27.7 miles. Spanning from the Choctawhatchee River west to the boundary of Eglin Air Force Base, Nokuse is a compelling backpacker’s destination in the Florida Panhandle.
Nearly two decades ago, local entrepreneur and conservationist M.C. Davis purchased more than 53,000 acres of the landscapes he grew up in, with a dream of restoring what had become pine plantations and sod farms back to the sweeping longleaf pine forests that once dominated the Southeast.
He called it Nokuse Plantation, which is now one of the largest private conservancies in the United States.
Working with the U.S. Forest Service and the Florida Trail Association soon after purchasing the land, a permanent conservation easement across the landscape was arranged to forever provide the Florida Trail a corridor through the region.
We had the honor of joining M.C. on an exploratory hike when the easement was first offered. While he is no longer with us, his legacy continues to be shepherded by a nonprofit organization he founded to complete his dream.
Using that conservation easement as well as adjacent public lands in the Northwest Florida Water Management District, the Nokue section of the Florida Trail spans 27.7 miles from the Choctawhatchee River to US 331 north of Freeport.
Habitat diversity and rugged terrain coupled with botanical beauty makes this an outstanding backpacking trip. Four designated primitive campsites are along the route, as well as plenty of streams as water sources.
This is a good section for backpacking with your dog. No permits or fees are required to backpack the Nokuse section of the Florida Trail.
Do not random camp in Nokuse Plantation. Hikers MUST use designated campsites, which are on water management lands. Designated campsites have benches, a fire ring, and a nearby water source.
Nokuse is the Creek word for bear. Bear bagging or use of a bear canister is recommended. Alligator sightings are infrequent, but they can be present in any body of water, mainly in the ponds and swamps.
Pay attention when you come to the edge of a creek or pond to filter. It’s always smart to scoop water up in a bag and take it elsewhere to filter.
Water sources are relatively plentiful since there are many creek crossings, especially in the Lafayette Creek section.
Resupply for northbound long distance hikers should be done immediately before (Ebro) or after (DeFuniak Springs) tackling this section.
PARKING & SHUTTLE
We have heard of no reports with vandalism when cars are left for multiple days while backpacking. It is better to park beneath the Choctawhatchee River bridge than at Cowford Landing.
If you need assistance with a shuttle, join the Florida Trail Hikers Facebook group and ask for assistance. There are a number of volunteers in the area who can help. Be sure to compensate them for their gas and time.
A primary concern about crossing the Nokuse section is flooding. Flooding can be an issue on portions of the Nokuse section. There is a blue-blazed alternative route paralleling Lafayette Creek. If the creek is flowing across the trail, do not attempt hiking it, use the blue blaze instead.
If the Choctawhatchee River is in flood stage, the Choctawhatchee River Section will be impassable. Check the flood gauge in advance of your hike.
Prescribed burns are used to manage the longleaf pine habitat and can also be a concern. Such activities should be posted along the trail so you don’t walk into them, but we know that doesn’t always happen. Nokuse Plantation phone: 850-835-2457.
All of the mileages below start with mile 0 at Cowford Landing trailhead and end with mile 27.7 at US 331. Mileages referenced below are calculated from the Florida Trail App.
0 – Cowford Landing trailhead
1.6 – Cypress Creek boardwalk
3.5 – Leaning Pine Camp
7.4 – Dead River Road
8.2 – Rivers Bend Camp
8.6 – SR 81. Seven Runs trailhead 0.2E
16 – Forgotten Creek campsite
18.3 – Lafayette Creek trailhead
23.9 – Steephead campsite
27.7 – US 331 (parking on west side 0.1N)
Guthook Guides Comprehensive logistics and offline maps for the Florida National Scenic Trail.
These are the three trail segments that make up the Nokuse section, south to north (compass east to west).
8.7 miles. Crossing majestic longleaf pine forests in Nokuse Plantation, the Florida Trail along the Choctawhatchee River also showcases natural features in the river basin between Cypress Creek and Seven Runs.
9.7 miles. Contrasting steephead ravines and sluggish creeks in gum swamps with restoration areas on former sod farms and pine plantations, the Forgotten Creek portion of the Florida Trail in Nokuse surprises with its challenges.