Contrasting between Big Scrub habitats – dense scrub forest, sand pines, open prairies, and sinkholes – and the breathtaking old-growth longleaf pines of Riverside Island, this piece of the Florida Trail is one of our favorite hikes in this region.
While we describe this segment south to north for the sake of section hikers traversing the entire Ocala National Forest, day hikers will savor this experience better if hiked southbound, for both the dramatic changes in the landscape and the feeling of hiking downhill.
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Location: Riverside Island
Length: 6.7 miles linear
Trailhead: 29.428644, -81.788477
Fees: $5 fee to park at or use Lake Delancy Recreation Area
Restroom: vault toilets at Lake Delancy Recreation Area and Rodman Trailhead
Land manager: Ocala National Forest, Lake George Ranger District
If you are thinking of leaving a car overnight or longer, we don’t suggest doing so at the Rodman Trailhead. It’s safer to leave it behind the gates of Rodman Campground, a couple miles east along Kirkpatrick Dam Rd. There is a small fee for doing so.
Random camping is permitted except during general gun (deer hunting) season. Wear bright orange if hiking during any hunting season. Check the link at the bottom of this page for hunt dates.
Lake Delancy West is a designated campsite during hunting seasons and always available to hikers. The campground is a half-mile west of the trail crossing along FR 66 and costs $10 a night.
Both trailheads are used by ATV enthusiasts who follow the marked ATV trails throughout this part of the forest.
Protect your food from animals. Bears are frequently seen. The Ocala National Forest requires that you either bear bag or use a bear canister. Raccoons will also try to steal food and gear.
Lake Delancy West: From the intersection of SR 19 and SR 316 in Salt Springs, drive north along SR 19 for 5.7 miles. There will be a large sign to indicate FR 66 as the road to Lake Delancy. It’s a dirt road and can be rugged at times. Continue 2.5 miles to the recreation area entrance. If you park here, it’s a $5 fee and an extra quarter mile to reach the trail. If you are day hiking, a couple cars can fit off the side of the road near the trail crossing.
Rodman trailhead: From SR 19 north of Salt Springs, follow the highway north to Kirkpatrick Dam Rd, just before the large bridge over the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Turn left. Drive past Rodman Campground, the Rodman Recreation Area, and across the dam to the parking area on the right behind the “Rodman Trailhead” sign.
Starting at the trail crossing at FR 66, walk north into the sandhills. Wiregrass forms a soft haze across the ground beneath the turkey oaks and sand live oaks.
As the trail rises away from the road, it leads into the rolling hills of Riverside Island and its outstanding longleaf pine savanna.
It was this habitat that botanist William Bartram saw and described when he paddled up to Salt Springs in 1774, looking for new plants in a landscape that once stretched horizon to horizon.
Today, Riverside Island is a stronghold of this ancient longleaf forest, a portion that was minimally disturbed by logging before the Ocala National Forest was established in 1908.
For nearly two miles, the Florida Trail gently guides hikers up and down through this landscape, its open understory dotted with colorful wildflowers in spring and fall.
As the trail climbs, it dips into a swale along the side of a hill to graze along the edge of a murky sinkhole, a rare water source in these highlands.
At 2.1 miles, reach FR 11 and cross it. The trail continues to climb, still canopied by the majestic longleaf pine savanna. The trail is well defined through the wiregrass.
Pay attention, and you’ll notice pines striped with white bands. Those mark the nesting sites of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
Coming to a forest of mixed oaks and pines, you reach a transition zone between the Big Scrub and the longleaf pine savanna.
A small patch of oak scrub with large Florida rosemary and prickly pear cactus intrudes into the pine forest before the trail reaches FR 70, a forest road popular with offroad vehicles.
Soon after, the longleaf savanna returns. The understory is wide open, carpeted with a soft haze of wheat-colored wiregrass. You can see beneath the trees for miles in every direction as you traverse these gentle hills.
Passing beneath an east-west powerline at 4.8 miles, the trail soon reaches FR 77, a major connector road – a dirt road – between Rodman Reservoir and communities along the Ocklawaha River basin.
On the northwest side of the road lie the Penner Ponds. Named for settler Arthur Pinner, who fought in the Civil War, they once were part of his homestead. A rough path circles them to the west.
Paralleling the ponds, the scrub forest returns. First it’s tall sand pine, then a narrow corridor through diminutive oaks. This is where Florida scrub-jays thrive. If you see a blur of blue, it’s one of these birds only found in Florida.
After a mile in the scrub, cross a designated ATV trail. You reach the upper end of the Penner Ponds and the other side of the somewhat-abandoned trail around their west side at 6 miles.
Heading north, the trail alternates between sand pine scrub with patches of sun on bright white sand where prickly pear cactus thrive, and the diminutive oak hammocks, which provide the shady spots in this desert-like habitat.
As the trail approaches the humidity of the Rodman Reservoir, lichens drape from sand live oaks and rusty lyonia in a corridor of scrub forest.
The corridor deposits you along the shore of the vast reservoir. It’s a vast floodplain along the Ocklawaha River destroyed originally to promote a canal sliced through Florida and then turned into a fishing lake.
Tracing the edge of the reservoir, the trail emerges into an open area from which you can see the Kirkpatrick Dam. It reaches the Rodman trailhead after 6.7 miles.
See our photos of hiking between Lake Delancy and Rodman
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Little known except to those who frequent Salt Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest, the Bear Swamp Trail provides a walk into an ancient forest.
One of the most famed first magnitude springs in Florida, Salt Springs was first written about in 1774 by botanist William Bartram.
Deep in the Ocala National Forest, the Davenport Landing Trail leads you on a scenic loop to a historic landing and archaeological site along the Ocklawaha River.