The Florida Cracker Trail is a 120-mile, two-lane road that runs from Fort Pierce, Florida to Bradenton, Florida. This was one of the primary routes that early settlers used to drive cattle across the state. Today, there are still a number of historic sites you can visit if you follow along the trail.
Every year, more than 150 riders perform a group trail ride along the entire route. This trip takes nine days and commemorates the journey that was once made by the early cattlemen of Florida.
If you’re looking to get away from the high rises and condos of new Florida, step back in time along the Florida Cracker Trail. Along the way, a story will unfold of the people that came before.
Wondering what you need to know about this historic path? MustSeeDestinations is proud to provide this ultimate guide to the Florida Cracker Trail. Let’s take a look at the trail’s history and some of the most notable places to stop on the trail.
What Is the Florida Cracker Trail?
When you think of the history of Florida, cowboys might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, after the Spanish were driven out of the state by Native Americans, they left behind the first livestock in North America. These included Andalusian cattle, hogs, and horses.
The Native American tribe known as the Seminole nation had extensive cattle herds by the 1800s. Both Native American and European settlers moved south over time, bringing cattle with them.
As the railroad expanded toward Florida, it became one of the primary suppliers of cattle to the Confederacy. During the Civil War, the Sunshine State provided leather, meat, hides, and tallows to the South.
At this point, there weren’t any fenced pastures in the state. Instead, cattle roamed freely. It became increasingly common that cattle were stolen, or rustled, which was one reason for the outbreak of the Seminole Wars.
After the Civil War ended, the east coast and central corridor of Florida was settled by a rugged brand of individuals. People to the north called these settlers Cow Hunters, Cracker Cowmen, or Florida Crackers.
These early settlers would round up cows throughout the diverse ecosystems of Florida. They used 10 to 12-foot-long whips that made a loud crack. These braided leather tools were used to spur on oxen that pulled wagons and flush cows out of the scrub.
The cowboys would even use the whips to communicate with one another, as they could be heard for miles. These Florida Crackers would typically ride small horseback riding fort pierce known as cracker ponies and also had herd dogs as companions.
The Florida Crackers survived rough conditions. Wolves, bears, panthers, and cattle rustlers were all serious threats. On their journey, they would endure hurricane winds, torrential thunderstorms, and intense heat.
Every year, these cowboys would gather just west of Fort Pierce to begin driving their herd towards Bradenton. They would then be delivered to Tampa, Punta Gorda, and Punta Rassa in order to ship them to Cuba.
What is known as the Cracker Trail was the only dry route across the state. This path was named a “Community Millennium Trail” in the year 2000. Every year, there is a Florida Cracker Trail Cross-State Ride that honors the history of the Cracker Cowmen.
Why Is It Called the Cracker Trail?
The Cracker Trail might sound like an odd name at first. If you were nearby to the trail back in the 1800s, though, it would make perfect sense. For miles around the cracker trail, you would be able to hear the cracking sound of the cowboys’ whips, so loud that it was even used as a form of long-distance communication.
It’s from the sound-barrier-breaking noise that the trail gets its name. That’s also why the cowboys themselves grew to be known as the Cracker Cowmen or simply the Florida Crackers.
Places Worth Visiting Along the Florida Cracker Trail
While the landscape of the Cracker Trail might not be as harsh as it was for the early settlers, the journey will still give you a taste of old Florida. Along the way, you’ll see moss-draped live oaks, grazing cattle, old buildings, and orange groves. This is an older, quieter, and lower part of Florida, where you can experience a bit of history firsthand.
Fort Pierce beginnings of the Cracker Trail
Fort Pierce is where the Cracker Cowmen first began their journey across the state. With an attractive downtown and gorgeous beaches, consider checking out the town before heading west.
Sebring is a professionally planned town that is home to a number of museums and attractions. Maxwell Groves is a nearby old-fashioned country store complete with rocking chairs on the front porch. Without question, Maxwell Groves is a Must-See Destination! This unassuming attraction is both a bit of history and a great place to grab some fresh juice or ice cream.
You might also choose to visit the beautifully cultivated gardens of Bok Tower and Gardens or explore the area’s natural history at the Archbold Biological Station.
