Established concurrently with the Ocala National Forest in 1908, Choctawhatchee National Forest protected a vast swath of old growth longleaf pine forest.
In 1940, sensing the likelihood America would join the war against the Nazis, the Federal Government transferred the land to the War Department to expand an existing airfield for bomber training. Eglin Air Force Base was born.
Covering 724 square miles, it is the largest military reservation in Florida. Recreation has been a part of the base for some time, so in the late 90s the Florida Trail Association began discussions of routing the trail here.
Three sections of the Florida Trail between Crestview and DeFuniak Springs – Alaqua, Catface, and Titi – make up the Eglin East section, east of Crestview.
With scrambling through ravines, crossing crystalline waterways, standing atop ridges, and marveling at dense hardwood forests, these back-to-back pieces make a fabulous backpacking trip.
Resources for exploring the area
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While the western side of Eglin – known as the Weaver Creek section – tends to close frequently for training maneuvers, the eastern side closes less frequently and makes for one of Florida’s best backpacking trips.
Most hikers tackle it in two or three days, which fits in nicely with Eglin’s requirement that you check the PAM – Public Access Map – before hiking on base.
The PAM provides a three day forecast, so when you see these segments are clear, you’re good to go. Immediately.
Designated campsites are set 8 to 12 miles apart. Dogs are welcome.
All hikers must have a permit in advance of arriving at Eglin Air Force Base. There is a $5 day use permit or an annual permit for $20. Obtain your permit online.
If you wish to camp at a recreation area there is an additional nightly fee for that.
Before your hike, call 850-882-4164 or check the Public Access Map online to ensure the base is open: FPCON DELTA status means the base is closed to public access.
Do not random camp. Hikers MUST use designated campsites. Designated campsites have benches, a fire ring, and a nearby water source. Bear bag or use a bear canister, as bears have been spotted here.
Bring earplugs, as traffic noise from Interstate 10 affects the campsites at Bull, Red Deer, and Pearl.
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons. Check the Eglin iSportsman website for hunting season dates in Eglin, although you will encounter hunters outside of hunting season in a dog training area in the Catface section.
Bear bagging or use of a bear canister is recommended. Alligator sightings are infrequent, but they can be present in any body of water, mainly in the ponds and swamps.
Pay attention when you come to the edge of a creek or pond to filter. It’s always smart to scoop water up in a bag and take it elsewhere to filter.
There are so many streams through Eglin you can choose to filter multiple times a day instead of carrying water. Flowing water sources are plentiful.
In the middle of this section, you can walk 2.5N along SR 285 to reach a large Love’s Truck Stop at Interstate 10 for resupply. It has showers and hot food as well, and a Sleep Inn adjoins it.
Parking and Shuttle
It helps that this is a military base. We have heard of no reports with vandalism when cars are left for multiple days while backpacking, nor have we experienced it ourselves.
If you need assistance with a shuttle, join the Florida Trail Hikers Facebook group and ask for assistance. There are a number of volunteers in the area who can help. Be sure to compensate them for their gas and time.
Eglin Air Force Base is an active military base. Even when the trail is open, you’ll hear both low-flying military aircraft and sounds like thunder but are actually test bombings.
Eglin is the biggest bombing range in the United States. That being the case, you must stick to the footpath and not stray far off it, because unexploded ordinance dating back to World War II is still lurking in these forests.
If you notice any sort of ordinance – rocket, bomb, hand grenade – do not approach it but note the location and call Eglin Security Forces at 850-882-2502 to report it.
All of the mileages below start with mile 0 at Eglin Portal trailhead and end with mile 41 at Pearl trailhead. Mileages below are calculated from the Florida Trail App.
0.0 – Eglin Portal trailhead
2.8 – Eglin Portal campsite
3.9 – Alaqua Creek
9.6 – Alaqua campsite
12.8 – Alaqua trailhead
16.5 – Bull campsite
24.5 – Red Deer campsite
26.4 – SR 285 (Mossy Head services 2.0N)
27 – Old SR 285 trailhead
28.5 – Side trail to Speck Pond Recreation Area
34.5 – JR Walton Pond Recreation Area
40.9 – Pearl campsite
41.8 – Pearl trailhead
These are the trail segments that make up the Eglin East section, south to north (compass east to west).
12.8 miles. With significant botanical beauty, rugged climbs, and nice campsites, the Alaqua section of the Florida Trail in Eglin Air Force Base is one of the most scenic parts of the trail statewide.
14.2 miles. Climbing to the highest elevations along the Florida Trail, the challenging Catface section traverses hilly terrain along the northern edge of Eglin Air Force Base.
An excellent 17 mile round-trip backpack, the Cimmaron Trail is a dead-end extension to the FNST beyond Pearl trailhead that is hoped to replace the roadwalk through Crestview in the future.