Contributed by Justin Fricke of The Weekend Warrior
One trail that’s near and dear to me is the Florida Trail. This is 1 of the 11 trails that’s part of the National Scenic Trails System, and of the 11, the Florida Trail’s probably the most overlooked. The 1,300 miles of the Florida Trail provides loads of sections for day hikers to enjoy. Lots of these sections even run through a State Park.
One of my favorite sections is in the Seminole State Forest…
The forest provides 8 miles of hiking on the Florida Trail with other smaller trails, some campsites, numerous changes in the terrain, a wildlife viewing blind, and a spring to collect some shark teeth.
Starting South to North (is there really any other way to hike?), you’ll want to park at the Bear Pond Trailhead for $2. You’ll start off following the orange blazes on the well-maintained Florida Trail. Right off the bat you’ll wish you had a hiking stick (if you didn’t bring one), as you will probably start running into a bunch of spider webs.
After 0.9 miles of hiking, you’ll come across the Shelter camp. It offers a large covered area, if you’re too lazy to set up a tent or if you’re caught in one of Florida’s torrential downpours. This place would also be a great place to hike into and camp on Friday night after work. There’s even a pre-made fire ring set up for you.
Past the Shelter campsite is where you’ll see one of the mailboxes on this section of the trail. The state forest service uses old mailboxes to house the trail register. It might seem odd, but I think it gives the trail some character. Sign the register and get on your way through the recently controlled burn section of the trail. The pine needles on the ground with the slightly charred trees on both sides give this section of bit of an eerie feel.
Once you’re past this area the trail starts to open up for 2 miles as you make your way through a large pine scrub area. This section’s extremely hot if the sun is out in full force, and you’re going to come across some large puddles if there was a heavy rain leading up to your hike.
Continuing along the trail, you’ll come to a rather plain dirt road that leads you past the Blackwater Camp. You can access the road via car to drive up to the campsite if you want. The campsite’s right along the Blackwater Creek and is equipped with a fire ring and picnic table. I’ve yet to camp there, but I’d be prepared for bugs if I ever did.
Just past the Blackwater Camp is where you can elect to stay on the Florida Trail (keep your eyes peeled: the trail and orange blazes are a bit hidden) or follow the blue blazes along the North Sulphur Island Loop. Watch out for the Dog Fennel in this area. It can get pretty tall.
Another 0.9 miles on the trail will bring you past an observation blind (not for hunting) and to the Sulphur Camp. This place has a ton of room for multiple groups to camp. It’s also equipped with a few picnic tables, fire ring, roadside access, and is about 800 feet from Sharks Tooth Spring.
People have found shark teeth in the spring. Give it a try yourself as you resupply on water. This place is one of the few places in Florida that I’d feel safe drinking the water, after treating it, of course.
From the spring, you’ll have about another 2.5 miles to the Cassia Trailhead. The remaining portion of the trail takes your through heavily wooded areas and open, sandy paths. If you’re lucky, you might even see some deer running in the open areas.
This section of the Florida Trail is one of my favorite local hikes. It makes for a great day hike or even an easy overnight trip.
- Bear Pond Trailhead – $2 (honor system)
- Cassia Trailhead – Free, but I’d bring a couple bucks in case that changes soon
- Bear Pond Trailhead: 31852 Wekiva Road, Sorrento, FL 32776
- Cassia Trailhead: 29812 Brantley Branch Road, Eustis, FL 32736