The ECT is an amalgamation of many trails, the longest of which is the Appalachian Trail (AT). The most comprehensive guide has been on Nimblewill Nomad's site under the Eastern Continental Trail Guide. I have broken down my journey into four primary segments as I see them:
This segment extends from the Key West Southern Most Point Monument to the Alabama border.
The Keys Road Walk is a long stretch of highway from Key West to the start of the Florida Trail. You can either start at the Southernmost Point Monument or Mile Marker 0 which is close by.
I went ahead and bought a membership to the Florida Trail Association. They are the organization that is trying to develop the Florida Trail into a continuous footpath. As of 2011, it is not a continuous path. It's great for section hiking, but I would not recommend it for thru-hiking. Most of the trail is on roads. I consider a road anything wide enough and graded enough to drive a normal car down or some stretch of land utterly destroyed by vehicle traffic. The Florida Trail incroporates highways, sidewalks along highways, country roads, dirt roads, levees and forest roads. My summary is broken down into regions which vary greatly in their state of development. Below is a short description of each region and how much of the time you get to actually walk in the wilderness on a footpath.
The southern section of the trail begins in Big Cypress Park and starts with a swamp tromp through some real backcountry areas. Once you're through Big Cypress, you enter the Seminole Indian Reservation which requires a signed release to transit. After the Big Cypress Swamp, it's all roads for a while.
I took the western route which is shorter and less populated. This section consists of walking along the highway and levees around Lake Okechobee. The trail is well populated with shade shelters, fire grates, and picnic tables. The camping is good at designated sites. Beware of Fire Ants.
This section begins walking along levees to canals and eventually gets into The Avon Park Air Force Range. Sometimes the Range is closed due to bombing practice, but it's the nicest section thus far for a Northbound thruhike. After that, it's on to the Orlando Suburbs. The trail skirts outer Orlando alond sidewalks most of the time.
The Western Corridor takes you around the outskirts of Orlando. For a while it is all city walking then gradually transitions into more rural areas. A large portion of the trail is on the Withlacoochee State Trail, a paved bicycle path following the old railroad grade. It's great if your a cyclist, but wears on the feet. Camping is sparse, but the little towns are nice rest stops.
This region contains both the best and worst of the trail. Between Lake Butler and the Olustee Battlefield the trail runs through private timberlands. This means lots of clear cut forestry. So it's either forestry roads or a field of detrius left over from the cutting of every tree except the line with orange blazes. Fortunately, this section is also home to some of the most natural, untouched wilderness. The shelters here are awesome too. The Rice Creek Hilton and Randy Madison's are top-notch and you should definitely time your hike to spend the night.
This section takes you out to the Big Bend where the Panhandle becomes the Peninsula. The trail passes through two National Forests. St. Marks Wilderness Reserve and Apalachicola National Park. Camping is primitive with very few picnic tables along the trail. The trail is also very wet. In the middle of Apalachicola is the Bradwell Bay Swamp. It's pretty wet through there, but it isn't as bad as Big Cypress. Both St. Marks and Apalachicola are swarming with ticks. Check yourself multiple times a day. The town of St. Marks is a good waystation. The Bed and Breakfast is phenomenal. You have to get a passing boat to ferry you across the river to the town as the trail dead-ends into the river.
The coolest thing in this section is the swimming holes. While the trail misses all of the good springs down south, it goes right past some beautifully clear springs. The campsites aren't up to par, but the forest is nice. I decided to cut off trail at Ebro and head for Panama City Beach. My detour added about 80 miles of beach walk and cut out Eglin AFB. I stand by my decision…the beach is awesome.
After hiking through the center of Florida, the trail finally makes a turn towards the coast. The walk along the beach is beautiful, albeit sandy and slow. There are blazes on poles that pretty much force you to wander through the dunes. If you don't want to damage the gulf islands, road walk it. The Northern Terminus of the trail is at the end of Santa Rosa Island at Fort Pickens. There's nowhere to go but back from here…but it's an awesome ending to a long trail.
The long and wet Florida Trail dumps you off at the Alabama border. What follows is 190 miles of forest roads and such through small towns in rural Alabama. The road walk is over when you reach the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail (PT)
The PT begins on Flagg Mountain outside of Sylacauga. This mountain is the southernmost of the Appalachians which dominate the east coast and are the backbone of the ECT. The PT goes all the way into Georgia where it connects with the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT).
The Alabama Hiking Trail Society maintains an information page about the Eastern Continental Trail. Their new site does not have as much information, but they do still have the old one archived. For the old site, try their Original Site.
The Pinhoti Trail Alliance also has a lot of good information about the route.
The BMT connects the PT to the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Road bike from Pensacola, FL to Dahlongega, GA. Ditch the bike in town and walk to the AT along the Forest Service Road. It's 20 miles from town, easily doable in a day. Don't bother with the Approach Trail from Amicola Falls, I hear it sucks.
Somebody needs to blaze a trail from the easternmost point of the FT to the start of the AT. Running all the way out to Pensacola just to finish the FT is stupid. I'll try to work on a route when I get spare time.
The official Appalachian Trail extends from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is the organization responsible for the continuity of the trail. The most comprehensive trail guide is The Appalachian Thru-hikers' Companion. It is no longer available online via the preceding link, but you can still purchase it on the ATC's online store.
Tom Dunigan, a professor at University of Tennessee- Knoxville has compiled a great AT GPS resource listing with geo-tagged data of the AT Shelters.
From Mt. Katahdin in Maine the trail turns into the IAT/SAI. The I will travel North to the Canadian border. The official end to the ECT is somewhere in Canada, but I'm calling it when I cross that international border.