Following the sinuous route of Bauldree Branch before tracing the bluffs of the Chipola River upstream past the famed Look and Tremble rapids, the Altha section of the Florida Trail is a short but sweet break between roadwalks flanking Upper Chipola WMA.
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Trailhead: 30.5341, -85.164767
Land manager: Northwest Florida Water Management District
Hunting is permitted in Upper Chipola WMA, so be sure to check hunt dates before hiking here, and wear bright orange clothes during hunting season.
Flooding is always a possibility along the Chipola River, so before driving here to hike this section, always consult the flood gauge for this area.
Long distance hikers must detour northbound on SR 71 towards Altha to J.R. Peacock Road to CR 274 if the river floods, as the trail is entirely in the floodplain.
To get to the south end of this hike from Interstate 10 and SR 71 in Marianna, drive south 14 miles, passing through Altha. Turn right on CR 275 and make the right on to Black Bottom Rd a half mile later.
Continue 0.8 mile through a rural residential area as the road continues downhill, and watch for the FNST sign on the right across from a fenced yard with miniature horses. There’s room to pull off Black Bottom Road, but it’s not an ideal place to park.
For the north end of this hike, follow SR 71 south from I-10 to Altha for 11 miles. Turn right on CR 274 and follow it 3 miles to Willis Bridge Park, on the left just before the bridge.
There is a sign on the gate and a pass-through for hikers. Parking is limited here, but there is also parking in the other portion of Willis Bridge Park on the opposite side of the river, and you’d need to cross the highway bridge on the shoulder to get to the trailhead.
This was one of our favorite hikes in the Central Panhandle, an outstanding destination for spring wildflowers and scenic views along the Chipola River.
However, the Altha section of the Florida Trail took a direct hit from Hurricane Michael in October 2017. Winds close to 150 mph roared up this river valley, flattening the forests in every direction.
Volunteers worked hard to reopen this segment of trail, and it is now available to hikers once more. But from the photos they sent us, it looks nothing like it did when we’ve hiked it in the past.
Expect a tangle of downed trees and cut trees. For your safety, stay within the cleared trail corridor.
Only one of the two original campsites is open: the Altha Campsite, downriver from the FT via a short blue blaze along the river.
The centerpiece of the Altha section is Look and Tremble, a picturesque stretch of rapids along the Chipola River that commercial boat traffic once navigated when heading upstream to Marianna.
When the water is low, they are quite beautiful. We’ve yet to visit when they weren’t entirely underwater due to regional flooding.
Thankfully, although plans were drawn up to do so, the Army Corps of Engineers never destroyed this natural treasure. The U.S. Geologic Survey classifies the rapids as a waterfall in Florida.
NORTHBOUND: Chipola West Roadwalk. It follows CR 274 west to the Econfina section. En route, the Hillcrest Baptist Church is a welcome hiker-friendly stop.
SOUTHBOUND: Chipola East Roadwalk. A segment via SR 71 to the Blountstown Greenway.
Our video shows how beautiful this hike was prior to Hurricane Michael.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Fed by first-magnitude Jackson Blue Spring and nearly a dozen smaller springs, Merritt’s Mill Pond is a waterway unlike any other in Florida, its unusual hues trapped between rocky slopes and edged with moss-draped cypress trees.