<--More Absolutely Florida
Hiking and Nature Trails
of Florida's Panhandle

by Jim and Cynthia Tunstall

Treks in the Panhandle feature tall pines and plenty of wildlife.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Arguably, some of the best hiking paths are the sand-lot trails along the 70 miles of public-access Gulf beach that trek through Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. Fifty-two of the miles are within the
Gulf Islands National Seashore (904-934-2600) including 16 breathtaking miles that begin south of Pensacola, where there isn't a whiff of commercial development. This is a trail lined with sea oats and sand dunes, pelicans and sand pipers, bluffs and sea breezes to keep your biological radiator from boiling over. Again, there are no hills and the dunes are strictly off-limits, but if you need more resistance walk in the Gulf to burn a little extra energy, but remember to take off your boots. The saltwater wrecks even the finest pair.

If you insist on leaving the beachfront there are a few rewards awaiting.
The Blackwater River State Forest, (904-957-4201) offers three trails. The 21.5-mile Jackson Red Ground Trail is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail, and has a starting point close to the main forest entrance. The Sweetwater Trail, 4.5 miles, is near the middle of the 186,475-acre forest and the Wiregrass Trail, 5.5 miles is near to its northeast corner. There are shorter trails at Hurricane and Bear lakes and the Krul and Bone Creek recreation areas. The scenery includes long-leaf pines and scrub oaks, hardwoods and cedars, swamps and wiregrass that more than 200 species of wildlife call home.

There are three other adlib hiking trails in the Coldwater Recreation Area of the forest, adjoining the horse trails featured a little later in the chapter. Forest Road 64 is 4.4 miles one-way; Forest Road 66 is 3.4 miles one way and Forest Road 13 is 4.4 miles. All are seldom-traveled dirt roads.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District, (904-539-5999) offers trails at one property in the region. Its Choctawhatchee River and Holmes Creek tract has a pair of trails going through wetlands and dry hammocks that evolved from ancient dunes. For a guide book with maps, call or write the district at Route 1, Box 3100, Havana, FL 32333-9700.

Port St. Joe
You're about to discover this is not an area with a heavy concentration of designated trails, particularly those that will allow you to work up a lather. So the best bet if that's your goal is to use an improvised one. County Road 30 leaves the Gulf County mainland south of
Port St. Joe, turning into CR 30-E for the 21-mile (one-way) journey to the tip of St. Joseph and the far reaches of the same-named state park. This route is well-compensated with dune, woodland, beach and wildlife scenery and, if you're a true stormtrooper, you can do the full-length round-trip for a heavy-duty workout. The park has nine miles of beaches and Cape San Blas has several miles more. If you're inclined you can do more than half of the hike on the water.

The other improvised hike is the 1.4-square-mile walking tour of Chipley's historic district, (904-638-6340).

Pine Log State Forest
Pine Log State Forest, (904-872-4175,) is one of Florida's original forests, bought by the state in 1935-36. Pine Log's 6,911 acres include three lakes and an environmental center near the beginning of a three-mile nature trail that leads through slash, sand and long-leaf pines, as well as blackjack oaks, red maples, junipers and, for a short distance along the Pine Log Creek, cypress. It's also a peaceful spot for bird-watching (woodpeckers, mockingbirds and hawks). For those who decide to lay over, the forest has 20 campsites, including 19 with electrical and water hook-ups. The Pine Log area also has a 31-mile portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail. For information, (800-343-1882).

Five area state parks offer designated hiking trails.

Falling Waters State Recreation Area, (904-638-6130), has two trails. One is about .8 miles roundtrip and passes by wiregrass, the site of an old well, the falls and outlying sinkholes. The other trail, .6 miles round-trip, goes from the parking area, passed the amphitheater to the 24 campsites.

Ponce deLeon Springs
Ponce de Leon Springs State Recreation Area, (904-836-4281), has two short trails: Spring Run, 500 feet from the main spring halfway along the run to the Choctawhatchee River, and Sandy Creek, 750 feet along the opposite side.

Marianna Area
Florida Caverns State Park, (904-482-9598), provides the very different perspective of hiking a half-mile course under the surface of the planet. The park has a half-mile of trails at ground level, too.

Three Rivers State Recreation Area, (904-482-9006), features a nearly mile-long, sometimes hilly trail along Lake Seminole. There also is a .4-mile Half Dry Creek Trail on the eastern side of the park.

