241.0 miles (Tampa, Dade City, Brooksville, Inverness & Ocala). With segments first developed in Withlacoochee State Forest in the 1970s, the Western Corridor of the Florida Trail is one of two options for circling around the Orlando metro. Well-established loops in Green Swamp, Richloam, Croom, and Citrus provide excellent weekend getaways for backpackers, while the thru-trail connects these trails with other public lands to provide a pleasant trail corridor up through the Cross Florida Greenway. The route starts out with the Florida Trail’s longest roadwalk, but also showcases some of its most beautiful parks and preserves along the Nature Coast.
Be aware of hunting season dates for the public lands through this region, especially during general gun season (deer season), when restrictions apply to camping in Green Swamp. Dogs are not permitted in Green Swamp West, Perry Oldenburg WEA, or Chinsegut WEA at any time.
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on symbols for details and directions.
As the state of Florida has done well to protect the floodplain of the Withlacoochee River – one of two rivers in Florida with this name, this one flowing north to the Gulf of Mexico – it made sense that the Florida Trail would parallel this slow-moving waterway. It is one of four rivers born from the rainfall that patters across the Green Swamp. Despite its name, it’s not a swamp like Big Cypress, but a mosaic of habitats, most well above water level. Only in times of great rainfall does hiking within the Withlacoochee’s floodplain become dangerous, most notably at the ford of Devil’s Creek in the south end of Richloam. At times it can be a few inches deep, but in flood stage it can be over your head.
After introducing you to the haunting Cypress Lakes and winding along the river bluffs through the southern portion of Croom, the trail leaves the river near Silver Lake to head into some of the highest uplands in Central Florida. Longleaf pine and wiregrass characterize these sandhill forests when they are well-managed. When they’re not, a dense climax forest of laurel oak takes over.
A brief walk through Perry Oldenburg WEA, established as a relocation site for gopher tortoises, leads to a connector trail in flux. Plans are for the route to head to the Citrus Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest to join the trail that’s been in place since 1976. Until a route is finalized, hikers walk up to and through Chinsegut WEA, at the base of Chinsegut Hill. Atop the high hill to the south sits Chinsegut Manor, established in 1852 and open for tours. The trail circles May’s Prairie, a haunting place where the melodies of birdsong mingle with the chorus of frogs and the rattle of sandhill cranes. A roadwalk to Citrus follows, broken up with a stop to soak in Florida’s past at Lake Lindsay Mall.
Citrus is one of Florida’s best backpacking loops for its distance, diversity, and rugged terrain. Karst features – crevices, caves, and sinkholes – formed in the earth atop this high ground. The outer perimeter is a 43 mile loop, of which the Florida Trail follows the eastern side. Surface water is nearly non-existent, save for Stage Pond, south of the trail, and a few algae-coated rainwater cisterns meant for watering horses. The immersion in these wildlife-rich woods makes this hike a joy. Exiting into Inverness, the trail continues through relict sandhill forest inside Whispering Pines Park before dropping down to the Withlacoochee State Trail, which the Florida Trail plays tag with from Croom north. While it is paved, the rail-trail connects a string of communities that sit near or along Lake Tsala Apopka and the Withlacoochee River, culminating at Dunnellon. It’s here that the footpath uses the paved Dunnellon Trail to cross the river, offering one final look at the river before it turns to the northwest to follow the Cross Florida Greenway. Here, you touch history along a deep, dry canal from the 1930s filled with a pine forest, and the dirt beside it piled up and covered in forest.
Scrambles, drop-offs, and even some switchbacks mean interesting hiking, especially when you take the time for the side trips to see the views and the massive dune created by the diggings. The landscape is high and dry; water must be obtained at trailheads. Crossing the interstate, the Land Bridge was the first to be built in the United States. It’s a giant planter filled with dirt and well-established native plants, serving as a wildlife corridor as well as a connector for trails. East of Santos, the corridor is not so broad, so Ocala presses in closely up to the Baseline trailhead.
Once the Florida Trail enters Marshall Swamp, it is back in the floodplain of tributaries that feed the St. Johns River to the east. Ancient cypress stumps – and the few large cypresses that survived the loggers’ axe – rise from an understory of ferns beneath a canopy of tall trees. A short roadwalk along Sharpes Ferry Road connects the trail to the Ocala National Forest, where it traverses some of the wettest habitats found in the forest as it works its way up towards Lake Eaton. Crossing Eaton Creek, it’s as if a switch was thrown: the forest is now dry as a desert, the trail winding through sand pine scrub in varying patches of height and age. This immersion in the Big Scrub continues until the corridor ends just north of The 88 Store.
