7.4 miles. On a linear trek tied together with connector trails to the trailheads at each end, rugged climbs through abandoned river channels and along the highest elevations along the Suwannee River make this 6.4-mile stretch of the Florida Trail a serious roller-coaster through river bluff forests and sandy beaches. Along the way, backpackers can find some tent spots with a view, and photographers will delight at the colors and textures along the river and its tributaries.
While the Florida Trail along the Suwannee River is notable for its rugged terrain, this particular piece of the trail serves it up more than most. Anchored by Camp Branch – with its notable Disappearing Creek Loop a fascinating excursion in its own right – the trail showcases not just the river views and beaches you’ve come to expect along the Suwannee section, but some of its more challenging ravines and sandy slopes with sidehill. One of the major highlights of this section is the climb up Devil’s Mountain and the view from the top. At 134 feet, this is not the high point of the Florida Trail, but IS the highest elevation of the Florida Trail along the Suwannee River.
Between Devil’s Mountain and Suwannee Springs, the trail provides a serious workout. It’s a challenging course of climbs up and down, in and out, and along the edges of bluffs, steep sandy river banks, and deeply carved ravines through which waterways cascade down to the Suwannee River. Along the way, there are ample opportunities to drink in the ever-changing river views, framed by wild azalea in spring.
We hiked the segment shown above in pouring rain during the 2019 I-Did-A-Hike.
The trail is on lands managed by Suwannee River Water Management District. FLOODING can make hiking along the Suwannee River and its tributaries dangerous, especially through this section. Check real-time river levels before you hike. Do not enter flowing waters.
You will greatly appreciate having two hiking poles with you to assist in creek crossings and for climbs in and out of the ravines along this section, some of which can be extremely slippery when wet.
For a day hike, it’s an easy shuttle between the two trailheads, which are about 15 minutes apart by car. If your logistics only allow you to do an out-and-back hike, we recommending hiking out along this section from Suwannee Springs to the top of Devil’s Mountain and returning from there for an 8.2-mile round-trip.
For the starting point, drive north from Suwannee Springs along US 129 and turn right on CR 132, the first paved road to the right after the river. After 1.5 miles, turn right onto CR 25A. Continue along it to where it crosses Camp Branch on a highway bridge and goes around a curve within sight of the weigh station on I-75. Look for a narrow two-track road on the right with a small sign. It leads down to the parking area.
The ending point is Suwannee Springs. Limited parking is possible within sight of the old US 129 bridge on the old highway, but ample parking is available at Suwannee Springs itself, where a blue-blazed trail leads from the old bridge down to the spring. There is usually a portable toilet at this trailhead.
While there are two access points to the Florida Trail from the white-blazed connector trail that leads downhill fast from the Camp Branch trailhead, we recommend that you take the first one unless you haven’t seen the vanishing stream at Disappearing Creek. You come to the Y junction with a blue blazed trail after 0.7 mile. That left fork leads directly to the Florida Trail at a T, where you make a right. To add the Disappearing Creek Loop to this hike, take the right fork instead and tack on an extra half mile to follow its blue-blazed side loop before reaching the Florida Trail at a different access point.
The trail climbs up away from the river briefly, crossing a small stream, before turning back out to the bluffs and following them, offering a few spots for views across the saw palmetto. The second junction with the Camp Branch area comes up within the first mile. Stick with the orange blazes to continue past an open spot that overlooks where the trail formerly crossed a natural bridge that’s near the river’s edge.
The hike continues through a corridor of saw palmetto and bluff forest, passing Crooked Branch Ranch and an old (private) shelter before reaching the Suwannee River Farms campsite. After the trail dips down near the river, it’s time to ascend. From the base of Devil’s Mountain, it’s usually slippery up to the top. Hiking poles help.
The ascent is surprisingly steeply pitched, rising through the bluff forest and its devil’s walkingsticks (Aralia spinosa) that grow along the slopes, providing its name. The fern-lined creek just below the crest is known as Greasy Creek for a reason. As you climb up, notice the views that extend out over the river from the bluffs.
Passing the high point of Devil’s Mountain, it’s all downhill from here. But it’s far from flat. The descent is not as steep as the ascent from Crooked Branch, but it provides nice panoramas across the bluff forest. You’ll climb in and out of a variety of steep drainages which may require wading if they are flowing. There are no formal bridges, but there are some log crossings that can be used over a few of the tributaries.
The trail skirts the edge of a collapsing bluff above one of the drainages before it reaches the shoreline of the Suwannee River. Periodic flooding deposits deep sand along the riverbank, and it’s through this beach that the trail plows through before re-entering the bluff forest. After 4.2 miles, it makes a sharp turn at a horseshoe bend, the river in front of and in back of you. Another broad beach is a half mile later. Here, the trail clings to the sharply sloped sand as sidehill.
Turning away from the river to cross a deep, steep tributary, the trail eventually makes its way back to the high bluffs, offering great views. Several flat spots provide potential campsites for a tent or two. The trail leaves the river where the waterway makes a sharp bend. You tunnel through a scrub forest before crossing under a power line and passing a campsite with a view of the river.
Watch for the old concrete bridge marking the end of this segment. Climb up the blue-blazed trail on the slope to the bridge and turn left to cross the bridge. The blue blaze leads to Suwannee Springs, a historic site where a hotel once provided a place for travelers in the early 1900s to “take the waters” of this large sulfur spring. Now, visitors enjoy the white sand beaches along this side of the river, and taking a dip in the old spring house.
FLORIDA TRAIL NORTHBOUND: Suwannee Springs to Holton Creek
FLORIDA TRAIL SOUTHBOUND: Swift Creek to Camp Branch
CONNECTOR: Disappearing Creek Trail