Using the south end of the Jackson Red Ground Trail, the very first trail built in Blackwater River State Forest in the 1970s, Florida Trail rises up from the red clay bluffs of Juniper Creek and enters rolling clayhills topped with longleaf pine forests. This is a high and dry segment of the trail in Blackwater River State Forest.
Along the 21.2 miles of the Jackson Red Ground Trail between Red Rocks and Karick Lake, the Florida Trail immerses you in longleaf pine forests with titi swamps in the folds between the hills. Seepage slopes nourish colorful colonies of pitcher plants. This is the oldest section of the Florida Trail in Northwest Florida, added to the growing trail system in 1975.
Prior to becoming part of the Florida Trail, the route was established by foresters at Blackwater River State Forest as a historic trail, following the path taken by General Andrew Jackson and his 1,200 troops in 1818 as they marched towards Pensacola. Jackson had just received orders to be in charge of the “Indian Removal” from the Florida Territory, which was still not quite fully wrested from Spain, another objective for the future president. The trail route itself pre-dated Jackson’s use, serving as a trade route for Native Americans between villages at the sites of what are now Columbus, GA and Pensacola.
In addition to longleaf on a world-class scale, the trail treats you to a patch of Choctawhatchee sand pine scrub, views of farmland, and the rare but occasional stream crossings on boardwalks and bridges across cypress-lined creeks. A connecting trail leads to Bear Lake Recreation Area, a beautiful camping spot. This section ends at an obvious junction at a picnic table and sign. The Jackson Red Ground Trail continues northeast to the recreation areas around Karick Lake, while the Florida Trail turns northwest to follow the Wiregrass Trail past Hurricane Lake to the Alabama state line.
Spring and fall wildflowers are abundant, making this a pleasant hike in both seasons. By arranging a shuttle, you can enjoy a weekend backpacking trip along the Jackson Red Ground Trail. This is a very dry section, so you should take special care to keep your water supplies topped off, especially when you start off: there is no reliable surface water for the first 9 miles north.
Trail blazes are now blue. Some of the images above were taken before the trail was reblazed to reflect its status as a side trail.
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 Jackson Red Ground Trail begins immediately across Red Rock Road from the Juniper Creek Trail at a large kiosk. There is space along the road to park a couple of cars, but the official trailhead is down at Red Rock Road canoe launch, 0.5W. Vandalism has been reported at both locations, so do not leave cars overnight. The trail parallels Red Rock Road east for a short distance before heading north through the longleaf pine forest.
1.2 > Coming up an old forest road, the trail approaches and crosses paved Sandy Forest Road, an access point with plenty of shoulder parking. Watch for fox squirrels here. They are tan and black, and enormous compared to their cousins the gray squirrels. The trail continues under a tunnel of oaks up an old forest road as it makes its way deeper into the longleaf. This is the portion of the trail that is the driest, as you make your way through the clayhills topped with pines and oaks, crossing a number of forest roads along the way.
5.5 > At Charley Foster Road, the trail turns to follow it for a quarter mile to avoid a wet area. There are times when you can filter water here but it is unreliable.
6.7 > Unfortunately, the shelter that once stood at Blackwater Shelter 2 Camp burned down in 2013 when a farmer’s fire got out of control. The campsite is still a pleasant stop under the oaks, with a picnic table and fire ring. The blazes you see to the north along the edge of the pine forest are part of the Bear Lake Connector heading west to Bear Lake Recreation Area; you can catch that trail here instead of the official junction if you’re headed that way.
7.0 > You reach the official junction of the Bear Lake Connector, which heads west on a forest road. Crossing paved Old Martin Road, an access point where you can park roadside on the grass, the trail enters a more dense sandhill forest on the north edge of a farm.
7.7 > The trail emerges within sight of SR 4 on a bluff above the highway, where the “Jackson Trail” sign on the hill has been there for motorists to see since the early 1970s.
8.3 > Reaching paved County Line Road, the trail joins SR 4 east for a quarter mile roadwalk to cross a creek at the low point between two hills. Be cautious of high speed traffic as you need to cross this road. The roadwalk ends at McVay Road. Turn north.
