12.9 miles. At its east end, an ancient magnolia-beech forest cradled between floodplains. At its west end, a hillside terraced with pitcher plant bogs. In between, scenic and rugged hiking dropping in and out of deeply folded hills with tannic waterways. The Alaqua section of the Florida Trail in Eglin Air Force Base is one of the most scenic pieces of the trail statewide.
Formed at the same time as the Ocala National Forest, Choctawhatchee National Forest was created to support the naval stores industry on “government land withdrawn from settlement.” This meant tapping the tall pines for turpentine and resin, and when those supplies were depleted, for lumber. After management by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the National Forest was ceded to their Air Force for expansion of their Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Range, later called Eglin Field. This is how such a vast forest – nearly a half million acres when it was established in 1908 – came to be a military reservation. The Alaqua section showcases some of the best old growth forest and botanical beauty along the Florida Trail in Eglin.
All hikers must have a permit in advance of arriving at Eglin Air Force Base. Eglin now has a FREE permit for thru-hikers. Day hikers and section hikers not continuing at least 50 miles beyond Eglin must obtain the standard $20 annual Outdoor Recreation permit. Obtain your permit online.
Before your hike, call 850-882-4164 or check the Public Access Map online to ensure the base is open: FPCON DELTA status means the base is closed to public access.
Eglin is an active military installation with ongoing training maneuvers. Aircraft may fly very low over the tree canopy and you may hear bombing. Stay in the trail corridor and use established campsites. If you notice any sort of ordinance – rocket, bomb, hand grenade – do not approach it but note the location and call Eglin Security Forces at 850-882-2502 to report it.
Check hunt dates as a part of your trip planning, and always wear bright orange clothing during hunting seasons.
For the eastern access to this section, follow US 331 south from Interstate 10 at DeFuniak Springs for 5.1 miles to the Eglin Portal trailhead [30.618299, -86.117218] on the right side of the highway, across from a fire station. The kiosk is visible from the highway. The western access point for this section [30.706369, -86.233582] is along Bob Sikes Road, 6.6 miles west of US 331 in Defuniak Springs. It has a sloped, somewhat rough parking area adjoining the kiosk.
Northbound from Eglin Portal, the trail traverses rolling sandhills topped with scattered longleaf pines, turkey oaks, and clusters of sand live oaks. There are two steep descents and ascents as you cross the narrow floodplains of Switch Cane Branch and Mocassin Creek, both crystal clear water sources. Once you’re past Forrest Oak Rd (RR 201), the trail enters a mature sand pine forest before beginning to descend into the Blount Creek floodplain. The deeply shaded Eglin Portal campsite sits on the ridge above the floodplain.
Scenic beauty is concentrated in the two parallel floodplains – Blount and Alaqua Creeks – where a dense magnolia-beech forest dominates the higher ground. Crossing Blount Creek is somewhat of a balance beam walk, while the new Alaqua Creek bridge finally makes for a safe crossing of this swift, deep stream. In between is a geologic uplift that you’ll use a ladder to climb up and over.
Beyond Alaqua Creek, the trail rises up through more mature pine forests and drops down into a series of ravines, some more steep than others. Oakie Creek is especially picturesque. Crossing Roger Nelson Rd (RR 208), the trail continues into more rolling sandhills with ravines at creek crossings. Alaqua campsite provides space for large groups on soft pine duff. Beyond it, the floodplain of Little Alaqua Creek extends some ways, bridged by boardwalks.
One final steep climb lies beyond broad White Top Creek, up and out of the steephead ravine and along terraces where pitcher plant bogs thrive. The Alaqua section ends at Bob Sikes Road at the Alaqua trailhead.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Catface
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Eglin Portal