For fans of the unique habitat of the Big Scrub, this 11.5-mile hike on the western side of the Ocala National Forest provides hours of roaming through the sand pines.
Florida scrub-jays are commonly seen along this hike, as well as the tracks of Florida black bears, and sometimes the bears themselves.
Rising away from the wetlands that feed multiple streams forming the Ocklawaha River drainage area at the southwest corner of the Ocala National Forest, this is a high and dry hike, a counterpoint to the trail immediately south.
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Location: Lake Eaton
Length: 11.5 miles linear
Restroom: none except at The 88 Store
Land manager: Ocala National Forest
This section is extremely dry and desert-like in places. Bring plenty of water.
The official trailhead is at the south end of this section. To hike north to south, park or get dropped off at the CR 314 trailhead and follow the Florida Trail south briefly to reach the Western Corridor junction. Take the Western Corridor to reach Eaton Creek trailhead.
There are no designated campsites along this hike. Random camping is permitted when it is not deer hunting season. Be aware of hunting seasons and wear bright orange clothing if hiking during hunts. Links for hunt dates provided at the bottom of this page.
Bears have been spotted along this section of the Florida Trail.
Eaton Creek trailhead: From the intersection of SR 40 and CR 314 at Nuby’s Corner, drive north on CR 314 for 9 miles to NE 172nd Ave, just north of CR 314A. There is a sign for an environmental education camp. Turn right. The trailhead is 1 mile up the road on the right.
CR 316 trailhead: Follow CR 314 north for 6.4 miles from the turnoff for the Eaton Creek trailhead to FR 11 (former FR 88) just south of Salt Springs. Turn left and drive 3.5 miles to the junction with CR 316. The trailhead is on the left at the former hunt station.
From the Eaton Creek trailhead kiosk, follow the blue blazes along the power line T-junction with the orange-blazed Florida Trail. Turn left to walk along a well-defined corridor lined by saw palmetto.
After it crosses NE 172nd Ave, the trail becomes more of a forest road than a footpath, a long straight corridor with limited shade. At a junction of sand roads at 0.7 mile continue straight.
Rounding a bayhead, the trail makes a sharp left turn at 1.4 miles to lead down a narrow, shady corridor under tall sand pines. Reaching CR 314 after 2 miles, watch for traffic when crossing it.
The trail leaves the power line corridor for the scrub. Enter a lush hardwood forest surrounding Mud Lake. At a junction, an old wagon road goes straight ahead. Stay with the orange blazes as they lead into the sand pine scrub.
The trail skirts a fence around private property and crosses their driveway. Keep alert at an intersection at a junction of jeep roads to stick with the blazes. After 3.5 miles, keep left at a Y and pass an open dry spot for camping.
Magnolia and longleaf pine define the edge of the Ocklawaha River floodplain. The river cannot be reached from the trail. Passing a small clearing around 4 miles, the trail rises up into the sand pine forest. It will stay there for the remainder of the hike.
Where the pines are tall, their trunks creak in the breeze like bamboo poles rubbing together. Where they are short, they look like Christmas trees. Cross FR 01, a major unpaved road, at 5.1 miles.
Deer moss lines the footpath under the pines. Cross FR 01 again at 5.6 miles and start a gradual uphill. The trail passes under power lines twice, coming to FR 01 for a third and final time.
Drop down around a depression and circle a small sink. The habitat becomes more desert-like, with whiter sand and tiny trees, and then denser, with soft pine duff underfoot.
By 8.4 miles, cross FR 09 and continue through the scrub forest, which continues extensively. Large clusters of trees are all the same height based on prescribed burns and logging.
The understory is open in places before the trail reaches a transition zone into the sandhills of Kerr Island. At 10.9, there is an “88 Store” sign and a side trail. This 0.4-mile blue blaze leads east to a favorite stop on the trail in the Ocala National Forest.
The 88 Store is a popular watering hole, barbecue, and hiker-friendly destination along FR 88 near Lake Kerr. For a small fee, they offer tent camping with showers, restrooms, and self-service laundry behind the store.
If you take the blue blaze, you can join the Florida Trail northbound from there to reach the CR 316 trailhead. Otherwise, continue another 0.6 mile up the trail from the sign to the official junction of the Western Corridor and the Eastern Corridor. The trailhead is immediately north.
See our photos of the Florida Trail, Eaton Creek North
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
6.4 miles. Across a mosaic of sandhills and scrub, expect black bear and scrub-jay sightings on this Florida Trail segment north of Salt Springs
5.5 miles. Amid giant ferns and towering trees, feel small along the Florida Trail in a lesser-known corner of the Ocala National Forest
The 2.3-mile Lake Eaton Trail is loop trail providing a gentle descent through a variety of ecosystems from scrub to floodplain forest until you reach the lake itself