The southerly portion of the Western Corridor of the Florida Trail in the Ocala National Forest offers a hike that is starkly different then the half north of Eaton Creek.
Although this section is challenging, it is a rewarding venture into a typically hidden Floridian landscape.
Access to this environment is made possible by the diligent efforts of trail volunteers who have constructed miles of wooden walkways over the soggy terrain.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Silver Springs
Length: 11.4 miles linear
Trailhead: 29.203035, -81.977989
Address: CR 314, Silver Springs, FL 34488
Land manager: US Forest Service
Phone: 352-625-2520 – Lake George Ranger District
Leashed dogs welcome. Bicycles not permitted.
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 except at a private campground near the south end, Ben’s Hitching Post (fee).
Bear bagging is required when you are random camping. Bears are active in the Ocala National Forest.
CR 314 access: From the intersection of SR40 and SR314, head south on CR314 for 0.8 mile. On the east side of the road, the Florida Trail enters the forest. Parking is possible on the grass alongside the road. Cars should not be left overnight.
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.
Leaving the roadwalk from Silver Springs State Park along Sharpes Ferry Rd, enter the Ocala National Forest at a Florida Trail sign next to a seasonally flooded roadside swale.
Crossing a small boardwalk, the trail enters thickly vegetated mesic pine flatwoods.
A mixture of loblolly bay and pond pines rise from a shrubby understory of saw palmetto and grapevine-covered wax myrtles.
As this habitat is notorious for wet conditions, the trail corridor is equipped with multiple small bridges and boardwalks.
At 1.5 miles, the trail crosses a dirt road leading towards Ben’s Hitching Post Campground. Although the campground is mostly developed for RV’s, they are very accommodating to hikers.
They offer overnight parking and reasonably priced tent camping. Continuing eastward for 0.7 mile, the trail crosses SR 40 before delving deeper into the forest.
Be cautious of high-speed traffic at the highway crossing.
Orange blazes mark the path as it winds down a combination of narrowly cut trails and unmarked forest roads, some of which can be under water depending on recent rains.
In 1.2 miles, the first of several long boardwalks crosses particularly swampy terrain.
Oak trees sporadically dot the trail, situated on islands of drier soil in an otherwise wet prairie landscape.
Trees become taller as the wide pathway continues eastward to Hulls Creek Swamp.
A welcoming boardwalk weaves through columns of bay trees, providing passage over a slow current of dark tannic waters underfoot.
At the eastern edge of the swamp, the trail turns northward, reaching NE 145 Ave Rd in a quarter mile. Pulloffs enable space for a car or two for day hiking.
North of NE 145th Ave Rd, after the trail crosses Hulls Creek on a long boardwalk, the surrounding area gradually becomes drier.
Tall ferns carpet the forest floor as the trail enters a particularly majestic stand of pines. The ferns are so thick in this section, they need to be pushed aside at some points to continue down the pathway.
Continuing northward, sweet scents reminiscent of vanilla fill the air. Vanillaleaf grows in clusters alongside the trail, displaying showy tufts of purple flowers in the early fall.
These plants are commonly found in scrub habitats, another indication that the trail is entering a drier ecosystem.
Crossing a forest road with deep mud holes after a mile, the trail works its way through dense saw palmetto under the tall pines before dropping through a bayhead swamp.
Well placed boardwalks traverse marshes and cypress swamps. A line of cypress to the east delineates another creek. The trail leaves the forest and joins a forest road, 1.5 miles north of Hulls Creek.
In another half mile, the trail reaches the next long boardwalk. It connects islands in the creek’s floodplain, with lots of cinnamon fern growing between them.
Returning to pine forest, the trail reaches pavement at NE 52nd Pl Rd, a surprisingly busy road for its location deep within the forest.
The trail follows this road for about 500 feet, then turns off to the northwest. Staying near to another creek floodplain, the trail traverses a young pond pine forest.
Watch for blazing as the trail crosses Jeep trails and forest roads in a very wet area.
The trail briefly joins a forest road. Keep alert for a sharp right turn off the forest road into the woods.
Along a boardwalk, the trail passes a tall, ancient pine with catfaces cut into the trunk, a remnant of the turpentine industries that were prominent in Florida over a hundred years ago.
A quarter mile beyond the catfaced pine, the trail crosses CR 314A and a small ditch.
It follows Jeep trails through a scrubby hammock populated by sand pines, rusty lyonia, cabbage palms and scrub oak.
While the trail makes its way through planted pines, it eventually exits into the scrub forest. Cross a Jeep road. At the next junction of forest roads, keep alert for blazes.
Passing a large pond on the right, the trail continues past a massive hickory tree with a very large base before the blazes lead you through another forest road junction.
Surrounded by tall, ancient trees, the trail reaches a substantial bridge over Eaton Creek, 1.2 miles north of CR 314A. It is a dark, wide waterway that cuts through the otherwise remarkably dry scrub.
On the other side of the creek, continue another 200 feet to a junction with a short, blue-blazed trail leading to the Eaton Creek trailhead.
NORTHBOUND: Eaton Creek to CR 316
SOUTHBOUND: CR 314 / Silver Springs
Learn more about the Western Corridor of the Florida Trail
See our photos of the Florida Trail, Eaton Creek South
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
11.9 miles. North of Eaton Creek, the Florida Trail showcases spectacular sand pine forests and unique species adapted to this arid environment within the Big Scrub.