Osceola National Forest
Length: 24.2 miles (linear) from the Olustee Battlefield to Cow Catcher Rd.
The Osceola National Forest is Florida’s smallest national forest, but it encompasses prime habitat for the Florida black bear and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, which thrives only in old-growth longleaf pine forests. Established in the 1930s, it remains a patchwork of inaccessible swamps, pine plantations, and natural forests of longleaf pine.
Start your hike at Florida’s most significant Civil War historic site, the Olustee Battlefield. From here, the first mile of trail – dubbed the Nice Wander Trail – provides a surface suitable for the disabled to enjoy the outdoors, passing through a red-cockaded woodpecker colony. Then it’s into the forests, miles and miles of immersion in the pines broken up by boardwalks over bayheads and along seepage slopes where hooded pitcher plants thrive. Old forest roads are utilized in some places to connect segments of footpath. Watch blazing carefully. An open-sided shelter provides a peaceful campsite for backpackers. Expect a lot of wading after a heavy rain, as the footpath tends to collect water.
Leaving the protection of the Osceola National Forest, the Florida Trail becomes a short roadwalk on quiet back roads as it makes its way to the Suwannee River at Big Shoals State Park. Once along the Suwannee, you’ll enjoy the heavy shade of the hardwood hammocks as the trail traverses extremely rugged terrain, dropping in and out of many deep ravines along the river bluffs. Stream crossings range from walking across planks and logs to hopping over narrows. Marvel at the beauty of Big Shoals and Little Shoals, Florida’s roughest whitewater.
After passing under US 41, the trail continues into White Springs, a historic and popular trail town and resupply stop and our first Florida Trail Gateway Community. If you are doing a long distance hike, stop in at American Canoe Adventures on Bridge Street to get your photo taken for the thru-hiker wall! For more information contact the North Florida Trailblazers.