Port St. Joe
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, (904-227-1327), offers three short trails that range from 1,400 feet to 2,000 feet, in case you don't have the energy for the 21-mile (one-way) marathon improvised earlier. The Gulf side trail is a link between two camping areas that have 119 campsites.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District, (904-539-5999), offers trails at three properties in the region. The Choctawhatchee River-Holmes Creek tract has two trails running through wetlands and upland hammocks that evolved from ancient dunes.

Apalachicola River Management Area has seven miles of trails through a forest floodplain inhabited by several species of birds, including swallow-tails and Mississippi kites.

Econfina Creek tract has one trail site that meanders through a diversity of flora (ash, magnolia, liverworts) and fauna (summer tanager and a large population of warblers). For a guide book with maps, call or write the district at Route 1, Box 3100, Havana, FL 32333-9700.

Tyndall Air Force Base, (904-283-2641), about 10 miles east of Panama City on US 98, has two short nature trails and numerous other trails that are available for hiking. To get information about base access or maps, call or write the Natural Resources Office, Tyndall Air Force Base, FL 32403.

Quincy Area
It's hardly a forced march, but one place to start is the walking tour of the
historic district in Quincy, a three-mile, flatland tour, start to finish. You can grab a map that identifies specific properties at the chamber of commerce's office, (904-627-9231). At certain times, docents take groups on guided tours.

Fort Braden Trail in the Lake Talquin State Forest, (904-488-1871), has an east loop (6.2 miles) and a west loop (2.9 miles) marked in blue paint. Maps are available at the Florida Division of Forestry, 1214 Tower Drive, Tallahassee, FL 32301.

Torreya State Park, (904-643-2674), in Bristol, has a seven-mile loop that goes through the park's dramatic ravines and other natural features. The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, (904-925-6121), has five- and nine-mile trails along US 98 in the Panacea area and seven- and 13-mile trails near St. Marks off Highway 59. Both travel through the marshes, swamps, flatwoods and uplands that surround Apalachee Bay. To get detailed maps of the refuge's trails and various access points, call or write the refuge at P.O. Box 68, St. Marks, FL 32355. The refuge also has a 43-mile section of the Florida Trail that can be reached at two spots: 1.1 miles west of Medart on Highway 319 or .75-mile west of the Aucilla River bridge on US 98.

Apalachicola Area
There are several great trails located in the area, including four in the
Apalachicola National Forest, (904-643-2282), near Bristol on Highway 20 or, (904-926-3561), near Crawfordville on US 319. The Wright Lake Trail stretches 4.5 miles through a pine forest that adjoins a cypress-lined lake. Leon Sinks Geological Trail is three trails totaling 5.4 miles, all of which showcase the area's wet and dry sinkholes and hardwood hammocks. There also is a 12-mile loop trail at Camel Lake. The aesthetics? Otters, bald eagles, black bears and alligators are just a few of the 400 species of birds, reptiles and mammals that live here.

If you decide to take the short trip from Apalachicola across
St. Vincent Sound to the wildlife refuge, (904-653-8808), there's plenty of self-guided hiking room on the island's 14 miles of beach and 80 miles of sand roads. The refuge office and visitor center in the harbor master building on Market Street will give you a map that should keep you from getting lost or storing calories.

The Northwest Florida Water Management District, (904-539-5999), offers seven miles of trails at its Apalachicola River tract. They wander through a forest floodplain inhabited by several species of birds, including Mississippi kites and swallow-tails.For a guide book with maps, call or write the district at Route 1, Box 3100, Havana, FL 32333-9700.

Tallahassee's most notable hiking route is the
Tallahassee-to-St. Marks Historic State Trail, (904-922-6007), a 16-mile journey along a railroad route that once connected the two cities. A paved parking lot is located on Highway 363, also known as Woodville Road, two miles south of Tallahassee at the north end of the state trail.

Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens, (904-487-4556), has five miles of trails surrounding Lake Overstreet, which has vegetation such as water lilies, pickerelweed, purple cabomba, dogwoods and magnolias. Don't be surprised when a deer, grey fox or bobcat darts across your path. The property is located at 3540 Thomasville Road (Highway 61, the extension of Monroe Street).

