Covering an expanse of elevated wetlands between Tampa and Orlando, the Green Swamp is a critical watershed that is considered the headwaters of four major rivers.
Nearly half a century ago, Florida officials realized the ecological importance of these natural lands, and their impact on water quality for an enormous portion of the state.
Large swaths of this ecosystem is protected today, including the Green Swamp West Tract, one of many conservation areas along the western corridor of the Florida Trail.
This hike traverses the southernmost portion of the tract between two trailheads, enabling an easy linear day hike. Loop options are also possible using the trails of Bigfoot Wilderness Camp.
Add on a 13.3 mile linear segment to the north into Withlacoochee State Forest to create a 19.3 or 22.3 mile overnight backpacking trip traversing Green Swamp West and the Richloam Tract.
Or head southbound from the ending point of this hike, the Ranch Road trailhead, for a 19.5 mile overnight trek to the eastern trailhead for Green Swamp East.
The Florida Trail Guide and app includes this full route; Florida Trail Hikes includes a hike to Gator Hole.
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Length: 6 miles linear
Trailhead: 28.314936, -82.056268
Address: SR 471, Dade City, FL 33525
Land manager: Southwest Florida Water Management District
Open Sunrise – Sunset. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
Free online registration is required for use of primitive campsites.
FWC manages hunting on the property. Check in advance regards scheduled hunts and always wear blaze orange clothing during hunting seasons.
For the starting point at McNeil Entrance: from Interstate 4 in Lakeland, head north on US 98 N for 8.6 miles, then turn right onto SR 471 N. In 4.6 miles, just after you cross the Withlacoochee River bridge north of the Colt Creek State Park entrance, the trailhead parking area will be on the left side of the road.
For the ending point at Ranch Rd: From US 98 in Dade City, head east on River Rd for 2.6 miles, then turn left to remain on River Rd. In 2 miles, turn left onto Ranch Rd. After you cross the Withlacoochee River, the trailhead is on the right at a prominent kiosk.
Starting at the parking area, take note of the large kiosk containing maps and information regarding the preserve.
Begin the hike westward (trail north) along a well-defined trail cutting through a grassy mixed pine and hardwood forest.
Entering an oak hammock at one mile, the landscape of sporadic pines transitions to sand live oaks with gnarled branches extending overhead.
A sign indicates the first of several intersections with blue-blazed loop trails that are part of Bigfoot Wilderness Camp. Be sure to continue following orange blazes to stay on the Florida Trail.
A sandy, leaf-strewn path winds through the forest, passing a prairie pond to the right before reaching the Gator Hole campsite.
A beauty spot nestled within a shady canopy, this site sits within sight of the Florida Trail and is one of the easiest-to-reach backpacking campsites in Green Swamp West.
After crossing a dirt forest road, the habitat quickly changes as the trail slices through a stand of red maples accented with fetterbush lyonia.
The trail ascend slightly into a sandhill environment, its surroundings alternating between sandy scrub and open fields of golden grasses.
Reaching 3.3 miles, the trail enters pine flatwoods characterized by a scattered pines among a sea of saw palmetto and gallberries.
Distant cypress domes rise from the horizon across the expanse as the path slices through thick green brush before crossing an old ditch on a small wooden bridge.
The trail progressively becomes damper while approaching the swampy floodplain of the Withlacoochee River.
Sumac rises out of the tall grasses, sporting bunches of leaves that turn bright crimson in the fall. Shinyberries cluster alongside the trail, next to vibrant purple hairy chaffhead stalks.
As the trail meanders northward, vegetation and shade increase as you wind between cypress stands, taking short detours onto forest roads to avoid some of the wetter areas.
At a particularly swampy crossing, an old bridge covered in vines assists hikers across standing water.
A sign indicating the blue-blazed Ranch Road connector stands trailside at the six-mile mark.
From this intersection, continue straight to follow the Florida Trail northbound, or turn left towards the Ranch Road trailhead to complete a trailhead-to-trailhead hike after 7.4 miles.
NORTHBOUND: Green Swamp West to Richloam
SOUTHBOUND: Green Swamp East
Learn more about the Florida Trail Western Corridor
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Weaving across rolling sandhills and along the tannic waters of the Withlacoochee River, the River Road to Richloam Loop section is an exceptionally scenic destination along the western corridor of the Florida Trail.
Camping beneath the twinkling stars at Colt Creek State Park, enjoy a getaway from the busy bustle of the Interstate 4 corridor between Lakeland and Tampa
A linear trail, the Upper Hillsborough River Hiking Trail meanders through pine flatwoods, oak hammocks, and floodplain forests along the edge of the Hillsborough River basin.