117.1 miles. Leaving the Suwannee River to the east, there is now a gap in the Florida Trail between the Suwannee and the Aucilla River. What was once a ramble through private timberlands is now off limits. So the Big Bend section now starts with a 48.4 mile roadwalk through rural North Florida. The Aucilla section feels primordial, with its mysterious river that sinks underground to flow between sinkholes before it rises again near Goose Pasture. The cornerstone of this section is St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, from which you can view the sweep of the Big Bend coast. Through St. Marks, the trail follows old tramways and the fringe of salt marshes, where you can catch a glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico.
- General gun (deer hunting) season is underway at St. Marks NWR until Jan 22, in all areas east of Lighthouse Road, and in Aucilla WMA until Jan 1. You must wear an orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons.
- Goose Pasture Campsite in Aucilla WMA is closed through January 23, 2017.
- A roadwalk is still necessary around a trail closure at Spring Creek Highway westbound and Purify Bay eastbound. See trailside information for the alternate route.
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on symbols for details and directions.
Florida Trail, Suwannee to Aucilla
48.4 miles. A roadwalk following rural roads through farms and forests in Madison and Taylor counties. Most of the route is along quiet country roads through tiny communities with churches.
Florida Trail, Aucilla River
9.4 miles. Between CR 14 and Goose Pasture Road, the Florida Trail follows a rugged route along the shoreline of the Aucilla River, which surprises with its steep bluffs and churning rapids. As you approach the Vortex, where the river vanishes underground, the last half mile of this segment tacks between showy sinkholes.
4.2 miles. South of Goose Pasture Road, the Aucilla River is firmly underground, flowing through the bottoms of large sinkholes which the trail zigzags around in a primordial forest. Most of the sinks are steep-sided and deep and cannot be entered: they are known as karst windows, peering into the aquifer.
Florida Trail, Aucilla to St. Marks
8.9 miles. A roadwalk connector, this section of the trail utilizes the road shoulder through the swamp forests and the highway bridge over the Aucilla River on US 98 after passing JR’s Store, the main outpost in these parts.
Florida Trail, St. Marks East
12.7 miles. One swamp, lots of levees: that’s the Florida Trail on the eastern side of St. Marks NWR, where the Big Bend comes into focus as you walk along levees with views that stretch on to the far horizons.
Florida Trail, Port Leon
5.6 miles. Between Lighthouse Road and the St. Marks River, the Port Leon section shows off scenic views of the natural coastal estuary at both ends, with a walk down forest roads through pine flatwoods in the middle.
Florida Trail, St. Marks to Wakulla
9.7 miles. A stretch of paved rail trail yields to cypress swamps and wet flatwoods as the trail makes its way west to cross the Wakulla River and heads towards the coastal estuary once again, passing by the Wakulla River campsite and Sawdust Hill.
Florida Trail, Shepherd Spring
5.2 miles. One of the more popular segments of the Florida Trail, this section ties together an easy stroll on a forest road with a far more challenging traverse of the muddy coastal palm hammock lauded as the Cathedral of Palms. The prize in the middle is Shepherd Spring, a natural treasure.
Florida Trail, Porter Tract
3.7 miles. Showy swamps – some crossed by boardwalks – and pine plantations create a patchwork among the pine flatwoods and sandhill habitats found in this segment of trail between Shell Point Road and Spring Creek Highway.
Florida Trail, Marsh Point
5.6 miles. Starting off in towering pine flatwoods, the trail reaches an estuary crossing at Spring Creek, awaiting a replacement boardwalk. On the western side of the creek, the peninsula at Marsh Point offers a view of Oyster Bay along the Gulf of Mexico.
Florida Trail, Panacea
3.7 miles. Between the Purify Bay and Carraway Cutoff trailheads, the trail traverses several long boardwalks in wet pine flatwoods before rising up into sandhills topped with longleaf pine and wiregrass.
Swamp Hammock Trail
3.1 miles. A former segment of the Florida Trail through St. Marks, the Swamp Hammock Trail leaves the levee for an alternate blue-blazed route through beautiful but muddy palm hammocks along the coastline.
Deep Creek Trail
12 miles. Part of the St. Marks Primitive Walking Trails, the Deep Creek Trail follows the old Aucilla Tram Road, meeting the Florida Trail at Ring Dike. It then loops back towards Lighthouse Road by sharing the route with the Florida Trail until it reaches the dike at Stoney Bayou Pool #2. It is open to hiking and biking.
Stoney Bayou Trail
6.5 miles. The Stoney Bayou Trail is a shorter route along the St. Marks Primitive Walking Trails, cutting across the swamps from the Aucilla Tram Road to the Florida Trail route on the dikes towards Lighthouse Road. It diverges from the Florida Trail at the next intersection onto a northbound forest road to create a loop.
Port Leon Trail
3.6 miles. A blue-blazed trail leading from the St. Marks Visitor Center out to the former location of Port Leon, a mid-1800s town at the original terminus of the Tallahassee Railroad until a hurricane washed it away. Part of the trail is also the Florida Trail.
Leon Creek Trail
0.3 mile linear. Two spur trails – one from the Port Leon Trail and one from the Florida Trail – along the Tallahassee Railroad route. They each end where a bridge was washed out over the creek. This used to be the Florida Trail through the wilderness area.
20.5 miles linear. Known locally as the Tallahassee-St. Marks Trail, this paved trail follows the route of Florida’s first railroad between Tallahassee and the coast. The Florida Trail utilizes it for several miles paralleling Port Leon Rd.
- In St. Marks NWR, tides affect your water sources. A high tide can push salt water into fresh at places like the Pinhook River and Shepherd Spring. Water along the dikes is generally salty.
- Alligators are everywhere along the dikes in St. Marks. If you’re hiking with a dog, keep it away from the water.
- It can take some time to flag down a boat to cross the St. Marks River. Don’t try to swim it – it is deep, swift, and tidal. You can also call Shell Island Marina for a ride.
- Although the east side of St. Marks is mostly on dikes and forest roads, the west side has a lot of muddy walking in the woods. Be prepared for sticky, gloppy mud west of the Wakulla River until Marsh Point.
- Take advantage of the town of St. Marks as a zero day: there are motel rooms and cabins at Shell Island Fish Camp, a B&B near the restaurants, a laundromat, and a riverside tiki bar.