5.3 miles. Wet feet are expected on this traverse of the pine savannas along the edges of Johnson Juniper Swamp in the Apalachicola National Forest, where careful inspection yields a bounty of carnivorous plants.
Not that it’s much of a difference from the rest of the Apalachicola National Forest, but this 5.3 mile section of the Florida Trail between Camel Lake and the Savannah trailhead at CR 12 is known for being particularly soggy. Much of that is thanks to Johnson Juniper Swamp and the creeks that feed it, particularly Sand Branch and Little Gully Creek. It’s also just the nature of the pine savanna, an ecosystem where wildflowers flourish.
JANUARY 2019: this segment of the trail was heavily impacted by Hurricane Michael and is reported as nearly impassible. Until the government shutdown ends, no trail maintenance will be underway to clear the trail. Use extreme caution if you are considering a hike here and expect to follow paralleling forest roads in places.
The Apalachicola National Forest is a popular destination for hunters, especially during the fall deer season, when hikers are restricted to camping at designated campsites. The only one in this segment is the Camel Lake Recreation Area, where a fee applies. The remainder of the year, you are welcome to random camp in any pleasant spot, although it’s hard to find a dry one along this hike.
Check hunt dates as a part of your trip planning, and always wear bright orange clothing during hunting seasons.
Camel Lake Recreation Area is roughly 50 miles southwest of Capital Circle West in Tallahassee via SR 20 and CR 12. From the traffic light along SR 20 in the town of Bristol along the Apalachicola River, drive south 10.1 miles on CR 12 to reach the Savannah trailhead. If you have two cars, drop one off here. Or if you prefer to hike west to east, park here.
To get to the start of the hike, continue another 1.4 miles, passing the Apalachicola National Forest Work Center just before you see a sign for Camel Lake. Turn left onto FR 105 and drive 2 miles on this sometimes-bumpy unpaved road to the recreation area on the right. A $3 per vehicle per day use fee applies to use the parking area, which also grants you access to restrooms with flush toilets and the picnic and swimming areas along the lake. No extra day use fee if you’re camping.
From Camel Lake Recreation Area, look for the big FNST sign near the camp host in the campground. The short blue blazed path leads to the orange blazes. Turn left to follow it compass west, crossing FR 105 to enter the pine forest. About a mile into the pines, the trail enters a titi tunnel. Look for pitcher plants, which bloom in April. After the next tunnel, you reach the trail intersection with the Trail of Lakes. Turn left.
The trail continues down flooded forest roads and along the edges of swamps as it makes its way from Sand Branch to Little Gully Creek, which flank the edges of Johnson Jumper Swamp. A bridge and boardwalk is a welcome sight across the creek, but you won’t stay dry for long.
After the next stretch of pine savanna, the trail plunges right through a gum and cypress swamp. The trail ascends slowly into the next open savanna before reaching the final trail register in the Apalachicola National Forest. Be sure to sign in before looking for the blue blaze to the Savannah trailhead.