8.7 > The trail returns to the woods from the grassy eastern shoulder of McVay Road, crossing a creek that serves as a viable water source. It continues north through a stand of feathery Choctawhatchee sand pine forest before reaching a fenceline of a farm, which it follows east.
10.3 > Crossing paved Beaver Creek Road, the trail meanders through hardwoods and pines before making a distinct north turn.
10.8 > Boardwalks lead into a corridor of bayhead swamp surrounding a swift-moving stream, an excellent water source. A bench offers a place to stop and filter water. Heading uphill, the trail rises up into the clayhill habitat, with tall longleaf pines overhead and many wildflowers in the wiregrass.
12.5 > After traversing hilltops covered in longleaf pine forest, with the trail sometimes dipping into deeply eroded channels on old forest roads, you come to the next creek, crossed by a sturdy bridge. This one is both the water source for the upcoming camping area and your best source northbound for the remainder of the trail.
12.8 > Blackwater Shelter is the northernmost trail shelter in Blackwater River State Forest. It sits east of the forest road you crossed after the water source, so look for a beaten path or signage to lead you there. The AT-style shelter is surrounded with a nice flat area for tenting.
13.2 > After emerging from the pine forest to use a forest road to get through a drainage area, the trail emerges at paved Peaden Bridge Road and turns east. Be careful of loose dogs in this area. This 0.8 mile roadwalk continues past homes up to the bridge over Blackwater River, which offers a nice view but no easy way to get to the river for water.
14.0 > Before leaving Peaden Bridge Road to continue north, you pass by some colorful red clay erosional features. North of the road, the trail enters a longleaf pine and oak forest with an open understory and many bracken fern growing up out of the wiregrass.
14.7 > The trail briefly dips down through a bog in the middle of a titi swamp, crossing a series of bog bridges through the dense undergrowth. Past the bog, it rises up into the longleaf again and begins to parallel Sherman Kennedy Road, a dirt road, which sits off to the west, but at a distance. Where the trail crosses old forest roads, expect to encounter slippery clay mud after a rain.
15.6 > Crossing the western fork of Sherman Kennedy Road, the trail continues atop the hills under the longleaf pine, ocassionally using short bog bridges to cross seepage slopes where pitcher plants grow.
16.7 > Coming to the junction with the Wiregrass Trail at a picnic bench, you’ve completed the Jackson Red Ground segment of the Florida Trail. The Jackson Red Ground Trail continues northeast another 4.7 miles to its terminus at Karick Lake North.
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Bear Lake Recreation Area, 850-957-5700, SR 4, Munson. Campsites under the pines with electric and water, sites first-come, first served. Bathhouse. Nice loop around the lake and connector trail to the Florida Trail.
Karick Lake Recreation Areas, 850-983-5363, CR 189, Baker. Camping areas on both the south and north shore of the lake, nicely situated, with bathhouse. First come, first served. Okay to park a car here and be shuttled out to hike back to it, but do let the camp host know that you are leaving your car.
Adventures Unlimited, 850-623-6197, 8974 Tomahawk Landing Rd, Milton FL 32583. It’s a large outdoor recreation facility with canoe/kayak/tubing trips, cabins, camping, inn, ziplines, canopy walks. May provide shuttles for a fee if staff is available, call in advance to arrange.
For the southern trailhead, follow SR 191 north from US 90 through Milton towards Munson to the turnoff for Red Rock Picnic Area on Red Rock Road. Cross the bridge and continue uphill 0.5 mile past the picnic area to the kiosk for the trail. Limited roadside parking.
For the northern trailhead, follow SR 189 north from US 90 to Karick Lake Recreation Area. Use the Jackson Red Ground Trail, which starts at Karick Lake, to connect to the Wiregrass Trail in order to hike south. Alternatively, access the Wiregrass Trail via Hurricane Lake Recreation Area: follow SR 189 north to CR 28; turn west and follow signs to Hurricane Lake.