Karst, the limestone bedrock of Florida, is particularly porous in this area, and at some time in Florida’s misty past, the Aucilla River sank into it. You see the river as you hike, but it’s chopped up in bits and pieces flowing through sinkholes. Some are gaping holes with a steep dropoff down a cliff into them. Others, like Long Sink and Half Mile Sink, look like sections of flowing river. And others are little rocky traps, where the landscape drops off into them.
The Aucilla River is swallowed whole at a riversink called the Vortex, which is less than a half-mile north of the trailhead of this segment, well worth the extra walk to follow the entire chain of sinks. Starting south from the Goose Pasture Road trailhead to the end of the sinks at Long Suffering Road and back again, it’s 8 mile round-trip. You can also hike 5.5 linear miles to the large pulloffs by the quarry ponds along Powell Hammock Grade.
Geologic features – sinkholes, natural bridges, karst windows, and exposed limestone – make this hike quite the adventure. Since the footpath veers close to the edges of steep dropoffs into the sinks and crosses many natural bridges, it’s somewhere you have to watch your step. Weird rock formations and deep tunnels into the earth will catch your attention, as will the places where water moves inside the sinks, rising or flowing across their boundaries. Themes are repeated throughout the hike – long sinkholes and deep ones, round ones and tiny ones – but each is fascinating it its own right.
If you feel like you’ve entered a primordial forest, you’re not far off. The ghosts of the past are strong here, as the Aucilla Sinks have been identified as the earliest known site of human occupation in the southeastern United States, thanks to a double-edged stone knife found in one of the sinks. With the knife was a mastadon tusk and skull, and the knife had been used to remove the tusk. Prehistoric peoples – pre-Clovis, in archaeological terms – settled in this region when it was more than a hundred miles from the coastline. Since 1902, archaeological expeditions have removed a treasure trove of artifacts from the sinks, including the first-known work of art in the Americas, a carved ivory tusk.
Built in 1983, this is one of the older segments of the Florida Trail, so the path is well-worn. However, the palm canopy is very dense, so if you step off the footpath – or a storm knocks over a blazed tree or two – you may have a hard time finding it again. This segment includes one designated campsite with no easy access to water. Ironically, although there is water almost everywhere you look, the sinks are generally steep-sided, so there are few places where you can reach the water. And water can be a problem here. If the Aucilla River is in flood stage, it can rise up right through the porous limestone and make it impossible for you to determine what is footpath and what is a deep sinkhole. Always check the river gauge for the Aucilla before visiting, and never hike this section if water is flowing across any portion of the footpath.
Seasonal hunting is permitted in Aucilla WMA, so wear bright orange when hiking through this section during hunts. Check hunt dates in Aucilla WMA. Since you hike south to go northbound through this section, we’re using “left” and “right” instead of the usual “east” and “west” in the descriptions.
Hiking southbound from Goose Pasture Road to the beginning of the paved portion of Powell Hammock Grade. Slower-paced version.
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on any symbol for more details and on FT symbols to obtain custom directions to trailheads.
0.0 > The trailhead at Goose Pasture Road has room for only a few cars. Face across the road from the trailhead and find the large informational kiosk. The orange blaze is to the right of it. If you wish to visit the upper sinks first, walk along the road past Roadside Sink, which adjoins the trailhead, to find the orange blaze in that direction. See the Aucilla River for the route to the Vortex.
0.2 > Within the first quarter mile, you start spotting sinkholes on both sides of the trail within the bluff forest. At times the water flow is noticable in the sinkholes to your left as you approach the Breakdown Sinks. The trail snakes between a long, linear deep gash in the earth on the left and a series of younger sinkholes forming on the right. Near the north end of these sinks, you cross a footbridge.
0.6 > The trail crosses a forest road and enters dense vegetation before reaching the edge of Long Sink, a linear sinkhole that looks very such like a section of the river. It is, but it has a beginning and end, which makes it a sinkhole. You cross a natural bridge, which means the trail is on a slender piece of rock over a sinkhole, as well as two footbridges. Circling around two large sinkholes, keep alert for a cave that looks like it was bored into the earth by some prehistoric armadillo. The trail returns to the edge of Long Sink, where there are large rocks in the water. Watch for one of those rare spots where you can scramble down to a beach on the sink to filter water.
1.1 > Past the next forest road, there is a nice view of a linear sinkhole with caves at water level on its far shore. It, like many of the other sinks coming up, look very much like a river basin, especially since the flow of the Aucilla River is obvious inside these sinks. But each has a beginning and end, even if you can’t see it. The next long, linear sink even has islands in it.
1.8 > Many of these sinks have names. After the Florida Trail was first established here in 1983, trail maintainers came through and painted numbers on some of the blazes on the nearby trees to correspond to a list on the FTA maps that helped you identify which sink had which name. Those numbers have long faded and blazes repainted, so we’ve used the shape of sinks to guess at a few of the names. This one we think is Long Suffering Sink, which has a nice pine forest on the far side of it. As the trail comes around it to where an old road meets the sink, there is a big clearing under the oaks that can handle a handful of tents, and a nicely sloped bank down to the sink for filtering water.
2.0 > Crossing a forest road where a pine tree is swallowing a small FNST sign, the next sink, we think, is Kitchen Sink, because it’s rather round. As you walk through the bluff forest between the sinks, don’t forget to look down at the forest floor, too. Thanks to the leaf litter and the humidity caused by the sinks under the tree canopy, the understory is quite lush, so colorful fungi like yellow-tipped coral and jelly leaf thrive here. You also might notice the many cracks and crevices hidden beneath palm fronds, all a part of the karst landscape.
