7/24/15: The Florida Trail between SW 49th and the Land Bridge will be closed from late July through early September for habitat restoration. The limerock road may be used as an alternative.
This short segment of the Florida Trail on the Cross Florida Greenway offers easy access to one of its most popular destinations—the Land Bridge over Interstate 75. From the highway, it looks somewhat odd, topped with trees, and is certainly a notable landmark for visitors driving south through Ocala. But the nation’s first Land Bridge is only one of the delights of this short but scenic section of trail. Major terrain changes come from the piles left behind – and now carpeted with scrub forest – during the digging of two different canals in two different eras. Mushrooms flourish in the damp leaf litter during the fall months, and orchids bloom each summer. And as you stroll down a former fencerow of live oaks towards the finish, you’ll enter another world.
Location: Ocala / Marion Oaks
Length: 3.6 miles
Lat-Long: 29.040913, -82.201004 (SW 49th Ave trailhead), 29.059735, -82.154948 (Land Bridge)
Fees / Permits: None unless you are camping, which requires a free permit
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: Portable toilet at SW 49th Ave, restrooms at Land Bridge Trailhead.
If you are backpacking and plan to camp en route, please contact the Office of Greenways and Trails (352-236-7143) in advance for a free permit. Inform them of the general area in which you plan to camp (suggestions are made in the text). Florida Trail members do not need a permit to camp along the Cross Florida Greenway if carrying their Florida Trail membership card, but in this urban corridor, it’s safer if you check in and let them know your camping plans.
Office of Greenways and Trails: Land Bridge Section
SW 49th Ave Trailhead: From I-75 Belleview/Dunnellon Exit 324, head west on CR 484 for 2.3 miles. Turn right on Marion Oaks Course at the traffic light. Follow it 0.8 miles as it curves and becomes Marion Oaks Trail. Turn right onto SW 49th Ave and continue 0.4 mile to the trailhead on the right.
The Land Bridge Trailhead (easternmost point) is along CR 475A 2 miles north of CR 484 off the I-75 exit for Belleview / Dunnellon. Head east from I-75 to the first traffic light, turn left and drive north. The trailhead entrance has a turnout lane. Drive past the equestrian parking area and around to the large parking area near the restrooms.
A short stroll through the pines down the blue-blazed connector trail from the SW 49th Avenue Trailhead leads you to the Florida Trail well above where it emerges from the tunnel under the roadway and climbs up a steep hill. A designated primitive campsite lies a little west of this spot, before the downhill. Your hike, however, leads you east, so turn right and follow the orange blazes, taking care not to get them confused with other trails that crisscross in this area atop the bluffs. A steep ascent through a lot of eroded hillside leads to a plateau of sandhill habitat, where turkey oaks show off blazing colors in the fall.
After a mile, you cross a limerock road, and cross over it a second time soon after after jogging to the left. The habitat around you transitions, with taller longleaf pines and sand pines seeping in from the surrounding scrub forest. The remains of a foundation of a building sit in a clearing beneath the tall longleaf pines.
A dense understory of young growth topped with tall sand pines characterizes this part of the hike along a hidden stairstep of canal diggings, with the trail twisting and winding its way through it. Loblolly, sand pine, and longleaf pine share the forest here. Off in the distance – and worth the climb down the slope to see – the far wall of the former canal looks like a massive sand dune.
Continuing its climb, the trail finally emerges at the carriage road after 2.5 miles, with an obvious broad approach to the Land Bridge. It’s here that all four trails meet – mountain bike, carriage, equestrian, and hiking – and according to the cameras mounted along the bridge, wildlife finds it advantageous for crossing the highway as well. Most hikers can’t help but peek down and stare at the traffic through the two portals along this giant planter.
After you wave your farewells to the traffic on I-75, the Land Bridge leads you down a gentle slope and to a trail junction where the biking, equestrian, carriage, and hiking trails each take off in their own directions. There is a kiosk here, and the blue-blazed loop – original thru-trail – takes off to the right behind it. Together with the orange blazes in front of you, it’s part of the Land Bridge Loop. Continue along the broad path and watch for where the orange blazes vanish into the forest to the left; the spot is easy to miss!
The scrub forest that surrounds you is denser than the one on the other side of the bridge, with taller oaks and sand pines. Violet cort mushrooms grow in the leaf litter, and shelf fungi persist on fallen oak logs. The older oaks are sand live oaks, and they grow to significant size in this forest. A bench is provided at one intersection with an equestrian trail, where you can sit and enjoy the cool shade. With each footfall, the sound of the traffic recedes.
Rounding the corner of a ranch fence, the trail meanders through a more open area before crossing the carriage road. This last stretch of trail is one of the finest along the Cross Florida Greenway, showcasing enormous live oaks that were once planted in a row, probably to mark a property boundary. Look to your right and you’ll see one that split apart but continues to grow; you can walk right through its trunk. Another reaches out with spider-like limbs, inviting an easy climb and a photo op. Reaching the second junction with the blue-blazed trail, the Florida Trail emerges from the denser woods to the Land Bridge Trailhead through a fenceline, within sight of the horse corrals, parking area, and restrooms. Hang up your hiking sticks and call it an easy day!
0.0 SW 49th Ave Trailhead
0.2 Reach orange blazed Florida Trail
1.0 cross limerock road
1.1 cross limerock road
1.4 old foundation
2.3 “Sand Dune” diggings
2.5 Cross Land Bridge
2.6 Kiosk; junction with blue trail
3.4 Designated campsite to right
3.5 Second junction with blue trail
3.6 Land Bridge Trailhead