Tallahassee, FL

Florida Nature Beckons

Time well spent on the Tallahassee trails

Florida Nature Beckons

By Jackie Tucker

I’ve been on the road a lot recently. My work had me bouncing from big city to big city, which is exciting for a little while, but it had begun to take its toll. I was longing for the peace and quiet of nature—it’s where I feel most alive, and I knew that it was time to recharge. I was near Tallahassee visiting a friend, and had been reading about the J.R. Alford Greenway Trail on trailahassee.com. Its lakes and forests were exactly what I was looking for. I decided to start the day with a hike and end with a relaxing paddle around Piney Z Lake.

A walk in the woods

A walk in the woods

I laced up my hiking boots, and tossed some snacks and a water bottle in my backpack before hitting the trail. Earlier, I’d scouted out my trail online. There were a few options to choose from, and because it had been a while since my last hike, I opted for the 1.84-mile intermediate route instead of the more advanced trail. I had a full day of exploring ahead, and wanted to pace myself.

The second my feet hit the trail, I knew I’d made the right decision. I took a deep breath and immediately felt the weight of the past few weeks lift from my shoulders. The sky was bright blue with no clouds in sight, and the sunshine filled the expansive greenway in front of me.

I took a deep breath and immediately felt the weight of the past few weeks lift from my shoulders.

I passed a family that was saddling up their horses, getting ready to hit the equestrian trail. We exchanged friendly nods—that shared signal between fellow outdoor enthusiasts when you find yourself in the woods on a perfect sunny morning. Springtime doesn’t get much better than this.

Crane flying over water in Tallahassee, Florida.

A sense of peace came over me as I continued on, and I stopped for a moment relishing the sights and sounds. I noticed several different birdcalls, and remembered reading that the Greenway was part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. I started paying more attention to the wildlife; it’s funny what you can see when you’re actually looking for it. The sheer variety of birds in the forest was impressive. I’m no bird expert, but with the help of Google, I was able to identify an eastern meadowlark and grasshopper sparrow. At one point I was walking across a meadow and looked up to see a soaring red-tailed hawk—definitely one of the highlights of the hike that morning.

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Lake views

Lake views

I was distracted looking up at the sky on my amateur bird watching adventure, and got a little turned around. I checked the map on my phone and realized I’d gotten off track. The Greenway connects with the Lafayette Heritage Park Trail, though, and I realized that I was close.

The trail took me across a charming wooden bridge that arched over the railroad tracks with amazing views of the two lakes—Upper Lake Lafayette on one side and Piney Z Lake on the other. It was a hilly, well-maintained trail and challenging enough to get my heart rate going. And it wasn’t crowded at all. I passed a mountain biker and a young family out walking their two dogs. It felt like we were all out in the great wide wilderness together even though we were fairly close to town. It made me realize how nature is never really that far away, and how I need to make getting out in it more of a priority.

It made me realize how nature is never really that far away, and how I need to make getting out in it more of a priority.

For lunch I took a seat beneath a giant oak tree with a stunning view of Piney Z Lake. I was scoping out the trail I planned to kayak later.

Oars in the water

Oars in the water

I had borrowed my friend’s kayak and put in at the Lafayette Heritage Park in the Piney Z neighborhood. The entire trail is a 7.8-mile round trip, but I was only doing the Piney Z Portage trail across the lake and back—just a couple of miles.

I dipped my oar in the water and smiled at the sound of the splash. There’s something about being on the water that brings a sense of calm over me. Maybe it’s the gentle lapping of the waves against the kayak or the warm breeze as I skim across the lake. Whatever it is, I can never get enough of it.

Massive cypress trees guarded the shores of the lake, and I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a couple of alligators sunning themselves among their roots. Piney Z Lake has been touted as one of the best wildlife viewing areas in the Tallahassee region, and it did not disappoint. In addition to the gators, I saw herons and egrets flitting from the trees to the water and back.

Lake and foliage at J.R. Alford Greenway in Tallahassee, Florida.

It struck me that I do something similar in my life. No matter what city I fly off to, I always come back to roost in nature. At the end of the trail, I pulled the kayak out of the water and felt that pleasant, sun-tired and happy sensation when you’ve stretched your legs and lungs and given them what they’ve been missing. It had been a good day, and as I drove away I left the windows down, feeling tired in body but completely renewed in mind and spirit.

Discover more paths to peace in Tallahassee’s outdoors scene
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