As the Florida Trail curves its way north and west between Buckman Lock and the Suwannee River, it touches on centuries of Florida’s history, from the British colonial period atop the dikes at Rice Creek to the boom of Civil War cannons through the pine forests at Olustee.
Connecting an array of public lands, including the smallest of Florida’s national forests, Osceola National Forest, with walks on backroads and a stroll down a former rail line – now the Palatka-Lake Butler Trail – it’s an introduction to a different pace of life. Some of the region’s highlights include the botanical wonders of Rice Creek Conservation Area, the deep ravine at Etoniah Creek State Forest, and the rolling sandhills of Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park and Camp Blanding.
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There are two very nice trail shelters along this section, one at Rice Creek and the other at Etoniah Creek (Iron Bridge). They are popular destinations for weekend backpackers.
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons. Be aware that private hunting leases flank many portions of the Palatka-Lake Butler Trail corridor, so wearing bright colors there is smart. Where the trail traverses Lake Butler Forest, the entire corridor is under a hunting lease and hunters may be present 24/7.
During general gun (deer) season, backpackers must use designated campsites and recreation areas in the Osceola National Forest. Random camping is permitted at all other times. A bear bag or bear canister is required for backpackers in the Osceola National Forest.
Fees are applicable for entry and camping at Gold Head Branch State Park. Call ahead to reserve your space at the primitive campsite: 352-473-4701. Cabins and spaces in two developed campgrounds are also available.
You must sign in and out at the kiosks at Camp Blanding and carry your permit with you. Prominent signs indicate whether the base is closed for training maneuvers. If it is, use the bike path south from Gold Head Branch State Park to bypass it.
Be cautious of loose dogs along the Palatka-Lake Butler Trail and along the roadwalk sections. A hiker was bit by a small dog near Carraway and required medical treatment. Camping options are limited along the Palatka-Lake Butler Trail because of the narrowness of the corridor and the many swamps that flank it. Plan your stops ahead of time.
Expect mud and water while traversing the trail between SR 19 (north of Buckman Lock) and SR 100 (north of Rice Creek), both across the forest roads and on the footpath in the woods.
It’s a lot of fun to arrive in Olustee during their annual Civil War reenactment in mid-February. Learn more about it here.
7.3 miles. A rough and swampy connector through timber lands, the Florida Trail between Buckman Lock and SR 20 west of Palatka is an often muddy ramble down old forest roads.
On this 3.5-mile segment of the Florida Trail in Etoniah State Forest, you’ll encounter the rare Etonia rosemary and a number of sinkholes in the pine forests and scrub
Following the high ground above Devil’s Washbasin and Gold Head Ravine, the Florida Trail works its way across Gold Head Branch State Park on a scenic 3.5 mile route
A surprisingly pleasant section of the Florida Trail that sees very few hikers, the most remote part of the Palatka-Lake Butler Trail stretches 9.3 miles between Hampton and the New River, southwest of Starke.
In the Osceola National Forest, this short loop adjacent to Olustee Battlefield is one of the easiest places in the state to see red-cockaded woodpeckers
Home of ancient cypress trees and the remains of a 1700s rice plantation, Rice Creek Conservation Area has a fascinating loop trail along the statewide Florida Trail
There aren’t a lot of places you can (or should) bike down the Florida Trail, but the Lake Butler Trail in Union County is a nice country bike path that shares the trail with hikers.
Florida Trail Videos (Northeast Florida)
Effective July 26, 2019, fees go up at many National Forest campgrounds, boat ramps, and recreation areas