Paralleling a segment of the failed Cross Florida Barge Canal, this mostly linear section of the Florida Trail sticks to a high berm created when the canal was dug.
Nicely shaded for much of its route, it’s a gentle walk with the occasional scenic view of the waterway and the forests on its north side.
While a portion of this hike is in the Ocala National Forest, most of this section of trail is on the Cross Florida Greenway, where hunting is not permitted.
Disclosure: As authors and affiliates, we receive earnings when you buy these through our links. This helps us provide public information on this website.
Guthook Guides GPS-driven map-based guide to the Florida National Scenic Trail with thousands of waypoints from The Florida Trail Guide. Works offline. For iPhone and Android.
Length: 6.5 miles linear
Trailhead: 29.502291, -81.814079
Fees : none
Restroom: vault/portable toilets at each end, flush toilets at Rodman Recreation Area at the dam
Ocala National Forest Lake George Ranger District Phone: 352-625-2520
Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway Phone: 352-236-7143
Random camping is permitted except during general gun (deer hunting) season. Wear bright orange if hiking during any hunting season. Check the link at the bottom of this page for hunt dates.
St. Johns South is a designated campsite during hunting seasons and always available to hikers. The campground adjoins Buckman Lock and has a small fee for tenting.
Rodman Campground is along this stretch of trail. Managed by the Cross Florida Greenway, it offers both tent and RV sites as well as a bathhouse with hot showers and laundry.
If you are planning to leave a car for a night or more, Rodman Campground is the safest location to do so at the north end of the Ocala National Forest. There is a nightly fee.
Protect your food from animals. Bears are frequently seen. The Ocala National Forest requires that you either bear bag or use a bear canister. Raccoons will also try to steal food and gear.
Rodman trailhead: From SR 19 north of Salt Springs, follow the highway north to Kirkpatrick Dam Rd, just before the large bridge over the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Turn left. Drive past Rodman Campground, the Rodman Recreation Area, and across the dam to the parking area on the right behind the “Rodman Trailhead” sign.
St. Johns South: Just as if you were headed to Rodman trailhead, but turn right instead of left off SR 19. Follow Boys Ranch Rd to the ranch entrance and turn left. The road ends at St. Johns South Recreation Area adjoining Buckman Lock.
From the Rodman trailhead – the largest of several places you can park along this stretch of trail – it’s a roadwalk down Kirkpatrick Dam Road across the dam.
The top of the dam provides views across Rodman Reservoir and down into the floodplain basin of the Ocklawaha River below. A staircase leads from the southeast end of the dam down along the spillway.
At the bottom of the stairs is Rodman Recreation Area, a smaller paved parking area with restrooms and access to the fishing pier and picnic tables. Start your hike here if you don’t care about crossing the dam.
The Florida Trail re-enters the Ocala National Forest at a gate off the entrance road to Rodman Recreation Area at 1.1 miles.
Enter a narrow corridor defined by saw palmetto beneath tall slash pines, a well-shaded patch of forest. Round an ephemeral wetland under the pines.
After 1.9 miles, the trail meets a blue-blazed side trail to Rodman Campground, with a hiker register in a mailbox. Stop and sign in.
For the next quarter mile, continue walking through a slash pine forest with a dense understory of gallberry and saw palmetto, the trail a well-defined corridor on soft pine duff.
This ends at the pavement of Kirkpatrick Dam Rd, which is where you exit the Ocala National Forest. Cross the road to a stile around the side of a gate to follow a linear path along the edge of the fence line of Rodman Campground.
The trail is now on the Cross Florida Greenway for the remainder of the hike. At 2.5 miles, climb up a steep hill to reach a levee. This levee parallels a segment of the Cross Florida Barge Canal between Rodman and Buckman Lock.
A fence adjoins the levee on the right. At times the levee is a long tunnel shaded by oak trees, but now and again you catch glimpses of the long, straight canal well below on the left.
Watch for a blaze and beaten path leading downhill to a lower terrace closer to the canal. There are lovely, broad views of the pine forest on the far side of the waterway. The trail isn’t far from the water.
Passing a primitive boat ramp at 4.6 miles, the trail leads you beneath the tall SR 19 bridge over the canal, built in the treetops back in the 1960s when it was planned for large ships to pass beneath it.
Be sure to stop at the water check station, which offers a view across the canal of a wild floodplain lined with cypresses. Water lilies dot the swamp below.
The long straightaway ahead goes by quickly, and ends at a gate into the St. Johns South complex of Buckman Lock. Adjacent to the trail is a primitive campground with vault toilets, and a small trailhead. Wrap your hike here after 6.5 miles.
Hikers continuing north need to follow the trail over to the gate of Buckman Lock. The lock tender is present from 6:30 AM to 3 PM daily and will usher you across.
If you arrive at any other time, do NOT swim the channel. There is a large alligator that lives in it. Make sure you call the Florida Trail Association (352-378-8823) during office hours in advance of your hike here for the current gate code, in case you need to let yourself across the lock.
See our photos of hiking between Rodman trailhead and Buckman Lock
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Known best for its hillsides of blooming azaleas each February, Ravine Gardens State Park melds historic planted public gardens with the intriguing setting of a deep steephead ravine above the St. Johns River in Palatka.