Explore a wet and wild corner of the Ocala National Forest along this 5.5-mile segment of the Florida Trail between Hulls Creek Swamp and Eaton Creek.
This lesser-known corner of the Ocala National Forest is nourished by many water sources, meaning riotous growth of ferns and palms along tiny streams and tributaries.
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Location: Lake Eaton
Length: 5.6 miles linear
Land manager: Ocala National Forest
The official trailhead is at the north end of this section. To hike south to north, park or get dropped off at NE 145th Ave to start a linear hike north to the Eaton Creek trailhead.
Be aware of hunting seasons and wear bright orange clothing if hiking during hunts. No random camping is permitted in this part of the Ocala National Forest during fall deer hunting season. 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.
NE 145th Avenue: From the intersection of SR 40 and CR 314 at Nuby’s Corner, drive east on SR 40 to NE 14th St Rd. Turn left. Turn left on NE 145th Avenue and follow it to the trail crossing. There is a pulloff but no parking area.
From the pulloff along NE 145th Ave, a small plank bridge crosses a narrow waterway. You quickly enter the pine flatwoods. Saw palmetto grows densely along the edges of the trail corridor.
The trail turns left and angles towards a treeline that marks the location of a stream that flows towards Hulls Creek Swamp. You cross the stream on a boardwalk.
A series of boardwalks leads through the pine flatwoods, which are dominated by pond pine. Streams, swamps, and bayheads continually drain through these woods, so the footpath is often wet. In many places, you’ll encounter either boardwalks or planks.
After a quarter mile, the first long boardwalk ends. Low spots between the ferns are soggy. The trail leads between giant ferns under the tall pines and past ancient saw palmetto lifting their trunks well off the ground.
Some of the low spots between the hummocks have mud holes or deep pine duff that it is easy to sink a shoe into. As the ferns grow taller, it can be harder to find the blazes.
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.
A line of cypress to the east delineates another creek. The trail leaves the forest after 1.6 miles and joins a forest road.
Keep right at the next junction as the forest road guides you through both natural and planted pines. Watch for blazes as the trail leaves the forest road.
After 2 miles, 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, follow the footpath as it approaches a young pine plantation. at 3 miles, the trail emerges at NE 52nd Place, a paved road which provides central access to this hike.
Turn right and follow the blazes up the road. They cross the road after the bridge over the creek and enter the forest on the opposite side of the road, following a Jeep trail briefly.
Staying near to the 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 the next boardwalk are some of the giants among the pines, each of which shows evidence of turpentine tapping.
At 4.2 miles, the trail emerges at CR 314A. Cross the road and look for a plank boardwalk across the ditch on the north side of the highway to continue into the woods.
While the trail makes its way through a pine plantation, it eventually exits into the scrub forest near a pile of busted-up concrete. Cross a Jeep road. At the next junction of forest roads, keep alert for blazes.
Passing a large pond on the right at 5 miles, the trail continues past a massive hickory tree with a very large base before the blazes lead you through another forest road junction.
The trees are enormous here, and the reason why is soon obvious: this is the floodplain of Eaton Creek, a rare nourishing source of water in the Big Scrub. Tall cabbage palms and hickories rise from the forest floor.
Reaching the bridge over Eaton Creek, you can see the waterway has a persistent flow. It’s not easy to reach to filter, but the southwest bank is your best bet. On the other side, the trail joins a boardwalk through the floodplain forest.
More large trees tower overhead as you come to the trail junction with the blue-blazed side trail leading to the Eaton Creek trailhead.
NORTHBOUND: Eaton Creek North
SOUTHBOUND: Hulls Creek to Marshall Swamp