When the Cross Florida Barge Canal project was brought to a halt in 1971, it was hailed as one of the greatest environmental wins in Florida.
Now part of the Florida State Parks System, the Cross Florida Greenway protects land spanning over a hundred miles west and several miles north of Buckman Lock.
Once it crosses this historic structure, the Florida Trail spans 7.4 miles of soggy yet scenic landscapes on its way north to Rice Creek Conservation Area.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 7.4 mile linear
Trailhead: 29.546414, -81.728126
Address: 210 Buckman Lock Rd, Palatka FL, 32177
Land manager: Florida State Parks, Florida Fish & Wildlife, St. Johns River Water Management District.
Open sunrise to sunset. Leased dogs permitted.
From SR 20 in Palatka, head south on SR 19 for seven miles, turning left at Buckman Lock Rd. In one mile, pass through a gate, and the parking lot will be on the left.
At the southwest corner of the parking area, a kiosk emblazoned with a Florida Trail shield sign displays information about the Cross Florida Greenway and Buckman Lock.
Starting from this kiosk, head north along Buckman Lock Road, crossing over SR 19 in one mile.
Across the road, follow an orange blaze into the woods, passing a trail register mailbox on the left. Initially, the trail follows a wide firebreak paralleling a forest road for 0.7 mile.
Sometimes the footing is better on one of these features than the other, though much of the ground is soggy throughout the year.
This corridor separates old pine plantation lands to the south, now protected, from private timberlands to the north.
Reaching the road’s end, cross a sturdy pole bridge and make a sharp right turn, heading north.
Following an old elevated logging road into a primordial cypress swamp, the sun is lost behind the canopy as wetland-adapted wildlife swirl in the dark waters.
Pillars of sweetgum and cypress line the fern-carpeted passageway through a dense green jungle while culverts allow somewhat natural flow under this artificial embankment.
Cypress knees protrude from the murky flow beside grasses, cabbage palms and hickory trees.
This landscape continues for nearly a mile before the trail takes a sharp left turn around a depression, then onto a wide grassy path.
Continue northward for 0.6 mile, rounding another swamp depression and a section that is likely under shallow water year-round.
At the four-mile mark, turn left and follow a forest road for 0.2 mile before entering the Caravelle Ranch WMA.
After crossing an intersection of forest roads, the trail heads northward for another mile and a half on a well-maintained dirt road before turning right underneath high-tension powerlines.
The especially swampy banks of this electrical easement are home to buttonbush, interwoven with muscadine grape and passion vines.
In 0.1 mile, the trail dives back into a former pine plantation, crossing rows of pines over an unnaturally undulating forest floor.
Despite the evidence of past agricultural use, the forest appears to be recovering, supporting a variety of flora in the understory.
Crossing the boundary into Rice Creek Conservation area in half a mile, the trail continues through similar lands for another mile before reaching a tall fence meant to keep wildlife off SR 20.
A gate allows hikers to pass through, although an often water-filled ditch waits on the other side. Since you’ve likely already gotten wet feet, depth is the only issue.
While SR 20 marks the end of this segment, the Florida Trail continues directly north across SR 20 into the 9 Mile Swamp section of Rice Creek Conservation Area.
Learn more about the Florida Trail in Northeast Florida
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Home of ancient cypress trees and the remains of a 1700s rice plantation, Rice Creek Conservation Area has a fascinating loop trail along the statewide Florida Trail
Established in 1908 as the first National Forest east of the Mississippi, the Ocala National Forest is a mecca for hikers and campers, and the birthplace of the Florida Trail
With a corridor spanning nearly 50 miles through North Florida, the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail provides paved trail for riders and an unpaved corridor used by the Florida Trail
NORTHBOUND: SR 20 to Rice Creek Loop
SOUTHBOUND: Rodman to Buckman Lock