Before going any further, let’s set the record straight now: Florida is the flattest state in the country.
In a study conducted by geographer Jerry Dobson and published in the Geographical Review, Florida was given the crown over some worthy competitors like Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. This is especially true in South Florida where Broward, Dade, Monroe and Collier County sit well below 50 feet of elevation.
So while it’s now a scientific fact Florida is the flattest place you can visit in America, the state isn’t totally devoid of hills. A Florida resident looking to add some elevation to their bicycle ride or hike would be encouraged to look out towards the panhandle and even right here in the center of the state.
Here we’ll go over the three main areas in Florida where outdoor enthusiasts can get their elevation fix and how to navigate them safe and sound.
North Florida Highlands
When it comes to elevation, no area in Florida runs up the score like the ridge hills in the panhandle. Also referred to as the North Florida Highlands, this area is home to the four highest points of elevation in Florida. The highest of which, Britton Hill, stands at 345 feet and is located less than two miles from the Florida-Alabama border.
The next three: Oak Hill, High Hill and Falling Waters Hill are clustered further south in neighboring Washington County — arguably the hilliest county in the state. There you’ll find other notable hills like Mud Hill, Sexton Hill and Weaver Hill — all of which are over or close to being 300 feet tall.
This is the No. 1 spot for Florida hikers seeking to inject some intensity into their routine. As for bicycle riders, this kind of terrain is not for the novice cyclist. The endurance to bike up these hills and the skill to navigate back down at safe speeds are something developed by riders over time, so if you’re new to the cycling game maybe stay away from the North Highlands for a while.
But if you are a seasoned Florida cyclist, you’re cheating yourself by not making a trip to the panhandle and riding the hills of the North Florida Highlands.
Lake Wales Ridge
Right here in Central Florida is home to one of the unique geographic landmarks in the state. Millions of years ago Lake Wales Ridge existed as a group of sandy islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and eventually were sandwiched together when Florida formed into shape.
That same bright, white sand can be seen in the ridge today as it extends for over 150 miles in five different counties. The ridge is most notably home to Sugarloaf Mountain, which at 312 feet stands as the highest point in peninsular Florida. The Panhandle may still claim the highest points in both parts of the state, but if you don’t feel like making the trek up north you can always make the stop halfway in Lake County.
Sugarloaf is a destination for Florida bicyclists. Factoring in how steep it is and how quickly the ride can go uphill and downhill, Sugarloaf creates a challenge most Florida cyclists have never encountered before on their routine rides of flat terrain.
Other notable hills on the ridge include Iron Mountain and numerous other unnamed hills around Camp Lake and Jacks Lake. The triathlon scene in Lake County has boomed because of these hills, so when a race isn’t in progress take advantage of these beautiful hills to ride right here in Central Florida.
Located on the west side of Orlando, the Brooksville Ridge is lesser known than those in Northern Florida or Lake Wales but is nonetheless a destination spot for Florida outdoor enthusiasts. Home to two of the highest 15 points in the state: Hickory Hill and Clay Hill, Brooksville Ridge makes for great cycling and hiking destinations for those in the Central Florida area.
For an added bonus, Brooksville Ridge is home to the Brooksville Ridge Cave — a natural wonder discovered back in 2002 and offers an experience unlike any other in the Central Florida area. If you fancy yourself a brave adventurer, go try your hand at spelunking in total darkness.
Much like the Lake Wales Ridge, Brooksville Ridge’s terrain has made it a popular destination for triathlons which have become ever more present in Clermont and other Lake County areas. Since this area is lesser known, this is the opportunity for bicycle riders and hikers alike to get in on Brooksville Ridge before everyone else discovers the area. Think of yourself as a Florida hills hipster by making your way out to Brooksville Ridge before it becomes the cool thing to do.
From the perspectives of the attorneys here at Guy DiMartino, we want to make sure all the bicycle riders who take on these hills know the rules of the road and how to navigate them. Remember, when you ride a bicycle on public roads — which include the ones on Sugarloaf and Clay Hill — you need to consider yourself a car and are subject to all the rules motorists follow.
But when you leave those public roads to hit the less traveled private roads and trails, those regular traffic laws governing public roads go by the wayside. While this may give you more freedom as a rider, keep in mind if you have an accident with another cyclist they are not required to file a claim with the state of Florida.
The PIP law only applies to public roads, so be extra careful on private trails when taking on the challenge of the lesser known paths around Britton Hill and Oak Hill.