A pleasant ramble on bluffs above the Withlacoochee River, the Croom River Trail segment of the Florida Trail tunnels through oak hammocks and slips around cypress swamps along its 6.3-mile journey.
Location: Ridge Manor
Length: 6.3 miles linear
Trailhead: 28.526758, -82.218781 (Ridge Manor trailhead), 28.563416, -82.22015 (Cypress Glen trailhead), 28.565763, -82.207488 (Crooked River trailhead)
Restroom: At the Ridge Manor and Crooked River trailheads
Land manager: Florida Forest Service
Open daylight hours. Leashed dogs welcome. Be sure to check on hunting dates before you go. Wear bright orange during hunts. It’s also a smart idea to check on river levels for the Withlacoochee River, since this portion of the trail has been deeply flooded when the river rises.
Take I-75 exit 301 to SR 50. Drive east 1 mile to Croom-Rital Road and turn left at the traffic light. The trailhead is on the right after a quarter mile.
From the sign-in at the Ridge Manor trailhead – and the amount of people we encountered on this footpath on a weekend – we can confirm the Croom River Trail portion of the Florida Trail is quite popular, and for good reason. Access is near Interstate 75, the views are fabulous, and you can camp right along it at beautiful Crooked River Campground, which is why it’s a favorite of Scout troops for a merit badge hike.
It is also one of the hikes that qualify for the Florida State Forests Trailwalker Program.
To find the southern terminus of this hike, walk past the picnic area on the opposite side of the Withlacoochee State Trail from the parking area and restrooms at Ridge Manor trailhead. Look for the fence and a trail kiosk under the big oak tree.
The hike starts off in a mature stand of planted pines before the landscape opens up. After you pass the side trail for the Croom River Trail Loop (Blue Loop Trail sign), continue along the main footpath to where it joins up with the Florida Trail coming in from the south through a gate in a subdivision off SR 50. You may not notice the merger of trails, but you will notice the long tunnel under the oaks.
The straightaway ends at the river bluffs, where the trail turns upriver. Walking along the bluffs, you catch glimpses of the river through the trees. A bench provides a perch at a nice river bend before you reach the second junction with the Blue Loop after 2.2 miles.
Continue along the orange blazes, which zigzag through a swampy area before heading back out to the river again. The trail leaves the river briefly and goes around a pine plantation, resuming its place on the bluffs around 3 miles.
Views are interrupted occasionally by oxbow ponds with cypresses. At 4 miles, the trail goes around a swamp with some enormous cypresses, leading you under a beautiful canopy of live oaks in order to cross a bridge over a stream. Returning to the river bluffs, you stay there for the next mile, enjoying occasional spots with benches and views.
When the trail turns away from the river, it heads up a straightaway to Crooked River Campground, where there is free trailhead parking. You can end your hike here after 5.2 miles, or continue on through Cypress Glen to follow the orange blazes out to a parking area along Croom-Rital Road for a full 6.3 mile hike.
It’s possible to walk back to the Ridge Manor along the paved Withlacoochee State Trail – a 2.6-mile walk – to turn this into a 8.9-mile loop.
Using the Florida Trail and the Blue Loop Trail, hikers can explore a picturesque corner of Withlacoochee State Forest in Ridge Manor along a 3.9-mile loop.