This segment of the Florida Trail near Destin is on a swath of public land with a long and storied history. Established concurrently with the Ocala National Forest in 1908, the Choctawhatchee National Forest protected a vast swath of old growth longleaf pine forest.
In 1940, the Federal Government decided to make the area a military reservation for munitions testing, and Eglin Air Force Base was born. Covering 724 square miles, it is the largest military reservation in Florida. Public recreation has always been a cornerstone of base policy, so the Florida Trail Association was granted permission to build a segment of the National Scenic Trail through the reservation. It is one of the most beautiful backpacking trips in Florida, with deeply shaded old-growth forest, dozens of streams creating ravines through the clayhills, seepage slopes with pitcher plants, and nice designated campsites set 8-12 miles apart. A rugged adventure with the occasional aural accompaniment of bombs bursting in air, it’s a must-hike for any serious backpacker.
Location: DeFuniak Springs to Crestview
Length: 45.2 miles
Lat-Long: 30.686233, -86.571317 (SR 85 / Shoal River) and (US 331 / Eglin Portal)
Fees / Permits: Eglin recreation permit required. $5 fee per campsite.
Bug factor: Moderate
There are eight designated campsites along the route. Designated campsites must be used when hiking in Eglin Air Force Base. No dogs are permitted. Carry your permit with you at all times. Hikers must check in and check out at trailhead kiosks. Do not touch anything that appears to be ordinance (missiles, grenades, and bombs). If you see any on or near the trail, please report them as soon as you can to Security Forces at (850) 882-2502.
Before your visit, call call 850-882-0007 to ensure the base is open: FPCON DELTA status means the base is closed to public access.
The eastern trail access for this section is along US 331 several miles south of I-10 at DeFuniak Springs. The western trail access is south of Crestview along SR 85, about a mile after the Shoal River bridge on the east side of the highway. Parking is roadside at US 331.
Sign in at the US 331 trail kiosk, and take the bottom portion of the self-registration card with you. You walk west along the footpath on rolling sandhills topped with scattered longleaf pines, turkey oaks, and clusters of sand live oaks, before the trail drops into a ravine at Switch Cane Creek. Cross the bridge and continue uphill, passing under power lines before you come to another bridge at White Branch. Just a mile after you cross RR 201, you reach the Eglin Portal Campsite at 2.9 miles, with benches clustered around a fire ring.
Obtain water from the next creek crossing, 0.1 mile west of the trail. At 3.4 miles, a blue-blazed side trail provides a safe route around Alaqua Creek during times of high water. Continue on the orange blazes across Blount Creek, after which the trail makes a turn before dropping down into the Alaqua Creek floodplain at 5.6 miles. If the creek is at flood stage, retrace your steps to the high water route and use it to continue west.
Crossing RR 317 and Dorris Branch in quick succession, the trail meets the west end of the blue-blazed high water route at 7.5 miles, back on RR 317. Continue west under a series of power lines to Sparkleberry Creek. Most of the creeks along the route create ravines, breaking up the walk through the sandhills as the trail drops down the slopes of the ravine to cross the stream. After Oakie Creek, you cross RR 208 and two more streams before reaching the Alaqua Campsite at 11.9 miles. Pitch your tent on the soft pine duff and relax at the picnic table or on one of the benches around the fire ring. West of the campsite, the trail drops down through two drainages before rising up into the sandhills, crossing several unmarked jeep trails. Dropping down through a short shady stretch of titi swamp, you come to the bridge over Little Alaqua Creek at 13.6 miles. Pause on the span and enjoy the fragrance of rhododendron in bloom in spring. After a series of puncheons take you across broad White Top Creek, the trail continues uphill sharply, and the trail makes a left turn past a steephead where endangered white-topped pitcher plants thrive. Rising through pine flatwoods, you emerge at the Alaqua Trailhead at 15.2 miles on Bob Sikes Road. Fill out another self-registration card and cross the road.
Heading north from the Alaqua Trailhead, the trail crosses Anise Creek and RR 323 before turning west to follow the northern border of Eglin AFB. As I-10 is less than a mile away, you may hear the hum of traffic. West of RR 210 and the power lines, you cross Bull Creek on a bridge and reach the Bullhide Campsite at 18.7 miles, with its fire ring and benches. Along this northern fringe of the base, you’ll walk through pine flatwoods and sandhills with smidgens of titi swamp in the lowlands, crossing Buck Branch, Live Oak Branch, and Titi Creek as well as several range roads before coming to RR 214 at 25.2 miles, which parallels an abandoned railroad spur. Just 1.5 miles north on RR 214 is a convenience store in the town of Mossy Head, but resupply closer to the trail is coming up soon. West of RR 214, the trail crosses East Hog Creek, West Hog Creek, and Deer Creek, coming to the Red Deer campsite at 27.2 miles. A short blue-blazed trail leads to the campsite, which has benches around a fire ring. Continuing west, you cross Wise Creek.
After 29.1 miles, you cross SR 285. The trail turns south to follow an abandoned portion of old SR 285 for 0.1 mile to the SR 285 trailhead. Before heading west on the trail, don’t forget to fill out another self-registration card. After you cross RR 207, a blue blaze leads east to the Speck Pond campsite, which is accessible to car campers and not as pleasant as the Eglin campsites you’ve encountered thus far. Crossing Gum Creek and Dog Creek, the trail continues west across several more range roads and creeks in the sandhills before coming to the JR Walton Pond campsite at 37.6 miles, with benches around the fire ring. At Honey Creek, there are benches for you to sit and relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery. You cross several more named creeks and range roads, and then pass under a power line before arriving at a short blue blaze leading to the Pearl Campsite at 44.3 miles. West of the campsite, you cross Pearl Creek on a bridge, continuing through the sandhill forest for another mile to emerge at the SR 85 trailhead.
0.0 US 331 / Eglin Portal Trailhead
2.9 Eglin Portal Campsite
11.9 Alaqua Campsite
15.2 Alaqua Trailhead
18.7 Bullhide Campsite
25.4 RR 214 / access north to Mossy Head (resupply)
27.2 Red Deer Campsite
29.1 SR 285
31.4 Speck Pond Campsite
37.6 JR Walton Campsite
44.3 Pearl Campsite
45.2 SR 85 / Shoal River Trailhead