Home to dense bluff forests, karst outcrops, and a sizable spring off the beaten path, Holton Creek Conservation Area is truly a hidden beauty spot.
Florida Trail hikers have known about it for decades. On these public lands, the footpath breaks away from the Suwannee River to follow Holton Creek to its source.
Steep-sided and deep, the spring doesn’t invite swimming. Nor do the water-filled sinkholes, losing streams, and karst windows within sight of the blazes.
Lushly shaded by second-growth forest, this preserve hides botanical beauty and history beneath its leafy understory, where remnants of the turpentine industry may be found.
While many hikers traverse this Florida Trail segment as part of an overnight trip from Suwannee Springs to Gibson Park, Holton Creek offers day hikers several access points.
Plan an out-and-back trip from Gibson Park, Hunt Camp trailhead, or Holton Spring trailhead, or stage cars for a day hike between River Camp and Gibson Park.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 5.6 miles linear
Trailhead: 30.438900, -83.057213
Restrooms: Yes, at Gibson Park and River Camp
Land manager: Suwannee River Water Management District
Open 24 hours. Leashed dogs permitted. Hikers should research seasonal hunting seasons in Holton Creek WMA in advance and wear bright orange clothing if planning to hike during hunts.
Reservations and a fee are now necessary for use of Holton Creek River Camp. Gibson Park charges a modest fee for camping. Other campsites along the trail are free.
The ending point is Gibson Park, a popular riverfront campground in Suwannee County. It lies immediately north of the Suwannee River and can be reached from Interstate 75 at Jennings by following SR 6 west for 3.2 miles, and CR 751 south for 3.3 miles. Alternatively, follow CR 249 north from downtown Live Oak for 12.8 miles to reach Gibson Park.
The starting point is inside Holton Creek WMA. From Gibson Park turn right on CR 249 immediately past the agricultural check station and drive 0.9 mile to the entrance road to Holton Creek WMA. Turn right and follow that road into the main gate. Beyond the hunt check station, the road narrows and becomes one lane in spots, but it eventually ends at Holton Creek River Camp. Parking there is day use only. Backpackers should park at Holton Spring trailhead.
Begin your hike at Holton Creek River Camp, an expansive complex with well-kept tent sites and shelters for backpackers and paddlers.
A blue-blazed side trail from the parking area is worth the additional half-mile round trip to see Florida’s two largest cypress trees at the bottom of a sinkhole.
Orange blazes lead along the rocky bluffs through River Camp with nice views of the Suwannee River.
Large live oak branches arch overhead, covered in resurrection ferns and Spanish moss.
Grasses border the leaf-strewn path as it winds through a shady hardwood hammock.
Tangles of thick grapevines weave across the canopy overhead and clusters of palmettos dot the forest floor.
After 1.2 miles, the trail reaches a large flat riverside beach called River Banks that hikers sometimes use as a resting or camping spot.
Within a quarter mile, the footpath leaves the river. After it crosses the forest road that provides vehicle access to River Camp, the terrain changes dramatically.
Huge pines and oaks tower over a rolling landscape of ancient sinkholes and depressions, some of which hold water and stands of cypress.
Crossing the access road a second time, the trail leads into the dense woods. It soon reaches the banks of Holton Creek.
Tracing the edge of a long, linear karst depression, the trail makes a large horseshoe around it, drawing close to the access road to circle it.
Returning to steep banks above the creek, it showcases surprisingly tannic waters much like the Suwannee River.
Passing by a large open area sometimes used by groups for camping, watch for a massive cypress emerging from the dark waters of the creek.
Up ahead, when the trail begins an arc to the right, a lesser-used path straight ahead leads to a steep beach at the base of the outflow of the spring.
Watch for gaping holes in the karst right off the footpath as the trail circles the bluff above the spring pool.
A blue-blazed side trail at 2.2 miles leads to the right to the Holton Spring trailhead along the access road.
The main pool of Holton Spring is visible from different angles as the trail circles around its north edge before heading westward.
A losing stream vanishes into a sinkhole into the deeply shaded forest to the right of the trail.
Crossing an old access road to a long-closed campground a quarter mile past Holton Spring, the trail passes a karst window known as Green Sink.
This type of sinkhole is unique, as a cavity created by collapsed limestone reveals the subterranean river below.
The landscape becomes damper as the trail continues west, climbing beneath magnolia and sweetgum trees.
At 2.8 miles, the trail reaches an access point along the access road before it enters planted pines, slated to be cut in 2022.
Two more forest road crossings punctuate this stretch of former pine plantation.
Beyond the second is a hardwood forest where jack-in-the-pulpit nestle along rotted logs and the leaves of Florida dogwoods provide shade.
At 4.2 miles, faded blue blazes lead east to the Hunt Check Station trailhead, or you can use the forest road just beyond it.
A half mile later, cross a sandy forest road, SW 68th Dr, that leads to residences along the Suwannee River.
As the trail ascends slightly in its approach to CR 751, the ecosystem becomes drier. The habitat may have once been sandhill, as sporadic turkey oaks line the trail.
The final mile crosses undulating terrain through thick stands of slash pine before reaching the highway across from Gibson Park at 5.6 miles.
Learn more about the Florida Trail Suwannee section
See our photos of Holton Creek WMA
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
7.7 miles. Along the limestone-bordered waters of the Alapaha and Suwannee Rivers, the Alapaha section of the Florida Trail explores unique geography within a densely forested landscape.
Following tall river bluffs with geologic wonders, the Suwannee Springs to Holton Creek section of the Florida Trail provides stunning views of the limestone-bordered waters of the Suwannee.
Perched at the confluence of the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers, Suwannee River State Park melds major historic sites with unusual karst topography.