14.3 miles. Delving deep into the swampy heart of the Apalachicola National Forest, this section spans some of the gnarliest titi and gum swamps you’ll see outside of Bradwell Bay. The payoff is an immersion into a uniquely wild and wooly corner of Florida, complete with its own Great Wall of Titi.
One of the more remote and genuinely wet pieces of the Florida Trail in the Apalachicola National Forest, the segment west of Jewel follows Indian Creek upstream for a stretch, then uses FR 107 as a long causeway through impentrable swamps before finding swamps that trail maintainers figured they could route the trail through. These drainages seep out of vast thickets of titi, lowlands amid the expansive forest of longleaf pine.
Every time the trail heads towards a wall of vegetation, make plans to get your feet wet and your boots muddy again. Two primitive designated campsites offer respite from sodden terrain. As you approach the west end of the hike, you’ll come across the remains of an old timbering town, Vilas, along the railroad.
JANUARY 2019: this segment of the trail was heavily impacted by Hurricane Michael and is reported as nearly impassible. Until the government shutdown ends, no trail maintenance will be underway to clear the trail. Use extreme caution if you are considering a hike here and expect to follow paralleling forest roads in places.
The Apalachicola National Forest is a popular destination for hunters, especially during the fall deer season, when hikers are restricted to camping at designated campsites, which include Sapling Head and Vilas. The remainder of the year, you are welcome to random camp in any pleasant spot. Neither of the designated campsites have nearby water so be sure to filter some before you arrive.
Check hunt dates as a part of your trip planning, and always wear bright orange clothing during hunting seasons.
On the east side, the Jewel trailhead [30.196779, -84.727692] – an undeveloped site where a fire tower once stood – is on the west side of CR 67 south of Indian Creek. Look for the paved apron leading up to it. It is 13.6 miles south of Telogia and 27.3 miles north of US 98 at Carrabelle.
On the west side, the Vilas trailhead [30.21903, -84.885719] is a designated parking corral along CR 120, a dirt road off CR 65. Look for the turnoff 10 miles south of Telogia. If you pass it and cross the New River bridge, you’ve gone too far.
As the trail pulls away from Indian Creek to traverse longleaf pine forests, it bears no hint of what lies ahead. Reaching FR 107, it joins this dirt forest road for almost two miles, and you begin to wonder why, until you look around. It’s so wet here that there simply was nowhere else to put the trail.
When the trail leaves FR 107 and turns west into a corridor through the pines, it springs the first set of surprises on you: titi tunnels and tupelo mazes tucked deep into the forest. Figure your way through each by following the blazes. The water can be very deep on several of these crossings.
Not quite halfway through the hike, Sapling Head Camp is a small clearing in a dense undergrowth of gallberry. The trail continues to zigzag down forest roads until it reaches the edge of the “Great Wall of Titi.” We named it this since it goes on, and on, and on, and on. You’ll parallel it for a very long time and, at one point, think you’ve lost it before – surprise! – you’re led right through it, traversing a dense swamp.
By the time you make it through Sapling Head Swamp you might think the swamps are over. Not so! After a very brief stretch of dry pine flatwoods and a short walk along FR 107 compass west, the trail rejoins the woods and hits another few long soggy tunnels in the titi.
It finally emerges in pine flatwoods surrounding Vilas Camp. Look for stones and metal and foundations and railroad ties that give a clue to the bustling timber town. This segment ends as you reach the trailhead.