Last January, while working on a project for Jackson County Tourism, we stopped by the newly opened Hinson Conservation and Recreation Area at the southern edge of Marianna along the Chipola River Greenway. A gravel road led us down, down, down to a parking area at the river’s edge, with only a short hike available along the river on what looked like an old riverside road. Later that day, we heard that the Panhandle Chapter of the Florida Trail Association would be building a trail system inside the conservation area.
Fast-forward to two weeks ago. Knowing that this new trail system should showcase some particularly interesting features along the Chipola River, we headed for it after breakfast in Marianna en route to the Panhandle Trace Hike.
It did not disappoint! In fact, I’d rate it one of the most interesting trails in Florida for its trailside beauty, particularly along the lower edge of the conservation area, closest to the river. We did the perimeter loop, which is blazed orange.
Right off the bat, we got swarmed by mosquitoes. In March! Unexpected, but we did our best to dash through their stinging little clouds, which thankfully were confined to one particularly marshy area where the trail does it best to show off scenery along the river. The Chipola had flooded recently, and so there was standing water in and around the trail in place where we worked our way around it.
When we reached the beginning of the karst area, what a surprise to find Alamo Cave. Sure, it’s on the trail map, but my goodness, it is BIG! And truly a natural bridge, since you can see right through it to the white-blazed connector trail on the other side.
Soon after, the trail climbed. Seriously climbed. It felt like the Appalachians all over again, with trillium, steep slopes, and what’s that up ahead … a shelter?
It turned out to be an old cabin, but what a beauty spot. Beyond were several deep sinkholes on the opposite side of the trail from the river. The trail continued following the river – from on high, then dropping low again – up to a point where we could see a railroad bridge, then doubled back to continue the loop.
Steep scrambles were the order of the day. Many of them. The loop led us through old pecan groves and back into the deeply shaded forest with its wildflowers. At one intersection of cross-trails, we found the rails of the old M&B Railroad, the same one for which you see the big steam engine in downtown Blountstown. Cleverly, the trail builders had blazed a connector trail right down the old rails.
We didn’t take the shortcut, however, and continued our loop towards the front entrance through pine forests and pecan groves.
On the last quarter of the loop, we encountered a lot of wet, marshy floodplain from recent rains. We picked our way around it as best we could but still got muddy feet. Finally, the trail reached the river again and followed the old road we’d hiked a year ago to return back to the main trailhead.
During our hike, we saw one other family out there rambling around. It turned out to be Sunny Dunn, wife of Joe Dunn, who blogs at Florida Trailblazer, and her brother and nephews. It IS a small world out there for Florida hikers!
Download a map of the Hinson Trail courtesy of the Panhandle Chapter of the Florida Trail Association. These volunteers built this trail system and did a fine job!