4 miles. One of the most beautiful segments of the Florida Trail in the region, this undulating ribbon of trail between the Oak Park Bridge and FR 329 follows the sinuous path of the deeply tannic Sopchoppy River, offering views from the river bluffs.
Fed by the swamps of the Apalachicola National Forest, the Sopchoppy River snakes through a mostly-wild landscape for 46 miles, emptying out into the Ochlockonee River just upstream from Ochlockonee River State Park. This section of the Florida Trail provides the best perspective of the river other than from a kayak.
This is not a “flat Florida” sort of hike. Being along the bluffs of the Sopchoppy River means dipping in and out of old floodplain channels, so there are steep climbs and a lot of dropoffs into the rocky river basin. But that’s a big part of the fun of hiking this section.
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. The remainder of the year, you are welcome to random camp in any pleasant spot. Check hunt dates as a part of your trip planning, and always wear bright orange clothing during hunting seasons.
It’s always smart to check the water gauge for the Sopchoppy River before heading out on a hike on this section of the Florida Trail, since you don’t want to get caught here in a flood. If water is flowing across the trail – and especially if Monkey Creek has topped the footbridge – turn back.
The Oak Park trailhead is 6.3 miles north of Sopchoppy. From downtown Sopchoppy, follow Railroad Avenue north. Entering the rural community of Oak Park, it becomes Oak Park Road, which turns to dirt (and becomes FR 365) as it enters the Apalachicola National Forest. Once you’re on the dirt road, turn left at FR 343. After the road crosses the Sopchoppy River, there is an enormous trailhead parking area on the right side of the road.
The FR 329 trailhead is along the edge of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness and can be difficult to get to at times, depending on road conditions. Avoid driving through mud puddles on these forest roads as there is no way to gauge depth. Follow the above directions, but don’t turn onto FR 343. Instead, continue straight north another 0.9 mile and bear left onto FR 349, leaving Oak Park Road. Continue 1.8 miles to a T intersection with FR 348. Turn left. Drive another 0.6 mile to the turnoff for FR 329. Turn left and cross the highway bridge (Martian Bridge) over the Sopchoppy River. The trailhead is on the right after 0.4 miles, and has a small parking area.
Leaving the Oak Park trailhead, the trail quickly leads you to a tributary crossing on a high bridge overlooking a cascade. Soon after, you cut out to the river bluffs and follow them for a good stretch. The river channel has cut deeply here, so you’re looking down or ahead through this portion of the trail. Watch for unusually shaped cypresses along this section, where the river is narrow and the trail undulates through drainages.
The trail leaves the river to plunge into a titi swamp and then into the pine flatwoods. The reason for that is the placement of the Monkey Creek Bridge, an extraordinary effort over a decade ago to replace other bridges closer to the river that kept washing away. This sturdy bridge is built to last, and a good thing, as Monkey Creek rises and falls over and over again.
After a short stretch crossing forest roads and another patch of scrub forest, the trail starts to hug the river bluffs again. It’s here that native azaleas bloom profusely in springtime, lending their sweet fragrance to the air. The river is broader and less deep, so the trail dips down to river level a handful of times, providing places to filter water.
Near the end of this segment, the footpath leaves the river bluffs to pass through Martian Camp, a designated campsite, before emerging onto FR 329 within view of the “Martian Bridge” for a short walk west to the trailhead.