A six-mile-long prairie, a vast marshland in the middle of the dry Big Scrub, Hopkins Prairie is a beauty spot along the Florida Trail.
Built along the prairie rim, the trail showcases its gentle curves and broad panoramas of wetland backed by pine-topped ridges.
More than two-thirds of this segment of the Florida Trail sticks close to the prairie, never letting it out of your sight.
Length: 9.6 miles linear
Trailhead: 29.276587, -81.687867
Fees / Permits: free
Restroom: Vault toilet at campground unlocked October-May
Land Manager: U.S. Forest Service
Open 24 hours. Leashed pets welcome.
Backpackers are welcome to random camp along this part of the Florida Trail except during general gun (deer hunting) season in the fall. Hopkins Prairie Campground is available Oct-May for a fee.
Bears are frequently seen in this area. The National Forest requires you to bear bag or use a bear canister.
NORTH END: On SR 19 in Salt Springs, just north of where CR 314 merges in, make a right at the sign for the Salt Springs Marina. Follow the dirt road into the woods. The trailhead is on the right.
SOUTH END: Driving south from Salt Springs along SR 19 roughly ten miles, you pass signs for Shanty Pond before entering a small community. Watch for a brown sign on the right for Hopkins Prairie. Follow the brown signs east down the otherwise unmarked roads to the small trailhead outside the campground.
The trail tunnels into the scrub forest on the north side of the trailhead, slipping past an old sinkhole half-hidden by the trees.
Turning onto an old forest road, it emerges at a T intersection with a view across the prairie. Off to the left it leads past an unusual structure, a bat house, to the campground.
Turn right to continue north. Placing a panorama in front of you, the trail simply follows the undulations of the prairie rim, usually on the white sands of its very own beach.
Almost a mile into the hike you circle a pond close enough to be a water source. As the trail makes its next curve, it offers one last look back towards the campground before entering an oak hammock.
Beyond the oak hammock is more prairie, of course, but a different arm of it. Watch out where beaten paths lead into the woods. Those aren’t the trail. It sticks to the prairie rim, orange blazes always leading forward.
After 3 miles, you round a large marsh, outlined in tall grasses and busy with the bustle of frogs. Past a patch of shady oak forest that might work for a random camp, the trail leads around another swampy area.
Reaching the farthest tip of the prairie that you’ve been able to see up ahead, the trail keeps going right around its rim, almost backtracking on itself for a little ways. You can see back to where you’ve been.
At 4.9 miles, about a quarter mile after rounding a lily-dotted cove – the last permanent water source for many miles northbound – the trail finally leaves the shoreline to climb a small embankment into the sand pine forest.
Continue through the pines and cross a forest road where a blue-blazed alternate route – which starts near Big Sink and should be used when Hopkins Prairie floods the trail – joins in.
A long green tunnel through the scrub leads to the next prairie at 5.8 miles, where an ephemeral pond reflects the sky. You might be able to find a level spot to camp nearby.
Passing several more small prairies, the trail comes to the Salt Springs junction at 6.7 miles. It is marked by a sign and a bench. This is the blue blazed trail that leads 2.9 miles east to the Salt Springs trailhead.
Use the side trail if you’re parked at the Salt Springs trailhead, or need to go into town for a resupply at the grocery store. The side trail is described in the next northbound segment. Finishing your hike in Salt Springs means a 9.6-mile linear hike.
You can also hike on to either FR 11 or the CR 314 highway crossing as two other access points that a passenger vehicle can get to. They are 9.3 and 9.8 miles north of the Hopkins Prairie trailhead, respectively, and described in the next northbound segment.
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
Other nearby trails and springs in this area.
Little known except to those who frequent Salt Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest, the Bear Swamp Trail provides a walk into an ancient forest.
One of the most famed first magnitude springs in Florida, Salt Springs was first written about in 1774 by botanist William Bartram.
With a strong aquamarine hue accented by refracted rainbows as sunlight plays across the ripples on its sandy bottom, Silver Glen Springs is a first-magnitude spring in the Ocala National Forest.
Florida Trail segments to the north and south of Hopkins Prairie
10.4 miles. Crossing a patchwork of scrub ridges and longleaf pine islands, the Florida Trail makes its way southwest of Salt Springs around Lake Kerr.