Rapids between cypress knees? That’s what you’ll see when “surf’s up” along the Suwannee after a good rain. This region has spectacular geology thanks to its karst topography. Karst occurs when water and mild acid (from tree leaves and other natural detritus) seeps into porous rock, and Florida has a plentiful supply of just that—limestone. Erosion creates caves and sinkholes, and this is an excellent hike to see water dashing downhill and carving its own deep ravine through the forest.
Location: White Springs
Length: 3.3 miles
Lat-Long: 30.3778, -82.8789
Fees / Permits: None
Bug factor: low to moderate
This is not a trail for people with balance issues or for small children. Pets are permitted but the trail clings to the steep sides of the ravine, where a misstep by an eager dog could mean a slide into the roaring creek and sinkhole. Camping is permitted near where this trail connects with the Florida Trail.
From White Springs, follow US 41 north to the first left past the gate of Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park. Turn left on CR 25A. Drive 8 miles. CR 25A goes on an overpass over Interstate 75. The turnoff is on the left, onto a narrow single-track jeep road. Signage is from the opposite direction. If you pass the I-75 weigh station on the right, you missed the turn. Turn around and you’ll see the sign this time (I’ve done this maneuver every time, it’s easy to miss). The Camp Branch trailhead is at the end of this narrow single-lane jeep track.
Starting at the parking area for the Camp Branch Conservation Area, follow the broad jeep road through a steep downhill and back up again through lush, shady upland forest. This white-blazed connector trail is part of the bicycle trail system in the area and also provides access to the Florida Trail. It’s easy to follow and flattens out quickly after that first big dip. Don’t miss the double blaze where it goes around a curve to the right after 0.7 mile. The road zigzags in a few spots before coming to the blue blazes of the of the Disappearing Creek Loop, which is an official side trail off the Florida Trail.
Turn right to walk the loop counter-clockwise (the best way to experience it, in our opinion). The trail sits at a pretty steep pitch on the ravine slope. Below, Camp Branch – as long as it’s flowing – burbles and bubbles between narrows created by the steep sides of the ravine and the thick buttresses of ancient cypress trees. It pours past cypress knees. You’re walking against the flow, so you can see the tiny whitewater dramas the best.
At roughly 1.3 miles, you reach the bridge across Camp Branch. It’s a bit canted from floodwaters shifting it off its moorings. The far side of the ravine is steep, and as we discovered, the bridge is posted “do not cross” on this side. The trail turns left to head downstream. Here, you’re higher above the ravine and the views are broader.
As the trail works its way down to the lip of the big swallet sinkhole, you get a good view of what happens to Camp Branch. Here’s why we call it Disappearing Creek! It’s not unusual in karst for creeks and even rivers to vanish underground into eroded channels in the limestone and pop up again elsewhere. In this case, Camp Branch emerges in the Suwannee River.
When you get to the end of the loop, you’re back at the jeep trail. You have two options: head left to back uphill to the parking area, or head right to take a short jaunt down to the Florida Trail. From a side trail off the FT to the left you can catch a glimpse of the Suwannee River – and to the right you can walk on the forest floor above where Camp Branch is flowing below.