    2121 52nd Ave SE
    Naples, FL
    Phone: (239) 348-7557