The lesser-known Western Corridor of the Florida Trail traverses the Ocala National Florida from its southwest corner to a junction with the Eastern Corridor directly north of the 88 Store.
Spanning over 20 miles, the swampy landscape of the first ten miles stands in direct contrast to this northern half, which is almost devoid of water.
Starting at a primordial creekside jungle, the trail heads northward through the scrub as pines sway in the breeze over seas of fluffy green reindeer moss.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Lake Eaton
Length: 11.9 miles linear
Trailhead: 29.269437, -81.87353
Address: NE 170th Ave, Silver Springs
Land manager: US Forest Service
Phone: 352-625-2520 – Lake George Ranger District
Leashed dogs welcome. Bicycles not permitted.
Carry enough water for your hike as no sources are available along this section.
Be aware of hunting seasons and wear blaze orange during hunts. No camping is permitted along this section during fall general gun (deer hunting) season.
Bear bagging is required when you are random camping. Bears are active in the Ocala National Forest.
Eaton Creek trailhead: From the intersection of SR 40 and CR 314 at Nuby’s Corner, drive north on CR 314 for 8.4 miles to NE 172nd Ave, just north of CR 314A. Turn right. The trailhead is a half 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.
At the Eaton Creek Trailhead, take note of the informational kiosk, and look for a blue blaze at the south end of the parking area.
Follow the blue connector trail for 0.1 mile to an intersection with the Florida Trail.
To the right is a bridge over a dark tannic waterway known as Eaton Creek in about a tenth of a mile.
It is worth the short detour for the scenes of tranquil slow-moving waters within a jungle-like setting. To begin the hike towards the Eastern Corridor junction instead, turn left.
After crossing a paved road in 0.1 mile, orange blazes lead down a former railroad grade, a wide, sandy pathway lined with thick shrubby vegetation.
Gnarled live oak branches extend overhead, providing a partially shaded tunnel through the scrub habitat.
The trail crosses CR 314 at the two-mile mark, then heads north through dense scrub for a half mile before approaching a small clearing.
This open area is an ideal spot for camping, offering flat spaces to set up a tent under the dark, star filled skies of the national forest.
Heading northward, the trail skirts along a depression associated with nearby Mud Lake.
Although the lake is never visible through the trees, the presence of the lake can be felt in the sloping terrain.
Under a thick canopy, the leaves carpet the ground, providing an ideal home for a multitude of insects and arthropods.
Leaving the lake, the trail takes a considerable ascent for Floridian standards as the habitat transitions from oak hammock to scrub.
The path winds through scrub live oak and saw palmettos, beneath stands of sand pines curiously leaning in the same direction.
As the landscape progressively becomes drier, lichens such as reindeer moss begin to proliferate, neatly bordering the trail at first, before eventually covering the entire forest floor.
Twisted branches of slow-growing rusty lyonia trees reach towards patches of sunlight while blazing stars nod in the breeze, the ends of their stalks covered in bright purple flowers.
Turkey oaks begin to dot the landscape and the surrounding vegetation thins while scrub transitions to sandhill habitat.
A panorama of slowly rolling wiregrass-covered hills extend in every direction. Charred pines stand tall over sumac, beautyberry, and persimmon trees.
Traversing the sandhills for a little over half a mile, a lone kiosk stands in the middle of the forest.
This spot marks the confluence of the western and eastern corridor of the Florida Trail, a major decision point for through-hikers heading southbound.
From here, CR 316 is a tenth of a mile north, or a short jaunt southward for 0.4 mile on the Eastern Corridor leads to the 88 Store.
Learn more about the Western Corridor of the Florida Trail
See our photos of the Florida Trail, Eaton Creek North
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Go deep into the Ocala National Forest on a staircase leading into a massive sinkhole along the Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail, a 1.8 mile loop in the Big Scrub
Gently descending from ancient dunes down to the forested shores of its namesake lake, the 2.3-mile Lake Eaton Trail provides a great deal of habitat diversity in a short hike
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