Despite its short distance, this roly-poly section of the Florida Trail north of White Springs is pretty rugged.
It involves a lot of scrambling in and out of ravines and eroded bluffs created when the Suwannee River seasonally overflows its banks.
Starting at the historic Spring House and ending at a neighborhood access point off CR 25A west of White Springs, it’s a scenic and sometimes surprising hike.
Length: 4.7-mile linear hike
Trailhead: 30.329918, -82.760361
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee
Restroom: At Cousin Thelma’s inside the park
Land Manager: Suwannee River Water Management District, Florida State Parks
Ticks can be a serious problem on any hike along the Suwannee River. Protect yourself by using bug spray and wearing light clothing. The trail is quite rugged in places. A hiking stick is recommended.
Always check river levels before hiking the Florida Trail along the Suwannee River. At flood stage, the river can flow over the trail and make hiking dangerous.
From Interstate 75, follow SR 136 for 3 miles east into downtown White Springs. Turn left at the blinker onto US 41. Make the next left into the parking area in front of the old tourism center. Day use parking only.
Alternatively, continue around the curve and enter Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park. Make the first left to drive down to the small parking area at the Spring House.
For overnight parking, pay your entrance fee and mention you want to leave your car overnight and for how long. You’ll need to follow the one-way loop road around the park to the Gazebo area, just past the turnoff for the cabins. This is a secure place to leave a car while backpacking.
Make your way down the staircase adjoining the former visitor center in White Springs. The beaten path ahead leads right up to historic White Sulphur Springs.
The prominent building around it was a spa in the late 1800s. A dozen or more hotels catered to guests coming to “take the waters” of this first-magnitude spring. It’s worth a walk down to the river to peek at its outflow.
Continue along the orange blazes into the state park, walking through a shaded grove of trees past an outdoor kitchen used during the annual Florida Folk Festival, held each Memorial Day Weekend.
The blazes lead out to the park road and along it, where giant mounds of planted azaleas bloom every spring. They curve back to the river and cut through a power line easement to reach the Gazebo trailhead at 0.6 mile.
Use this trailhead for an out-and-back hike, or if you plan to backpack north. While there are no restrooms here, the road on the north side of the parking lot leads to the craft village and gift shop, where the nearest restrooms are.
The trail slips down towards the river bluffs, beginning what will be miles of scenic views through this section. Turning away from the river, it drops through a deep ravine, a side channel.
Climb back out of the ravine to circle around to the cabin area, crossing the launch.
The trail returns to its views of the river, popping out into the open at the designated primitive campsite at 1.1 mile. The full-service campground is up the powerline trail from here.
Continuing along the bluffs, you find the trail suddenly curving downhill through a big dip shaded by a large live oak. It’s a scramble back up from river level on the far side.
Native azaleas bloom along the bluffs through this next section leading up to Catfish Hole, the major trail junction for the park’s hiking, biking, and equestrian trails at 2.6 miles.
Slipping downhill from this high point, the trail keeps close to the bluffs, passing under a very large oak before reaching a low terrace of forest almost at river level.
Beyond the last signposted river overlook along the bluff, you reach the park boundary in the forest. A riffle shows up in the water below, signaling some tiny shoals in the river bottom.
Now that you’re outside the park, a grassy clearing where plum trees bloom in February can be used as a random campsite, just a little shy of a water source at Sal Marie Branch.
At 4.2 miles, the trail plunges into the ravine carved by this tannic waterway and crosses it on a bridge – or at least we hope it does. The bridge has washed away in the past and might do so again.
Climbing up the bluff on the far side, the trail provides views of Sal Marie Branch slipping through the bluff forest.
When you emerge from the forest, it’s to join a two-track road along a powerline. This road walks you right in front of houses in a small neighborhood off CR 25A.
Coming to the access road from CR 25A into the neighborhood – where it is just wide enough to park a car before you get to the access – this trail segment ends at 4.7 miles.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Swift Creek
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, White Springs
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park
Most of this section of trail is inside the boundary of Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park. Learn about the park’s history and features.
Other nearby trails and parks in the area
Showcasing springs, sandy beaches, waterfalls, and haunting swamp forests where manatees gather, the 170-mile Suwannee River Wilderness Trail is a paddling trip of a lifetime
A boardwalk trail at Falling Creek Falls north of Lake City leads you to overlooks on a waterfall with a twelve-foot drop in a picturesque setting
On the Disappearing Creek Loop off the Florida Trail along the Suwannee River, watch Camp Branch burble through rapids and cascade into a giant sinkhole