Last week, I had the opportunity to hike the Choctawhatchee River Section of the Florida Trail, which opened on December 14. More than a decade in the making, this brand-new section of the Florida Trail eliminates a long roadwalk between the river and Seven Runs trailhead, adding two new campsites for backpackers along the 8.3 mile route.
Much of the trail traverses longleaf pine forests, ranging from mature to newly planted. It is primarily on a conservation easement on Nokuse Plantation donated by M.C. Davis to the U.S. Forest Service for the sake of the Florida National Scenic Trail corridor. At Nokuse Plantation, restoring the original longleaf pine habitat native to this area is their key mission. Pine plantations for timber harvest are being replaced with young longleaf to better serve the wildlife endemic to this region.
Wildlife is abundant, of course. I hiked the segment with the incoming chapter chair for the Choctawhatchee Chapter, Mary McKinley, a Florida trail thru-hiker and long time trail maintainer who helped work on this segment. We saw numerous deer, including a buck with antlers. But it was the diamondback rattlesnake that held our attention the longest, as it decided to slip out of the underbrush just as Mary walked by. It was one of the largest either of us had ever seen. Once it determined we were not a threat, it continued its passage.
A highlight of the hike is the boardwalk over Cypress Creek. It’s a mile and a quarter north of the trail entrance off SR 20, and well worth a visit. As shown in the video above, it winds through the swamp, even passing between a gateway of cypress knees. It’s the most reliable water source at the south end of this section. The north end of the section introduces you to the floodplain of Seven Runs Creek, where there is a nice access point to the water’s edge with a view of a bend in the creek.
We stopped at the Leaning Pine Campsite for lunch, and later made another long stop at a beauty spot that surprised us both, a natural bridge along a line of sinkholes. It was the only evidence of karst we saw along the trip, other than what appeared to be a small spring spilling out next to the trail close to Seven Runs.
Parking for this hike is at Cowford Landing to the south and Seven Runs Trailhead to the north. You must check the Choctawhatchee River flood gauge before hiking this section, as parts of the trail are in the floodplain and will be flooded when the river is over 13 feet, including the Cypress Creek boardwalk.
To give you an overview of the route, the map below is from the Florida Trail app. We’ll be adding full details about this hike to the website soon. You can also take a virtual walk through the section: see more photos on Flickr.