One of the largest forests in the state, Blackwater State Forest protects more than 213,000 acres of land in the Western Panhandle near Milton.
Although the trail through the Hutton Unit is blazed with blue instead of the typical orange blaze, it is a section of the Florida Trail.
The unique topography and vegetation make this a popular spot for day hiking and backpacking.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 5.2 mile linear
Trailhead: 30.654909, -86.888359
Address: Pond Rd, Milton, FL 32583
Land manager: Florida Forest Service
Open 24 hours. Designated primitive campsite available. Leashed dogs welcome.
Seasonal hunting occurs. If you plan to hit the trails here, check ahead regarding hunt dates.
From Interstate 10 exit 31, Milton, follow SR 87 north for one mile. Turn right on US 90 and drive 5.2 miles east. Turn left on Pond Rd, immediately before the small community of Harold on the right. The southernmost trailhead nearly adjoins the railroad crossing you go over. The two other trailheads are along Deaton Bridge Rd, the next road on the left off US 90 past Pond Rd.
Starting at the parking area, follow blue blazes northward as the trail enters the woods, passing a sign indicating the start of the Blackwater trails.
After a short jaunt under forested canopy, the path opens to a scrubby clayhill habitat.
A well-defined sandy path weaves through this dry environment, home to skyblue lupine, persimmons, and prickly pear cacti.
Meandering across an open space, the trail turns to the left and into a forest of pine.
Several unique structures built by the Florida Trail Association are along the path, including rounded benches and a 90-degree walkway over Tiny Creek.
As the trail takes a jog to the east, it rises slightly, crossing a road that leads west to Summit Camp and offering views over the surrounding countryside.
Shortly after descending the hill, the trail is bordered to the right by a bog covered in white pitcher plants and bracken fern.
Pitcher plants are an intriguing carnivorous form of vegetation that capture insects to thrive in nutrient-poor soils.
Continuing northward, the trail cuts through a dense carpet of brackens under young pines and turkey oaks.
Scorch marks on the tree trunks serve as a reminder of how often this habitat is subjected to controlled burns.
The topography quickly becomes more rugged alongside seasonal creeks that drain to Blackwater River. An unmarked forest road to the right leads to the equestrian trailhead for the Hutton Unit, a half mile SE across from Blackwater Canoe Rental.
After crossing a bridge over a dry ravine, a sign indicates a little trail that heads down to a steephead ravine created by a clear spring run. Wild azaleas flourish in the wet areas around this little oasis.
In a half mile, the trail enters Blackwater River State Park, tracing a path through an area of longleaf pine restoration.
This section is also burned regularly to help restore the habitat along the south side of the river.
The trail continues through forest for the next 0.2 mile before taking a left onto Deaton Bridge Road, reaching the trailhead in another 0.2 mile.
Deaton Bridge crosses Blackwater River, offering views of this tannic waterway and its sandy shorelines. The Juniper Creek Trail starts from the trailhead north of the river bridge.
Learn more about the FT and Blackwater River State Forest
45.5 miles. The Blackwater section of the Florida Trail walks you through Atlantic white cedar and longleaf pine forests, pitcher plant bogs and titi swamps en route to the Alabama border.
With our switcheroo on the previous day – skipping the burned zone of the Jackson Trail to walk the Juniper Creek Trail back to the campground – Day Four of the Panhandle Trace Hike had us headed northbound for the first time on this trek. Peggy had hikers going in all directions and for different …
See our photos of the Hutton Unit, Blackwater River State Forest
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Blackwater River State Park is the gateway to thousands of acres of public lands stretching northward to the Alabama border.
7.3 miles. Also known as the Juniper Creek Trail, the Florida Trail at Juniper Creek is a gorgeous place to explore, with its panorama at Red Rocks and botanical delights along and above the creek basin.
11.1 miles. For an acrobatic adventure on the Florida Trail, the Yellow River Ravines section between Holt and Harold tosses both tricky swamp traverses and creative creek crossings your way.
NORTHBOUND: Juniper Creek
SOUTHBOUND: Deer Lake