Also, Tallahassee's
Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park, (904-891-3975), has about 11 miles of hiking trails west of Lake Jackson. The trails wind through land that's inhabited by wood storks, bobcats, turkey, deer, ospreys and other species.

Osceola National Forest Area
Leading the pack is the Florida National Scenic Trail's leg in the
Osceola National Forest, (800-343-1882) (Florida only), 904-752-2577 and 352-378-8823. This 23-mile trail segment has access points in two areas. The aesthetics include mist-shrouded cypress swamps (if you start early), sawgrass marshes interrupted by hardwood hammocks, vast pine forests and crystal-clear springs. You will find 20 boardwalks, from which you can watch nature, including local wildlife ñ turkey, deer, grey fox, American swallow-tail kite, red-cockaded and pileated woodpecker, warblers and Bachman's sparrows.

Carter Camp is a six-mile trail in the Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center, (904-397-1920), in White Springs.

Big Gum Swamp Wilderness Area, (904-752-2577), has a pair of primitive trails worthy of note inside the Osceola National Forest. A 6.2-mile trail begins at an entrance off Highway 262 (from US 441 in Lake City head north to Highway 262, turning right or east nine miles to the trail entrance). The other, a three-mile loop, begins off Highway 250. The scenics on this trail include cypress-gum swamps, pine flatwoods, shallow sloughs and, if you're sharp-eyed, the remnants of a turpentine still.

Suwannee River Area
There are several additional hiking paths in the Suwannee River region, including:
Twin Rivers State Forest, (904-208-1462), an eight-mile trail along the river that provides glimpses of sinkholes, wildflower carpets and stands of American elm, sweet gum, hickory, river birch and bald cypress. To get to the forest from Madison, head east on US 90 about 16 miles to the outskirts of Ellaville. Note: If you pass a state agricultural inspection station you've gone about one mile too far east.

Holton Creek Trail, 16 miles, includes a first magnitude spring, dozens of sinkholes and outcroppings, two state champion cypress trees, plus oak, hickory, magnolia and beech.

Mattair Spring Trail, 11 miles, includes very high limestone banks and an occasional patch of white sand beach.

Camp Branch is a six-mile trail with bluffs, ravines, floodplain areas and sinks where the branch run disappears underground.

Ichetucknee Springs State Park, (904-497-2511), offers two short trails. The two-mile Pine Ridge Trail, which is located off the river's run, forms an oval around sinkholes, hardwood hammocks, sandhill and long-leaf pines, wiregrass and various sprouts of lichens. The .7-mile Trestle Point Trail parallels the river for part of its path, then ventures to abandoned phosphate pits, an old railroad trestle and the tram road. Wildlife in the park ranges from gopher tortoises and frogs to river otters and flying squirrels.

Suwannee River State Park, (904-362-2746), has five hiking trails (Lime Sink, Suwannee, Balanced Rock, Sandhills and Earthworks) that can be tackled as one trail (2.93 miles). Combined, the trails wander along the river, the old ferry landing, Lime Sink's beaver colony - if you can't spot the beavers, search for the teeth marks they leave on standing trees and the Columbus Cemetery. (Sorry, this isn't the graveyard where Christopher is buried. It's the final resting place for those who settled an old riverboat town.)

Additionally, the
Suwannee River Water Management District, (904-362-1001) or (in Florida) 800-226-1066, provides several good trails throughout this region, including the following ones along the river.

Little Shoals Tract, a 2-mile marked trail, which has small rapids in an area where early explorers and American Indians crossed the river.

Big Shoals Tract, 2 five and three-mile trails along high bluffs, large rapids, limestone outcroppings, tupelo and wild azaleas.

Gar Pond Tract, six-mile marked trail through river sloughs, wet prairies and a sinkhole.

Click for Central Florida Camping Directory
More Great Links:

Florida Recreation
Florida State Parks
Florida Wildlife

For directions, call Florida Trail Association
800-343-1882 (in Florida) or 352-378-8823
P.O. Box 13708, Gainesville, FL 32604.

Office of Greenways & Trails
850-487-4784, Mail Station 795,
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000.

or try the mapping service below (some remote areas not available)

A scenic waterfall at Falling Waters State Park.

One warning before you move on:
Any time you venture into a state forest (not a state park) or conservation area there's a chance of encountering hunters. Call or write in advance for hunting seasons as well as a detailed booklet on the districtís properties (P.O. Box 1429, Palatka, FL 32178-1429).