Appealing for both hiking and offroad cycling, the Eastern Lake Trail offers a variety of options.
It is made up of three loops: 3.6 miles for the Yellow Trail, 5.9 miles for the Red Trail, and 10.9 miles for the Orange Trail.
Each of these overlays the other in distance, with the Orange Trail being the most diverse for an offroad ride or backpacking trip.
Four miles out along that loop, you’ll find a set of primitive campsites and an additional 0.9-mile round-trip near Eastern Lake, the Cassine Trail.
Arrows and ribbons in yellow, red, and orange mark the routes. All are well blazed, and there is a kiosk with a map at each junction.
Mileposts are set up along the outer loop ride, and they correspond to numbered locations on the official map you can download below.
Cyclists should follow the trails in the direction of the mileposts, which are counterclockwise along the Orange Trail.
Expect the usual trail hazards for the Florida Panhandle, particularly if you’re biking: deep soft sand, mud, flooded titi swamps and cypress domes, and drivers on forest roads.
Hunting is a big deal here during the fall deer hunting season. If you choose to ride or hike during hunting season, check on hunt dates and wear bright orange.
When we researched the trail, Sandra hiked the Yellow Trail while John biked the Orange Trail. Both took us roughly two hours.
While portions of the trail are singletrack, some pieces are a walk or ride along forest roads in a natural setting.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Point Washington
Length: Loops of 3.6, 5.9, or 10.9 miles
Trailhead: 30.3420, -86.1313
Address: 2400 S CR 395, Santa Rosa Beach
Fees: $2 per person day use fee. Annual pass available
Restroom: Privy available at the Eastern Lake campground
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome. Day use fees payable at self-pay stations.
To report trail or forest issues, call 850-547-7083. For law enforcement, call 1-888-4040-3922. Seasonal hunting occurs. If you plan to hit the trails here, check ahead regards hunt dates.
If you plant to backpack, the Eastern Lake primitive campsites must be reserved in advance through Reserve America. A link is provided at the bottom of this page. Campers may also arrive by vehicle, especially during hunting season.
From Interstate 10, follow US 331 south through Freeport and continue across Choctawhatchee Bay to meet US 98 at Point Washington. Turn east to reach CR 395. From Destin or Panama City Beach, US 98 to CR 395 is the quickest way to reach the trailhead. From the communities along 30A, the trailhead is 1.8 miles north of CR 30A at Seaside along CR 395.
Hike or Bike
Three trails radiate from the Eastern Lake Trail trailhead, which is visually confusing but obvious once you read the signs.
To follow the Eastern Lake Trail, ignore the trail across CR 395, which connects to Grayton Beach State Park. Also ignore the Longleaf Pine Greenway, which heads north paralleling CR 395.
Follow the fence to the entry point that passes the picnic tables in the oak scrub, and you’ll see the well-worn path leading into the sandhills.
A cypress strand occupies the horizon to the north, with a line of titi swamp along it. The trail crosses a drainage out of the swamp over a small bridge.
Soon after the bridge, you see the three diamonds that mark the trail: orange, red, yellow. Each has an arrow on it.
We followed the route counterclockwise. To do so, at the junction with the loop, keep right.
At the next T intersection, the trail turns left. It’s a broad sandy path through thinned planted pines, carpeted with pine needles.
In fall, goldenrod gleamed throughout the understory. A quarter mile in, a boardwalk leads through a wall of titi swamp.
On the other side, the forest is undergoing transformation back to sandhills, with an open understory filled with wiregrass.
Longleaf pine and turkey oak dominate the forest. In November, the oak leaves were starting to turn to orange and crimson.
Beyond a freshly cleared area about to undergo similar restoration, a power station is visible in the distance.
The trail crosses a forest road through a gap in a split rail fence at a half mile.
Turning to singletrack, the trail weaves through an ecotone between more mature sandhills and sand pine scrub, passing beneath tall Choctawhatchee sand pines.
Opening up into pine flatwoods, the trail heads through a very immersive landscape.
Within the next half mile, saw palmetto starts to dominate the understory. Small grassy marshes appear in open areas fed by seeps.
Cross the forest road again at 1.1 miles, the trail diamonds leading towards what looks like a wall of cypress and titi beyond the pines.
Leading through younger pines in scrubby flatwoods, the singletrack skirts close to the dense shrubby titi.
It finally dives into the titi swamp, where the path plunges into a stretch of mud followed by roots and dark water of indeterminate depth.
A footpath has been flagged and carved through slightly drier ground to the left, snaking under a very low canopy of cypress and titi.
Hikers can follow the bypass easily. Cyclists may find it difficult to get through the trees, so riding through the swamped trail may be necessary.
Climbing up out of the titi swamp, you’re in scrubby flatwoods with a very dense understory.
The ground is still moist, so the singletrack has a deep impression through the forest.
With more elevation gain, the habitat opens up into sandhills with a grassy understory.
A not-yet thinned stand of planted pine with saw palmetto beneath it forms an island in the middle of the restored sandhills.
To the left, older cypress ride well above the titi, making it known that you’re paralleling a cypress strand.
At 1.8 miles, you reach the junction where trails diverge, the Road 13 kiosk. A bench provides a place to take a break.
This is the decision point for a trail route. A kiosk here with a map and arrows point in the appropriate directions for each trail.
We split up here. John rode the Orange Trail while Sandra continued along the Yellow Trail. We describe all three options below.
Leaving the kiosk along the Yellow Trail, the trail follows Road 13 north to meet the cypress strand.
It diverges to the left just before the line of cypresses to provide a boardwalk across the swamp surrounding the tannic creek flowing through the strand.
Once on the north side of the creek, you’re following the gravel surface of Road 13 due north through pine flatwoods.