Florida Trail, Three Lakes to Green Swamp
69.1 miles. The longest roadwalk on the Florida Trail takes you along the south and west edge of the Orlando metro area, with some sidewalks and bicycle paths incorporated where possible.
Florida Trail, Green Swamp East
13.4 miles. A mosaic of habitats from which four major Florida rivers rise, the Green Swamp is not what it sounds like, although the eastern portion is wetter than the west. Floodplain forests and stands of cypress parallel the Withlacoochee River but much of the walking is on old forest roads.
Florida Trail, Green Swamp West
7.2 miles. Between trailheads along CR 471 and River Road, the Florida Trail leaves the river floodplain – where a network of connecting trails are part of the BSA Bigfoot Wilderness Camp – and sticks to high and dry sandhills and pine forests punctuated by picturesque ponds. Subtract 1.5 miles if you are not stopping at the River Road trailhead.
Florida Trail, Green Swamp / Richloam
14.9 miles. North of River Road, the trail makes its way to the bluffs above the Withlacoochee River to parallel the river north into Richloam, where ancient cypresses dominate the river floodplain and the uplands are a mix of hardwood forest and pines. Subtract 1.5 miles if you do not start from the River Road trailhead; Lacoochee Road is the first trail access point in Richloam.
Florida Trail, Richloam
5.9 miles. North of Lacoochee Road, the Florida Trail leaves the river entirely, crossing pine flatwoods and sandhills while rounding cypress swamps. A side trail leads to the Richloam Firetower trailhead before the trail uses old SR 50 to emerge to the connecting roadwalk at SR 50.
Florida Trail, Ridge Manor Connector
3 miles. Roadwalk along SR 50 and US 301 to Ridge Manor Blvd, where you continue on a sidewalk (passing a community park en route) to the next piece of public land at Cypress Lakes Preserve.
1.6 miles. A Hernando County natural land, the 331-acre Cypress Lakes Preserve protects a variety of habitats above the Withlacoochee River basin with sandhills in the uplands and the floodplain forest of Cypress Lake, where the Florida Trail winds along the shoreline to showcase ancient cypresses. A 0.6 mile roadwalk uses the shoulder of SR 50 to cross the Withlacoochee River to Croom.
Florida Trail, Croom South
6.6 miles. Staying close to the Withlacoochee River for most of its length, the River Trail in Croom is graced with ancient cypresses at its south end, where you can ponder the water’s flow from several benches. As it transitions into upland habitats, an old fence divides the trail from the river along its bluffs. Walk-in camping is possible at Crooked River Campground, where there is also a trailhead. Access via a 0.7 mile blue blaze from the Ridge Manor trailhead at the south end, and via the orange blazed Cypress Glen Trail from the grassy trailhead parking area along Croom-Rital Road.
Florida Trail, Croom North
9.6 miles. Paralleling the Withlacoochee State Trail from the Croom trailhead north, the Florida Trail continues into rolling sandhills, oak hammocks, and pine flatwoods – all high and dry habitats – north of Silver Lake up to Willow Street. The Silver Lake Loop and Croom Loops connect to this portion of the trail; be sure to stick with the orange blazes for the thru-trail. A trail crossing on Croom Road makes it possible to break this hike up into shorter segments. A 0.8 mile roadwalk up rural Willow Street leads to the next segment.
Florida Trail, Perry Oldenberg WEA
1.4 miles. A preserve for gopher tortoises, Perry Oldenburg is home to an unusually diverse number of oak species. The Florida Trail crosses the preserve through longleaf pine forest and hardwood forest between a trail access off Willow Street and the trailhead off Deer Run Rd. A 1.9 mile roadwalk up Deer Run Rd and US 41 S leads to the next segment.
Florida Trail, Chinsegut WEA
2 miles. Traversing the rolling sandhills of Chinsegut Hill between the Prairie-to-Pines trailhead and Lake Lindsay Road, you’re immersed in a forest of tall longleaf pines before following the rim of May’s Prairie, a great birding location, into cypress swamps and relict sandhills.
