9.3 miles. From a tricky traverse of the floodplain of Lafayette Creek to a roller-coaster of steep dips through wooded ravines, this scenic and surprisingly hilly section of the Florida Trail will give you a serious workout. It offers more climbs in and out of steepheads than any other segment of the Florida Trail, with a serious swamp walk at the east end and high ridges at the west end.
Both tough and fun, this hike through the wilder side of Nokuse makes you figure out where best to put your feet during the swamp crossings before it leads you through the ups and downs of more than a dozen steephead ravines, each with its own little creek at the bottom. Add in a significant stretch of sidehill along the longest ravine, and you’ll find this a hike you’ll want to go out of your way to do. Will you get your feet wet? Probably. But the experience makes it worthwhile. Following a blend of conservation easement on the private Nokuse Plantation and a traverse of neighboring water management district lands, it is by far the most challenging portion of the Nokuse section in the Central Panhandle.
One designated campsite, Steephead, sits above its namesake, an enormous ravine that the trail plunges through and follows for some time on sidehill. There is a bench and fire ring within sight of the cleared area in the wiregrass. No permits are required.
Ongoing restoration of pine plantations back to native longleaf pine habitat is the goal of Nokuse Plantation, a private conservancy created by local entrepreneur M.C. Davis. While this process is going on, you will encounter both recent clearcuts and new young forests. Keep alert for flagging and blaze posts in these areas to follow the footpath.
Portions of this trail, including the vicinity of the Steephead Campsite and the Lafayette Creek trailhead, are on lands managed by Northwest Florida Water Management District, which permits limited seasonal hunting. Check hunt dates and locations.
As the trail dives right into the Lafayette Creek floodplain, flooding can be an issue, so much so that there is an permanent alternate blue-blazed trail provided to bypass the floodplain section. Do not attempt to hike along Lafayette Creek if the water is actively flowing across the trail. It’s a swift, deep creek and it’s far too easy to fall into it if you can’t see its edge. Turn back and follow the blue blaze instead.
From Interstate 10 in Defuniak Springs, follow US 331 south. At the pedestrian crossing signs 9.1 miles south of Interstate 10, there is a small unpaved trailhead on the right for access to the south end of the Eglin section, and across the four lane highway, a narrow place next to a fenceline that a car or two can fit where this section ends at Owls Head. Do not leave cars there overnight.
Continue another 5 miles to the intersection of US 331 and SR 20 in Freeport, and make a left on SR 20. After 4.5 miles, turn left on J.W. Hollingsworth Rd and follow it for 4.2 miles. It’s a narrow rural road that makes several 90-degree turns and crosses a one-lane bridge before ending at the Lafayette Creek trailhead.
Starting from the Lafayette Creek trailhead to walk northbound, follow the sand road behind the kiosk to reach the trail crossing. Turn left. Crossing an expanse of young forest, the trail dives down a steep slope to Wolf Creek, crossing it on a sturdy road bridge. On the opposite side is the junction with the blue-blazed alternate route to bypass Lafayette Creek if it is flooding. Backtrack here if need be.
Traversing more young forest, the trail swings around a steephead and a perched pitcher plant bog before descending to the sandy banks of Lafayette Creek. Here’s where the hike gets interesting as you enter the floodplain swamp for the next mile. The forest floor isn’t solid ground, but a mucky place with moss-rimmed puddles and many slippery roots. The footbridge over Tom Turtle Creek is a welcome oasis between swamps.
Climbing out of the floodplain to pass the other end of the blue-blazed alternate route near the 4 mile mark, the trail begins its undulations through one steephead ravine after another, each with a delightful feeder stream at the bottom. You won’t lack for water sources along this hike.
Passing the Steephead campsite, the trail descends into Steep Head, the deepest of the ravines. On the other side of it, it continues as sidehill for some time before plunging into more ravines and another floodplain traverse, this one along Magnolia Creek. One the trail reaches Owls Head Rd at 8 miles, it uses it to cross the creek before plunging into the floodplain again. Climbing up into a longleaf restoration area, the trail emerges at the fence along US 331.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Eglin Portal
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Forgotten Creek