Following the gentle curves of the Sopchoppy River as it carves itself deeply into the bedrock of the Apalachicola National Forest, the Sopchoppy River section of the Florida Trail is one of the most scenic segments of the trail statewide. Most of this segment sticks close to the river bluffs, affording fabulous views around every bend.
Fed by the swamps of the Apalachicola National Forest, the Sopchoppy River snakes through a mostly-wild landscape for 46 miles, emptying out into the Ochlockonee River just upstream from Ochlockonee River State Park. This section of the Florida Trail provides the best perspective of the river other than from a kayak.
This is not a “flat Florida” sort of hike. Being along the bluffs of the Sopchoppy River means dipping in and out of old floodplain channels, so there are steep climbs and a lot of dropoffs into the rocky river basin. But that’s part of the fun.
The river channel has cut deeply here, so you’re looking down or ahead through this portion of the trail. Eventually, the trail leaves the river to plunge into a titi swamp and then into the pine flatwoods. The reason for that is the placement of the Monkey Creek Bridge, an extraordinary effort over a decade ago to replace other bridges closer to the river that kept washing away. This sturdy bridge is built to last, and a good thing, as Monkey Creek rises and falls over and over again.
After a short stretch crossing forest roads and another patch of scrub forest, the trail starts to hug the river bluffs. It’s here that native azaleas bloom profusely in springtime, lending their sweet fragrance to the air. The river is broader and less deep, so the trail dips down to river level a handful of times, providing places to filter water. Near the end of this segment, the footpath leaves the river bluffs to pass through Martian Camp, a designated campsite, before emerging onto FR 329 within view of the “Martian Bridge” for a short walk west to the trailhead.
The Apalachicola National Forest is a popular destination for hunters, especially during the fall deer season, when hikers are restricted to camping at designated campsites. The remainder of the year, you are welcome to random camp in any pleasant spot. Check hunt dates as a part of your trip planning, and always wear bright orange clothing during hunting seasons.
It’s always smart to check the water gauge for the Sopchoppy River before heading out on a hike on this section of the Florida Trail, since you don’t want to get caught here in a flood. If water is flowing across the trail – and especially if Monkey Creek has topped the footbridge – turn back.
Walking southbound along this section of the Florida Trail from the FR 329 trailhead to the Oak Park trailhead.
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 > Leaving the massive Oak Park trailhead, be sure to stay left at the first junction. The trail to the right is a dead-end created when a new bridge was built up ahead. Past the junction, the trail dips deeply down a hillside and reaches the new suspension bridge. Enjoy the view of the cascades below.
0.5 > After passing under power transmission lines and through a small patch of scrub forest, the trail emerges on the bluffs of the Sopchoppy River to begin its scenic journey along this tannic waterway.
1.0 > One of the delights of hiking this section is seeing all the bizarre and unusual cypress trees along and in the river. There is one with a base as flat as the bottom of a shovel, other that seems to be twisted around and around, and another with a base that looks like a giant hoop skirt blocking the river’s flow. You’ll see that one here. Look for a cypress with a heart-shaped hole in it, too.
1.2 > Along this section of the river you’ll see many cypresses with unusual knees, and cypress knees actually defining portions of the shoreline. The trail overlooks a peninsula that juts out into the river as it rounds a bend.
1.4 > After the trail leaves the river, it leads you into a tunnel of titi. Depending on recent rains, it can be soggy or flooded underfoot, or completely dry. In the spring, when the titi is blooming, the scent can be almost overwhelming. The trail emerges from the titi to climb up into pine flatwoods.
1.8 > Dropping down through the pines to the Monkey Creek bridge, the trail affords an opportunity to peek beneath it on the southwest side of the bridge, the best spot to filter water along this section. Monkey Creek makes an excellent gauge for the depth of Bradwell Bay, since it is the sole drainage for the huge swamp basin. If the creek is running high and fast and is hard to approach, Bradwell Bay may be too deep to wade. If the creek is low and you can wander down to its edge with no problem, Bradwell Bay may be wet but easy to cross right now.
2.2 > After a short stretch of pine flatwoods and scrub forest, the trail rejoins the river bluffs. Views are partly obscured by vegetation but you can hear the burble of a cascade dropping into the river on the far shore. Work has been done over the past year to move the trail away from some of the steeper side channels to eliminate the need for bridges, so expect some footpath that isn’t well worn yet in places.
2.7 > The trail drops down to a couple of natural sand beaches along the river. One of them provides better footing than the other to filter water from the river. Florida azalea blooms in spring along the next mile of trail, with soft pink flowers and an attractive fragrance. The footpath remains close to the river as it climbs up on small bluffs.
3.6 > Another ancient cypress with an enormous base occupies much of the center of the river channel. Look up, and you’ll see how it towers above the forest around you.
3.8 > The trail leaves the river and hooks to the west through a clearing that is now Martian Camp, the one designated campsite along this section. The name comes from the nearby highway bridge over the river, which you’ll see as the trail reaches FR 329 – it sits to the east and the trail goes in the opposite direction. Once upon a time – and it was nearly two decades ago when we nabbed a picture of it – the guardrail had a long and amusing story scrawled on it about an alien abduction. It’s now faded to the point there isn’t anything left to see, but the locals still joke about it.
4.1 > After following the road briefly, this segment ends at the FR 329 trailhead, eastern gateway to the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.
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Closest services to the Oak Park trailhead are in Sopchoppy. The FR 329 trailhead is too deep in the Apalachicola National Forest to be near any services.
RESUPPLY: Sopchoppy Grocery, 850-962-2231, 60 Rose St, Sopchoppy, FL 32358. Small grocery store for this historic community, with fresh fruit, meats, typical resupply basics. Call ahead for hours. Closed Sundays. You’ll also find two small convenience stores at the corner of Rose St. and US 319 in Sopchoppy.
LODGING: Buckhorn Creek AirBnB. Long-time outdoor enthusiasts and friends of ours take in guests in a peaceful setting surrounded by St. Marks NWR. May be able to assist guests with logistics or meals, check ahead.
CAMPING: Myron B. Hodge City Park, 850-962-5486, 220 Park Avenue, Sopchoppy FL. Campsites along the Sopchoppy River, $15. Bathhouse and riverside swings, nature trail. Can accomodate tents or campers. Call ahead for reservations or contact them by email.
The Oak Park trailhead is 6.3 miles north of Sopchoppy. From downtown Sopchoppy, follow Railroad Avenue north. Entering the rural community of Oak Park, it becomes Oak Park Road, which turns to dirt (and becomes FR 365) as it enters the Apalachicola National Forest. Once you’re on the dirt road, turn left at FR 343. After the road crosses the Sopchoppy River, there is an enormous trailhead parking area on the right side of the road.
The FR 329 trailhead is along the edge of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness and can be difficult to get to at times, depending on road conditions. Avoid driving through mud puddles on these forest roads as there is no way to gauge depth. Follow the above directions, but don’t turn onto FR 343. Instead, continue straight north another 0.9 mile and bear left onto FR 349, leaving Oak Park Road. Continue 1.8 miles to a T intersection with FR 348. Turn left. Drive another 0.6 mile to the turnoff for FR 329. Turn left and cross the highway bridge (Martian Bridge) over the Sopchoppy River. The trailhead is on the right after 0.4 miles, and has a small parking area.