Florida Trail, Chinsegut to Citrus Connector
7.9 miles. A roadwalk segment following Lake Lindsey Rd and CR 481 (Snow Memorial Hwy) between Chinsegut Hill Nature Center and the D Loop crossing of the Citrus Hiking Trail along CR 480 (Stagecoach Rd) in the Citrus Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest.
15.2 miles. Home of one of Florida’s longest backpacking loops (43.5 miles), the Citrus Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest also hosts a linear segment of the Florida Trail following the east side of the outer loop, where you’ll come across mining history and caves. A half mile walk through a residential area in Inverness leads to the next segment.
Florida Trail, Whispering Pines Park
1.1 miles. The Florida Trail stays to the outer edge of this 290-acre park, slipping through a forest of pines and oaks past picnic areas, a group campsite, and a disc golf course. It connects with numerous other trails in the park before reaching an unusual staircase down to the Withlacoochee State Trail.
Florida Trail, Withlacoochee State Trail
14.7 miles. Sharing one of Florida’s longest paved rail-trails for its northernmost stretch, the Florida Trail passes through commercial and residential areas and the small towns of Hernando and Holder before reaching the northern terminus of the bike path just south of Dunnellon. A 1.7 mile connecting roadwalk leads to the next bike path. Plans are eventually to connect the two bike paths.
2.4 miles. A deeply shaded corridor that crosses the Withlacoochee River on a substantial bridge, the Dunnellon Trail segment is a paved bike path with a side trail to Blue Run Park in the very outdoorsy town of Dunnellon. Beyond the turnoff, the trail continues into a more open area as it approaches the Bridges Rd trailhead.
37.1 miles. One of the best-loved segments of the Florida Trail in Central Florida, the Cross Florida Greenway section provides physical challenges thanks to its rugged terrain as well as an immersion in nature in a no-hunting zone that wraps around Ocala. This is a high and dry section of trail, with the exception of Marshall Swamp at the eastern end, so your water sources are primarily at trailheads. A 3.2 mile roadwalk up Sharpes Ferry Rd leads to the final segment.
Florida Trail, Ocala West
22.9 miles. Traversing the swampier side of the Ocala National Forest closest to the Ocklawaha River, the Florida Trail dives through Hulls Creek Swamp before crossing drainages around Lake Eaton. A distinct change occurs to the north: beyond Mud Lake, the Big Scrub is the predominant feature, a desert-like habitat with no surface water.
Green Swamp Loops
2.3 and 9.4 miles. Part of the original Florida Trail developed in the Green Swamp, the Blue and White Loops offer day hike and overnight options from the trailhead along Rock Ridge Road. Both begin 2.6 miles from the trailhead, just north of the Withlacoochee River, and head into dry upland areas once they leave the cypress-lined river floodplain. At times when the main gate is open, it’s possible to park close to the beginning of the loops for day use.
Boy Scout Trails
9.8 miles. Developed by the local council of the Boy Scouts of America as an outdoor destination for Scouting, the trail system at Bigfoot Wilderness Camp occupies the southern portion of Green Swamp West between SR 471 and River Road. While it – and the Florida Trail that connects to it – are maintained by the Scouts, hikers and backpackers are welcome to enjoy the three loop trails, which include 3 miles of the Florida Trail as a connector for each of the loops. The first loop starts 1.3 miles east of the McNeil Trailhead on SR 471.
25.8 miles. One of the first backpacking loops built in Florida, the loop trail at Richloam offers a diversity of habitats, from pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks to extensive cypress swamps and even a eucalyptus grove tucked deep in the woods. Since it sits between the floodplain of two rivers, the trail system can be very wet at times.
Richloam River Trail
1.5 miles. Signposted as “Scenic Low Water River Trail,” this blue-blazed trek along the Withlacoochee River shouldn’t be missed. The cypresses along the river grow to enormous size, and the trail weaves through these natural cathedrals. You can make a day hike loop from Lacoochee Road by following both the River Trail and the Florida Trail, a 2.7 mile hike.
Silver Lake Trail
1.5 miles. A former portion of the Florida Trail connecting from Cypress Glen to Silver Lake Campground, this pretty footpath leads through sandhill habitats before traversing the campground along the shores of Silver Lake. It ends at the boat ramp in Silver Lake Recreation Area, where the loop trail begins.
