Length: 48.8 miles (linear)
This part of the trail is excellent for short day hikes and loops. It crosses through several vegetation types, including sandhills, pine flatwoods, bottomland hardwoods and transition zones to salt marshes. On the eastern end the trail passes through one of the largest untouched cabbage palm hammocks remaining in Florida. This area is known locally as “The Cathedral” for the solitude and stately nature of the tall palms.
To the east and south of US 319, the trail crosses public lands in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the hiking is dry except during periods of heavy rain. Permits are required for overnight camping. At Marsh Point, a blue-blazed spur trail heads out across the salt marshes to the remains of old Confederate salt works. Look for islands of red cedar trees to spot the salt works.
North of the refuge, you enter the Apalachicola National Forest. The Sopchoppy River portion of the trail follows the high and occasionally rocky banks of a Blackwater River. Pine-palmetto flatwoods with titi (pronounced TIE-tie) are common up to the river’s edge. In the central section, the trail turns away from the river and crosses a large clear-cut surrounding Monkey Creek. The southern section is notable for a gurgling tributary stream with several small waterfalls and for large cypress trees growing beneath steep river banks. The trail in the eastern part of this 557,000 acre forest passes through a unique natural feature called Bradwell Bay. The term “bay” refers to a broad stretch of low land between hills. Bradwell Bay is a huge, shallow saucer containing a vast stretch of titi thicket (buckwheat tree) in the center, with occasional clusters of blackgum and other hardwoods, surrounded by higher ground with typical pine and palmetto sandy terrain. Bradwell Bay was named for a hunter who was lost for days in the vast, trackless titi thicket. Forests along the trail contrast with the bays and have a large variety of plants and animals typical of pine and palmetto forests.
In the Bradwell Bay Wilderness, the trail passes for a short distance through an undisturbed and uncut swamp containing trees up to 400 years old. The rest of the trail in the wilderness traverses titi and second growth forests which are a haven for bears, red cockaded woodpeckers and pitcher plants. This is a wet and rough trail and is therefore not recommended for first time hikers. If the ditches along Forest Roads 329 and 314 are dry, then the hike is likely to be a pleasant one, with only short areas of wading. The big trees of most interest in the wilderness area are on the western part of this trail, between Forest Road 314 and Monkey Creek.
After passing a pioneer homestead and following the floodplain of the Ocklochnee River, this segment of trail ends just west of the river at the Porter Lake Campground. For more information contact the Apalachee Chapter