The trail is a big part of the history of Sebring. In fact, the elementary school is even called Cracker Trail Elementary School.
Highland Hammocks State Park
Located near Sebring, Highland Hammocks State Park has more endemic and rare species than any other State Park in Florida. This is a place where you can experience preserved history and wilderness. With an old-growth hammock as well as a diversity of wildlife and habitats, you’ll definitely want to stop here for a hike, bike ride, or picnic. Of course, if you’re riding the Crack Trail on horseback, you can also check out the park’s equestrian trails!
Hen scratch Farms Vineyard and Winery
Just a few miles south of the Cracker Trail, there is a sweet country-style vineyard and winery. On the farm, friendly hens and roosters roam freely. You can also pick strawberries and blueberries depending on the season. If you visit in August, you can witness their annual grape stomp!
The Hotel Jacaranda in Avon Park
If you choose to check out Maxwell Groves in Avon Park, you’ll also want to head to the historic Hotel Jacaranda. Just a few miles off the Florida Cracker Trail, this downtown hotel has been serving daily meals and hosting guests since 1926.
The small town of Lake Placid has its history illustrated in murals decorating the downtown. For a visual timeline of the Florida Crackers and other bits of Sunshine State history, check out the 44 striking murals here.
Fort Basinger was a town and a fort that sat on the Kissimmee River. At this point, all that’s left is the Locket estate and a historic marker. This area was first settled by Florida cowboys after the civil war.
Wauchula is a beautiful small town on the Peace River. As a prominent agricultural center and cattle town, this is a nice stop to explore the history of the Cowmen.
In Zolfo Springs you can find the Cracker Trail Museum and Pioneer Village. Here you can explore old buildings and historic items that help you visualize what life was like for early Florida settlers.
Paynes Creek Historic State Park
Paynes Creek is a quiet park that is a few miles north of Cracker Trail. This Florida Historic State Park marks the place where a Seminole War-era fort once stood.
You can explore the beautiful trails and the suspension bridge that offer views of a cypress forest and a clear creek. Additionally, there’s an 1895 monument that commemorates the lives of two settlers who were killed by Seminole Indians. There is also a museum on-site to help visitors get a sense of the lives of pioneers and Seminole Indians during the 1800s.
There are lots of opportunities here for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking.
Bradenton the end of the Florida Cracker Trail
The Florida Cracker Trail ends at the saltwater port of Bradenton. Located between Tampa and Sarasota on US-41, the history of this small city stretches back to the 1500s. In 1539, Hernando De Soto discovered Shaw’s Point near Bradenton on one of his voyages.
The early economy of this area was based on commercial fishing, sugar, and other agriculture. These days, you’ll find that the downtown is quite delightful. You can explore historic buildings, visit museums, enjoy a meal at a fine dining restaurant, and peruse the quaint shops.
Of course, now that you’ve made it to the ocean, it might be time for some water sports like jet skiing and sailing! There’s also a whole host of opportunities to take tours along the coast, including sunset and dolphin cruises as well as fishing charters.
What Is the Annual Cracker Trail Ride?
In the last full week of February each year, an annual Cracker Trail ride is held. During this time, members of the Florida Cracker Trail Association begin a cross-state trail ride on horseback riding fort pierce. Starting just east of Bradenton, Florida, and ending with an Ft. Pierce parade, this is a 120-mile journey.
This is an opportunity for people to reconnect with the horse and cattle heritage of Florida. The trek takes six days, and central Florida trail riders commemorate the Florida “Crackers” as well as the first cowboys in our country’s history.
In order to participate in the Annual Cracker Trail Ride in 2022, people must register by January 31st. One must be a member in order to ride, which costs $30 for an individual and $40 for a family.
The Florida Cracker Trail: A Journey Back in Time
If you’re taking a vacation to one of Florida’s must-see destinations, it can be hard to imagine the state without high rises and all the amenities of civilization. However, when settlers first came to the Sunshine State, rugged individualism was necessary to survive.
Whether you travel the Cracker Trail by horseback or by car, there is something really special about getting to connect with the historic journeys of the Florida Crackers.
Are you looking for more information to help you plan out your next getaway? If so, be sure to check out the rest of our blog for more must-see destinations!