Silver Lake Loop
3.6 miles. Also formerly a portion of the Florida Trail, the blue-blazed Silver Lake Loop offers a look at both the cypress floodplain and the upland sandhills above the Withlacoochee River. The southern terminus is at the boat ramp in Silver Lake Recreation Area, where it can disappear under floodwaters. The Florida Trail shares this route on the western side of the loop.
14.4 miles. The Florida Trail follows the eastern edge of the Croom Loops, a series of three stacked loops in the deeply forested uplands of Withlacoochee State Forest. The longest loop you can do is 14.4 miles along the perimeter, but there are shorter options by using the connector trails. This is another popular backpacking destination, but water is quite scarce.
1.5 miles. An easy loop through longleaf pine and oak forest, the Perry Oldenburg Nature Trail is a great place to spot fox squirrels and gopher tortoises in this wildlife-rich preserve, which is firmly amid rolling sandhills.
3.4 miles. The Florida Trail follows the western side of the loop around May’s Prairie at Chinsegut WEA; the eastern side has an old highway bridge along it. Access the loop from the Prairie-to-Pines trailhead, which also has several miles of trails to the west leading to Big Pine Tract, home to one of the southernmost stands of ancient longleaf pines.
43.3 miles. One of Florida’s longest and most picturesque backpacking loops, the Citrus Hiking Trail offers more than 43 miles of rugged and interesting terrain in Withlacoochee State Forest, with shorter options possible using the cross trails. The Florida Trail follows the eastern side of the perimeter loop.
7.6 miles. Connecting with and sharing portions of the Florida Trail in Whispering Pines Park is an extensive network of trails open to hikers and cyclists, including the 2.9 mile Perimeter Trail, the 2.3 mile Yellow Trail, and several other connector trails.
46 miles. With 31.3 miles of one of the state’s longest bike paths to the south of its connection with the Florida Trail, there’s plenty to explore as it heads through Inverness and Floral City down through Croom to Dade City. It’s best enjoyed on a bike, which you can rent trailside near downtown Inverness.
3.7 miles. Two natural footpaths loop through deeply shaded woods around swamp and pond features in this city park along the Rainbow River in Dunnellon, which connects to the Dunnellon Trail via a paved bike path. A kayak launch / take-out for tubing makes this a popular place on weekends.
3.5 miles. A loop using blue-blazed connectors and the Florida Trail to circle Ross Prairie through pine forests and oak hammocks, the Ross Prairie Loop shows off the beauty of this prairie ecosystem on the Cross Florida Greenway.
3 miles. Using the Florida Trail and the blue-blazed loop leading south near the Land Bridge – the original Florida Trail to the bridge – you can hike an easy loop through relict sandhills and restored longleaf pines. The trail passes through an old homestead and intersects numerous equestrian trails.
30 miles. A network of twisting, winding off-road bicycle trails that dip into old limestone pits, the Santos Trails, south of Ocala, are a mecca for cyclists who enjoy riding through the woods. The Pine Tree Loop, an easy ride on the perimeter, intersects the Florida trail several times.
Ship Canal Trail
1.2 miles. Newly updated, the Ship Canal Trail showcases a series of historic bridge piers in the median of US 441, built in the 1930s for a bridge over a canal that never happened. Interpretive information will be added to the loop to help tell the story of the canal that never was.
2.7 miles. A paved bike path between the Baseline and SE 64th Ave trailheads on the Cross Florida Greenway, the Baseline Trail is crossed by the Florida Trail several times through restored pine flatwoods and sandhill forest.
- Portions of the trail are high and dry with limited water sources. Because of this, logistical planning is crucial when backpacking in Croom, Citrus, and the Cross Florida Greenway.
- The Cross Florida Greenway provides a 39-mile corridor for backpacking the Florida Trail where hunting is not permitted. It’s an ideal destination for overnight trips during general gun season in the fall.
- Brooksville, Dade City, Dunnellon, Inverness, and Silver Springs make great base camps for day hiking portions of the Florida Trail that surround them. You’ll find both motels and campgrounds on public land in these communities.
- The trail route passes through urban, industrial, and suburban areas for much of the roadwalk connector up to Green Swamp, so make use of motels in St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and Davenport: stealth camping isn’t safe. Use your street smarts while walking through urban residential areas and don’t leave your backpack unattended.
- Should you have gear issues, there are two outfitters in Ocala, north of the Cross Florida Greenway – Gander Mountain and Flint Creek Outfitters – with camping gear in stock.