It’s getting hot out there. Hiking in Florida in the summertime can be a dangerous idea if you’re not prepared. There are so many elements that seem as though they’re out to get you. It’s alligator mating season from April through June. Lovebugs abound in April and October, though they’re just annoying and not dangerous. Yellow flies start becoming super annoying around the middle of May, and their bites hurt! Mosquitos are quite wide awake now and they’ll want to have a snack on your blood when you hike in shady, damp areas. Okay, actually they’ll want to snack on you no matter where you hike in summer in Florida. Noseeums swarm and attack with their teeny tiny blood sucking mouths in any area close to the shore, particularly at dawn and dusk. We have mad thunderstorms just about every afternoon. We have truly earned the title of Lightning Capital of the World. All of that, and I haven’t even mentioned the risk of sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Alligators begin courting in April, they mate from May to June, and babies are born mid-August through early September. Alligators generally don’t care about your existence. You leave them alone and give them plenty of room, and they’ll do the same for you. During mating season though, they can become aggressive. Mama gators are quite protective of their young. And large male gators are protective of their territory. It’s always a good idea to keep your distance, but this is particularly true during the summer months in Florida.
There’s an old urban legend that states that the University of Florida created and released lovebugs in an effort to control the mosquito population. This is completely untrue. Lovebugs, while incredibly annoying and potentially dangerous as a blockade to good windshield vision, are quite natural. They migrated to Florida from Central America in the 1940’s. They generally travel in pairs, connected to their mates. They prefer to swarm cars at stoplights. I do not know why. They also really like elderberry bushes for some reason, at least that’s been my experience. Mostly they’re just a nuisance to your car’s paint job. A good way to remove them from your bumper is to use a wet dryer sheet.
Yellow fly is a name we use to describe a bunch of different nasty biting, yellow-bodied flies. Generally we’re talking about the Diachlorus ferrugatus, which is a type of horsefly. A particularly nasty type, I might add. They not only bite you once, they’re quite aggressive and will follow you throughout your entire hike, or until a better, juicier lunch comes along. Their bite hurts! They become most active in May and June, but are out and annoying people all throughout summertime in Florida. DEET works against them, but if you prefer to not coat yourself in poison, a head net and long sleeves are your best bet to keep bites to a minimum.
In addition to being annoying and causing itchy bites, mosquitos can carry a number of illnesses from West Nile Virus to Encephalitis. They can also spread heartworm to dogs. Like most things that want to eat you in Florida, they are more active at sunrise and sunset. Prevention is key with these little monsters. As with the yellow fly, if you want to avoid being bitten, either slather yourself in DEET or wear protective clothing. For pups, it’s best to keep their heartworm meds up to date and keep them indoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitos are at their worst. Around the home, empty all containers around your yard that may be holding standing water. Mosquito larvae survive and flourish in shallow water, less than two feet deep.
If you’re hanging out on or near a beach around sunrise or sunset, be prepared to be bitten by teeny tiny, nearly invisible demon bugs called noseeums. They’re so small you can barely see them, unless you’re looking very, very closely and potentially wearing reading glasses. They may be small, but they hurt! Especially when there are a whole mess of them biting you at once. There are two ways to avoid being bitten. Submerge yourself in the water, or wear loads of bugspray. Avon’s Skin-So-Soft seems to work pretty well. Another option is just to stay indoors during sunrise and sunset, but then you’d miss the beautiful views.
If you’re outdoors during the late afternoon/early evening hours in Florida, there’s a huge probability that you’ll be trying to outrun a thunderstorm. Florida has more deaths from lightning strikes than any other state, with about 15-20 people meeting their end annually as a result of lightning. If you hear thunder, you’re in range to be struck by lightning. While lightning storms can be beautiful and quite fascinating, it’s absolutely better to be safe than to be a statistic. Always keep an eye on the weather, and be aware that down here, storms can just pop up out of nowhere. If you hear thunder, go inside where it’s safe. If you’re stuck outside, your car is the safer option. If you can’t get to your car, you want to be in a low area such as a ditch, or in low lying shrubs. Don’t stand under tall trees. Lightning is not something you want to mess with, and that’s coming from somebody who loves a good storm.
Heat and Sunburn
We’re all aware that it’s hot in Florida. This is the one thing we probably talk about the most when it comes to being safe hiking in Florida in the summer. It’s suggested that you drink a half liter of water for every mile you hike. I would go one step further and say bring a liter for every hour you’ll be outdoors. It’s better to have too much water than not enough. Sunblock is great for avoiding sunburn, but most people forget to reapply. Your safest option for not turning into a peeling, blistering lobster is to wear long, UPF 50+ clothing. There are some great lightweight options out there. A sunhat is extremely important, as are sunglasses. Protect those retinas!
If you’re going to be out and about when it’s boiling hot out, consider a neck fan. There are a number of options available and they really do make a big difference. A cooling towel is also hugely helpful. This is one of the reasons to bring extra water. Keeping a wet, lightweight towel around your neck and using it to wipe your face is very helpful to avoid overheating. It’s best to hike in early morning or late afternoon/early evening (but watch those thunderstorms) to avoid the hottest period of the day.
You don’t have to hide from the dangers of Florida summer, but you do need to be aware and be prepared. Knowledge is power. Many people are afraid to hike in the summer due to all of the reasons mentioned above, but it’s just like winter time up north when people stay indoors all of the time. We still need sunshine and nature when it’s hot. Research your potential trails and try to find the shadiest trails possible. Be smart about it, and be careful, but don’t be afraid. See you on the trails!