Leaving the Suwannee River northbound, there is now a gap in the Florida Trail between the Suwannee and the Aucilla River. What was once a ramble through private timberlands is now off limits. So the Big Bend section now starts with a 48.4 mile roadwalk through rural North Florida, mostly on backroads. Walking this rural route will have you enjoying the company of livestock, mulling over the beauty of roadside cypress swamps, spotting wildlife, and meeting friendly residents along the way.
When you finally reach the woods again, the Aucilla section feels primordial, with its mysterious river that sinks underground to flow between sinkholes before it rises again near Goose Pasture.
The cornerstone of the Big Bend section, however, is St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, from which you can view the sweep of the Big Bend coast. Through St. Marks, the trail follows old tramways and the fringe of salt marshes, where you can catch a glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico.
West of the St. Marks River crossing, the Florida Trail has many beauty spots through more protected coastline in the refuge, in habitats which tend to be a bit soggy most of the time.
<< Suwannee >> Apalachicola
FLOODING can be a major problem along the Aucilla River and Aucilla Sinks. Check National Weather Service flood gauge. It is not safe to hike along the Aucilla River when it is in flood stage, as floodwaters rising from underground obscure deep sinkholes and ravines along the trail. Check water levels and flood notices online or call Suwannee River Water Management District for updates at 386-362-1001
When walking the roads between the Suwannee and Aucilla Rivers, walk against traffic and wear high-visibility clothing like a safety vest. Most of the churches along the route allow hikers to stop and get tap water. Some of the churches (Midway Baptist Church in Madison is one) allow hikers to camp on their property. Respect private property signs along the Suwannee to Aucilla roadwalk and do not camp where “Posted” signs are posted on private land.
Wear bright orange or other high-visibility clothing when hiking between Sirmans and Aucilla as there are many private hunting leases flanking the backroads. Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons in Aucilla WMA and at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
Camping permits are required to backpack through St. Marks NWR and camp at the designated primitive campsites. Find current permit details here.
At St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, tides affect your water sources. A high tide can push salt water into fresh water at places like the Pinhook River and Shepherd Spring. Water along the dikes is generally salty. Plan where you are going to get your next water.
Alligators are everywhere along the dikes in St. Marks. If you’re hiking with a dog, keep it well away from the water.
Although the east side of St. Marks is mostly on dikes and forest roads, the west side has a lot of muddy walking in the woods. Be prepared for sticky, gloppy mud west of the Wakulla River until Marsh Point.
Take advantage of the town of St. Marks as a zero day. There is a small store, motel rooms and cabins at Shell Island Fish Camp, a B&B near the restaurants, a laundromat, and a riverside tiki bar.
14.3 miles. Hugging the Big Bend coastline, this hike through Aucilla WMA and St. Marks NWR offers some of the most breathtaking panoramas you’ll find along the Florida Trail, and a profusion of wildlife.
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.
4.4 miles. With dark waters reflecting against pockmarked limestone walls and a footpath winding through the most geologically weird piece of any National Scenic Trail, the Aucilla Sinks are the most fascinating segment of the Florida Trail.
Florida Trail Videos (Big Bend)
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