9 miles. Endearingly scenic, surprisingly rugged in places, and unlike any other piece of the Florida Trail statewide, this trek along the Aucilla River showcases some of Florida’s top natural features in one hike. This is a landscape featuring limestone boulders and rocky bluffs, ancient cypress trees, yawning sinkholes, rainbow swamps, a historic site, and spectacular rapids. Much of the hike is spent walking along river bluffs with sweeping views.
Stretching between CR 14 south of Lamont and Goose Pasture Road, this segment of the Florida offers unparalleled scenic views as it hugs close to the Aucilla River for most of its length. It’s rare you don’t see the river once you first reach it, and when you don’t it’s where the trail leads you past other interesting features like cypress swamps, sinkholes, and healthy forests where random camping is possible. An immersion in natural habitats while following a pleasant footpath makes this one of the most enjoyable sections of the Florida Trail to hike, once you get past the first mile and a half down commercial forest roads.
This is one of the most scenic stretches of the Florida Trail and well worth a visit despite the lack of paved access at the south end. Unpaved and sometimes rough to access, Goose Pasture Rd makes a good staging point for round-trip day hikes: out to a showy river bend (4 miles) or to historic Burnt Bridge (6.8 miles) or to the rapids and back (9.8 miles). For backpackers, there are two designated primitive campsites as well as flat spots suitable for random camping for a tent or two, and numerous access points for filtering water.
Hiking northbound from CR 14 to Goose Pasture Rd, the Aucilla River section runs compass south (trail north) with the river always to your west (trail east).
Parking is limited at both ends of this section of trail. Access to the trail at Goose Pasture Road may be difficult depending on recent rains: the dirt road features deep mud and puddles when wet. Day hiking, however, should be done using the Goose Pasture trailhead, since the shoulder of CR 14 is not a good place to leave a car.
Seasonal hunting is permitted in Aucilla WMA and a hunting lease blankets the first mile and a half of the trail at the CR 14 end – the important reason for using Goose Pasture trailhead as your day hike parking area – so always wear bright orange when hiking through this section. Check hunt dates in advance.
This trail should not be hiked when the Aucilla River rises to flood stage, as the riverside ravines and the sinkholes overflow with water and blur the line between bluff and river. Always check the water levels on the Aucilla before heading out here for a hike. You can also call the Suwannee River Water Management District for information on river levels at 386-362-1001. If you are hiking towards Goose Pasture and encounter water flowing over the trail, you need to retreat and follow the highway and forest roads to Powell Hammock Grade to bypass this section.
To reach the CR 14 access via paved roads, follow US 27 (from Perry or Tallahassee) to Lamont. Across from the gas station, take CR 257 south. Continue down CR 257 for 9.3 miles. Along the way, the name changes to CR 14 and you cross the Aucilla River on a highway bridge. Keep alert after you pass Rocky Ford Road, as the unnamed forest road that provides access is 0.7 mile south of Rocky Ford Road. Look for orange blazes and an FNST sign. Although there is room to park on the shoulder, long term parking is not recommended.
To get to Goose Pasture Road trailhead from Perry, follow US 98 west to Powell Hammock Grade. The southern portion of Powell Hammock Grade is part of the roadwalk between the Aucilla and St. Marks sections. After the pavement ends, keep heading north, passing the sign for Aucilla WMA on the left. Another 1.5 miles past that sign is Goose Pasture Road, a dirt road. Turn left. Avoid driving into puddles , as they may be deep. The trailhead is 1.1 miles west along this road on the right across from a large kiosk. There is only room for a few cars.
Starting off through a maze of forest roads through a barren landscape clearcut in early 2019, the trail makes its way to the bluff forests of Middle Aucilla Conservation Area. You hear the river before you see it, and can first approach it at Upper Aucilla Camp at an old landing. Between two swamps of towering cypresses, navigation is a little tricky, with scrambles up and down bluffs and hops over tributaries. In winter, you may see the “rainbow swamp” effect play across the natural oils on the waters of these cypress swamps.
Almost 4 miles into the hike, the trail starts crossing unpaved river access roads used by visitors driving into Aucilla WMA via Powell Hammock Grade for fishing and hunting. As the landscape opens up and provides more river views, the sound of the rapids starts to echo through the forest. It’s worth scrambling down to the river’s edge to see the water churn and froth over limestone boulders. Beyond the rapids, views are glimpses through windows in the dense vegetation.
A steep dropoff at Burnt Bridge marks where a railroad trestle once crossed the river but was burned during the Civil War. Sticking close to the bluffs, the trail scrambles through more deep dips. After 7 miles, you reach a showy river bend that serves locals as a swimming hole, complete with a rope swing.
The trail stays along the bluffs up to South Aucilla River Camp and enters a forest of ancient trees surrounding the Vortex, where the Aucilla River is sucked into a riversink to continue its journey underground. For the next quarter mile, the trail weaves between showy, rocky water-filled sinkholes that are windows into the river’s flow beneath the earth, reaching Goose Pasture Rd after 9 miles.
FLORIDA TRAIL NORTHBOUND: Aucilla Sinks
FLORIDA TRAIL SOUTHBOUND: Suwannee to Aucilla Roadwalk