2.5 > After rounding a rather deep sink on the left, a blue blaze alerts you to Aucilla Sinks Camp. This is a small designated campsite off to the right, just a few steps in off the trail, with a bench and fire ring and enough flat space for a few tents. It is the last of the designated campsites along the Aucilla section. Water isn’t easy to come by in the nearby sinks because they are too steep sided. Not far past the campsite, keep alert as the trail approaches another forest road. It appears that the trail goes straight ahead and crosses the road, but it does not. Instead, it makes a sharp 90* turn to the left and passes a series of sinkholes on the left as it begins to circle around a broad, shallow basin on the right with large cypress trees in the center of the basin.
2.7 > Cross a forest road. Although it looks like the trail goes straight ahead onto another forest road, it does not: it makes a very sharp left. Look for the orange blazes. It circles around a very showy sink, crosses a natural bridge between two smaller sinks, and ascends to a bluff above another long sink that stretches out ahead like a river. The trail stays very close to the edge of the bluff for a while.
2.9 > Reach the next long, showy sink, and notice how you pass a “sink inside the sink” on the right with a rock bluff inside of it. It’s such an unusual geologic formation that we figure this must be Twin Sinks. While the trail continues along the sink for quite a while, when it leaves it, it comes to a clearing where forest roads meet, and you leave the continual accompaniment of the water-filled sinks at this point for a traverse of the bluff forest.
3.2 > After passing between rocks placed to keep vehicles away from the sinks, cross a dirt road and join a forest road on the far side of it, signposted “Closed to Vehicles.” The trail follows this forest road briefly before making a sharp 90* turn left, so keep alert for the double blazes of the turn.
3.6 > In this lush forest, bluestem palm thrives in the understory beneath the tall oaks and cabbage palms, so palm fronds are everywhere. The trail goes through two obvious swales, both of which may be old river channels, or places where the river is running underground and sinkholes may eventually form.
4.0 > The last of the Aucilla Sinks is on your right as the trail emerges to a forest road. There is a beaten path off to the right that provides a good perspective down into it. Walk beyond it out to the clearing where several forest roads meet, and turn around to see the “Longsuffering Road” sign. Few hikers get past it without a selfie. This is your turnaround point for an out-and-back day hike. If you’re continuing on to the quarry ponds, turn left after the “Longsuffering Road” sign to head compass east down the forest road. The open spot between roads can be used for parking a vehicle to access the Aucilla Sinks from this end, but the road to get here is a little rough in places.
4.4 > Fortunately, this forest road is mostly shaded, and if you keep to the right side of it you can walk on a natural surface instead of limestone and gravel. When you get to this spot with the “Mosquito Slap Road’ sign off to the left where that forest road joins in, you may be tempted to take another selfie.
5.1 > Popping out into full sun as the land on the right side of the road is no longer public land but a private pine plantation, the forest road – which begins to have large holes in the middle of it – meets Powell Hammock Grade at the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area sign. This is the end of public land along this section, and the start of a roadwalk to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. To continue along the roadwalk to reach the quarry ponds, turn right. Keep to the left side of the road, where it’s possible to walk along the grassy berm above the road.
5.5 > Created by mining for limestone – an activity that goes on intensely on private lands in this area despite the nationally significant archaeological value of the Aucilla River basin – these quarry ponds along Powell Hammock Grade are quite deep and picturesque. Despite the depth, you may see an alligator in the clear water. A pulloff along them provides a place to park a car for the day.
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This area is somewhat remote so services, particularly for those on foot, are scant. The only nearby service is a seasonal campground at the end of Goose Pasture Road. If you have a car, JR’s Store along US 98 is the closest place for food and gas.
RESUPPLY: JR’s Aucilla River Store, 850-584-4595, 23485 US 98W, Lamont FL 32336. A favorite of hikers for decades, JR’s is THE place for resupply in the middle of a long stretch with no services: convenience store basics on the shelves. The friendly folks have often let backpackers camp on the premises. They serve up fresh-cooked burgers around noon each day, and will accept maildrops. Open 5 AM-7 PM Mon-Sat, 6 AM-6 PM Sun. While it’s several miles north of the end of this section, it’s where you stop to pick up supplies on your way to St. Marks NWR, as the roadwalk between the end of this section and the beginning of the Apalachee Bay section leads long distance hikers right past JR’s.
CAMPING: Another 2.6 miles west past the trailhead Goose Pasture Campground is a camping area managed by Suwannee River Water Management District. Keep left at the fork past the trailhead when driving there. Campsites are along the Wacissa River and are first-come, first-serve; fill out a permit when you arrive. The sites can accomodate either tents or small campers / vans, and are free, although there is a 10-day-stay limit. Camping is not permitted here during general gun season in the fall/winter months. There is a group campsite that can be reserved by calling 386-362-1001.
From Perry, follow US 98 west to Powell Hammock Grade. The southern portion of Powell Hammock Grade is part of the roadwalk between the Aucilla and St. Marks sections. Look for the quarry ponds pulloff on the right just after passing the abandoned mine processing plant, where the pavement ends.
The next access point is off to the left at the sign for Aucilla WMA. Depending on whether the deep holes in that forest road have water in them or not, you may be able to drive back to the Long Suffering Road sign to park at the south (trail north) end of the Aucilla Sinks. The worst rutting in the road is in the first quarter mile closest to Powell Hammock Grade. If you do park there, it’s best not to leave your car overnight, and don’t block any of the roads.
Another 1.5 miles past the Aucilla WMA sign on Powell Hammock Road is Goose Pasture Road, which leads to the only official trailhead in this section. Turn left. Avoid driving into puddles , as they may be deep. The trailhead is 1.1 miles west along this road on the right across from a large kiosk. There is only room for a few cars.