Just north of the bridge that goes over the Econlockhatchee River along Snow Hill Rd there is an equestrian trailhead for Little Big Econ State Forest. This was our destination for this week’s hike. The small, $2 per person, usage fee that is paid on the honor system (like most of the trails in this area) is right next to the gate between the trailer parking area and the forestry service office space. We parked next to the forestry office spaces. There were plenty of spots, and many of them were shaded. Though this is an equestrian trailhead, there are hiking trails that are a little tight for horses, and others that are shared use.
From the forestry office, we followed the road / driveway southwest where it ends at a picnic pavilion. This would be a great place to end a hike with lunch. It is covered, so there’s plenty of shade, and it’s out in the open so there is a really nice breeze. Just past the pavilion is the entrance to the woods. There is a kiosk next to the trail entrance, but today there were no maps or notices posted.
Beyond the trail head is a boardwalk that goes over a swampy area before reaching the river. It was a little wet from last night’s rain, and that made the boards a little slippery to walk on but that beats the alternative if it wasn’t there. Keep an eye on the vines growing on the trees next to the boardwalk – most of them were poison ivy. The vines didn’t encroach on the boardwalk at all, but we always keep our eyes out for that nasty plant.
The boardwalk ends right at the Econ River where the trail follows an open area with little “beaches” along the way. As we walked along the river we startled an alligator who was sunning himself by the river. I just saw a flash of his back as he jumped in the water, and after about half a minute he popped back up to spy on us as he tried to figure out who interrupted his late morning nap.
After watching him watch us for a few minutes, we continued on along the river and came up on what probably used to be a great swimming spot. It was a tree that had fallen into the river with boards nailed to it to make a ladder. The boards are old now, and many are gone, leaving a lot of rusty nails sticking out. It was right around here that I got a nice panoramic photo of Tina by the river. If you look to the right hand side, you’ll see the path that we were following, and on the left is the tea colored river. The color of the river comes from cypress trees – even though the water looks brown, it is clean.
From here the trail bears to the north and leads to a small flood plain that feeds the river. We did a little wandering in this spot before we found a good place to cross. Once we got past a little creek, it was just a matter of walking on clumps of grass to get through it with mostly dry feet. From here the trail took us back into the forest where we found the trail with white blazes.
The white blazes took us through a lush forest and the only place where we had to cross water had a bridge built over it. It seems like this is another one of those trails that doesn’t get a lot of use. Even though it was well marked, there weren’t any signs that we could see of recent foot traffic. Hiking through areas like this is especially fun because I know that there aren’t that many people who get to see what I’m looking at!
This path took us to a trail junction where it joined a horse path that goes north/south. This is a landmark that we knew – we were here before when we hiked along the river from the Barr St. trail head. We followed the horse trail south to the river from here and just enjoyed the view. The bridge area is a great spot to just sit for a bit and watch the river flow.
After exploring the river’s edge for a bit we decided to head back. The plan for our return trip was to follow the horse trail to the north until we got to some benches and then head back east along another horse trail before looking for another path that would take us back to the flood plain.
When we arrived at the first open area we saw some old fence posts; probably from an old ranch, and this was where we broke away from the horse trail. Hindsight is always 20/20, and this is no exception. I think we would have been better off just sticking with the horse trails. It turns out that we had to do some light bushwhacking through the field and woods before we joined back up with the white blaze trail that we followed into the woods earlier. The horse trail would have been an easier hike, so this just added a little adventure to the trip.
This was a fun hike, and with the rain letting up over the past week or so, the trails are less muddy. The weather is also starting to get a little cooler, but not much. By the time we finished up today it was about 90 degrees out, but there was a nice breeze blowing so it was a nice day to be out.