Using the Florida Trail and the Blue Loop Trail, hikers can explore a picturesque corner of Withlacoochee State Forest in Ridge Manor along a 3.9-mile loop.
Location: Ridge Manor
Length: 3.9 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.526758, -82.218781
Restroom: At the trailhead
Land manager: Florida Forest Service
Open daylight hours. Leashed dogs welcome. Be sure to check on hunting dates before you go. Wear bright orange during hunts. It’s also a smart idea to check on river levels for the Withlacoochee River, since this portion of the trail has been deeply flooded when the river rises.
Take I-75 exit 301 to SR 50. Drive east 1 mile to Croom-Rital Road and turn left at the traffic light. The trailhead is on the right after a quarter mile.
From the parking area, walk past the picnic area on the opposite side of the Withlacoochee State Trail. Look for the fence and a trail kiosk under the big oak tree. Sign in at the trail register and start your hike.
The trail leads through an oak hammock and a pine plantation before it reaches an old pasture where you see the first Blue Loop Trail sign. Turn left and follow this blue-blazed trail downhill into the floodplain.
Curving through a deep basin, it makes its way down to cypress swamps that are occasionally fed by the river overflowing. Notice the watermarks on the trees. They were over our heads when we hiked here.
By 1.7 miles, you reach a T intersection with the orange-blazed Florida Trail at the second Blue Loop Trail sign. Turn right and follow the trail upriver. It offers scenic views not just of the river but of enormous cypress trees and knees in oxbow ponds to your right.
When the trail leaves the river, it follows a long tunnel under the oaks. At the trail junction, stay with the main path and you complete the loop, passing the first Blue Loop Trail sign again. Continue through the pines and oaks to exit.
A pleasant ramble on bluffs above the Withlacoochee River, the Croom River Trail segment of the Florida Trail tunnels through oak hammocks and slips around cypress swamps along its 6.3-mile journey.