These open up into restoration areas where pine plantations were cleared and replanted in longleaf and wiregrass.
Eventually they’ll become healthy sandhill habitat, but for now there is little shade along this section.
A yellow diamond pointing north guides you past a side road. Pockets of prairie and bogs are in low depressions in this open area.
At 2.4 miles, finally reaching the line of tall pines that have been in the far distance along this walk, you meet the Orange and Red Trails coming in from the left.
They join the Yellow Trail along Road 13 to come up to a messy circle where vehicles have torn an intersection of forest roads up.
Turn left at this intersection to follow another forest road that’s in the open, edged by younger pines and a restoration area to its north.
Now with all three trail markers in place again, the arrows on the diamonds point straight ahead. Pass the 10 Mile marker for the Orange Trail.
Wildflowers dominate the grassy openings in the slow-growing restoration area, where young longleaf pines rise from wiregrass clumps. Saw palmetto takes over the higher ground.
Resplendent in shades of rust and gold as their needles turn in fall, a cypress dome sits to the north behind a screen of tall pines
As the forest road approaches a pine forest, a road is off to the left at 2.8 miles. Ignore it and continue straight ahead between the pines. Confirmation blazes are soon after.
This has the feel of a younger pine plantation in the process of being thinned, as the pines are in straight rows.
Eventually turkey oaks and clumps of saw palmetto intersperse, so you can see the transformation to sandhill habitat in progress.
Passing beneath a patch of Choctawhatchee sand pines, the forest road continues to narrow through the planted pines, coming to a junction with a “Road Closed” sign at 3.1 miles.
The trail makes a sharp left here, turning south into another restoration area of thinned planted pines for the final stretch of the loop.
The forest road is carpeted in grass and pine needles, which yield to sand as it approaches the end of the loop. Turn right.
Continue along the grassy and sometimes damp path to reach the bridge over the drainage from the cypress strand.
The trail rises up through one last stretch of sandhills and passes a picnic bench as it returns to the trailhead, for a 3.6 mile hike on the Yellow Trail.
Where the Yellow Trail turns north at the Road 13 kiosk, the Red and Orange Trails continue together to the southeast as singletrack through the pine flatwoods.
When the trail crosses the next forest road, Road 2, there is deep soft sand at the crossing so it’s easy to grind to a halt.
The trail continues as firm singletrack in the pines and sandhills to the south of Road 2 until you reach the Road 2 kiosk at the junction where the Red and Orange Trails diverge at 2.3 miles.
If you turn and follow the Red Trail here, it follows singletrack east and then doubletrack north, passing through pine flatwoods and by cypress domes.
After a straightforward stretch, you bear right at a Y junction at 3 miles to meet the incoming Orange Trail at 3.2 miles.
Turn left to stay on the Red Trail and it meets the Yellow Trail at 4.7 miles. A full ride following the red and yellow diamonds is 5.9 miles.
Heading east as singletrack from where the Red Trail leaves it at the Road 2 kiosk, the Orange Trail follows Road 2 briefly.
Watch for a bridge over the ditch on the right as the trail returns to the wood and heads towards a wall of titi to parallel it south. Cypress poke out above the tall shrub line.
The narrow singletrack continues through sandhills and pine flatwoods, the wall of titi edging your view on the right. Cross a sand road back into the woods.
Pass the 3 Mile marker. These markers are keyed to the Orange Trail distance so you can pretty much rely on them for the rest of this loop.
The trail returns to Road 2 over another short bridge to get through the titi swamp. Turn right and follow the road.
Where Road 2 turns northeast, the Orange Trail continues straight ahead through a gap in the fence.
Doubletrack narrows to singletrack as the trail loses elevation and approaches a drainage area with titi swamps. The forest presses in from both sides.
The trail is lined with white-topped pitcher plants here. Expect mud and puddles at a minimum or standing water through the low spots before the trail rises again.
Where the Orange Trail sign points left, the road ahead continues a tenth of a mile to the Eastern Lake Campground.
Unless you’re visiting the campground, turn left into the pine flatwoods, passing the 4 Mile marker as the trail rises into sandhills.
The Orange Trail joins Road 7 for a brief stretch through a drainage area before heading into the pines again. Watch for the turn.
This is a particularly beautiful piece of singletrack at the far corner of the trail system, weaving through the pines and sandhills.
Just beyond the 5 Mile marker, the trail crosses Road 11 and rejoins Road 2 briefly before turning north within sight of a power line onto doubletrack.
North of the 6 Mile marker, it leaves the doubletrack and becomes singletrack again, turning west as it winds through the pine flatwoods.
It crosses the doubletrack and stays singletrack for another mile as scrubby flatwoods yield to scrub.
Not far past the 8 Mile marker, the Orange Trail reaches the northern junction with the Red Trail at the Road 8 kiosk.
Follow the stacked red and orange markers (and occasional ribbon pairs) along the doubletrack through the pine flatwoods.
As the trail rises into sandhills and scrub, it becomes white soft sand, deep in spots. You may have to push your bike through some of them.
Leaving the doubletrack, the trail heads downhill to a long broadwalk crossing of a tannic stream flowing towards Peach Tree Creek. Native bamboo grows in the shallows.
Climbing back up to the doubletrack, you hit deep soft sand again. Expect some mud and puddles in this section, too.
It’s a relief when the trail turns off the forest road and onto singletrack through the pine flatwoods.
After 9.7 miles, you reach a T intersection with the Yellow Trail, just past a kiosk. Turn north onto Road 13 and follow the details for the Yellow Trail to finish the 10.9 mile ride.
Learn more about Point Washington State Forest
See our photos of the Eastern Lake Trail
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