Thanks to its geology and rugged terrain, the Suwannee River is one of the most fantastic destinations for hikers along the incredibly diverse Florida Trail.
Within the Suwannee section, the section of trail between historic Suwannee Springs and the forests of Holton Creek Conservation Area provides some of its most immersive landscapes.
Rolling hills, cascades, deep ravines, and limestone formations provide challenges as the path crosses numerous creeks within a dense riverside forest.
Starting from an abandoned highway bridge north of Live Oak, this Florida Trail segment winds westward, ending at a popular river camp with covered shelters and facilities.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Live Oak
Length: 10.3 miles linear
Trailhead: 30.395555, -82.935508
Address: Old US 129 Bridge
Restrooms: Yes, at Holton Creek River Camp
Land manager: Suwannee Water Management District
Open 24 hours. Leashed dogs permitted. Hikers should research seasonal hunting seasons in Holton Creek WMA in advance and wear bright orange clothing if planning to hike during hunts.
While Holton Creek River Camp was previously free to use, reservations and a payment are now necessary. Use the link below to save a space or a shelter. Random camping is free.
Be cautious of loose / aggressive dogs along the short roadwalk that follows SW 79nd Ter.
For the starting point, follow US 129 south from Interstate 75 at Jasper or north from Interstate 10 at Live Oak to reach the Suwannee River. Across from Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is an agricultural inspection station at US 129. If you want to leave a car overnight do so there. Otherwise follow 93rd Drive east at the turnoff to Suwannee Springs to the riverside park itself for day use parking. A blue-blazed trail leads from the spring to the old US 129 bridge to access the Florida Trail on the north side of the river.
The ending point is inside Holton Creek WMA. Follow US 129 north 2.8 miles from the river, turn west on CR 158, and take it 5.8 miles to CR 249. Turn left and continue 5.7 miles to the entrance road to Holton Creek WMA. Turn left and follow that road into the main gate. Beyond the hunt check station, the road narrows and becomes one lane in spots, but it eventually ends at Holton River Camp. Parking there is day use only. Backpackers should park either at Holton Spring, the hunt check station, or at Gibson Park within sight of where CR 249 meets CR 751 a mile past the Holton Creek WMA entrance.
Accessing the Florida Trail beneath the old US 129 bridge via a blue blazed descent on the north side of the river, follow the orange blazes north (compass west) into a hardwood hammock alongside the river.
Crossing Sugar Creek in a quarter mile, the trail opens to a picturesque valley of waterfalls and cypress knees as this small waterway snakes through sandy riverside slopes.
Shortly after crossing under the US 129 bridge, the trail joins a dirt road as it passes several properties situated on the river bluffs.
Orange blazes used to trace along this riverbank, but since have been rerouted to utility poles along the road based on the preferences of private landowners.
After a mile, a wide pathway leaves the road, quickly narrowing as it approaches the water’s edge. Gaps in thick shrubs lining the bank allow for panoramic views of the slow moving, tannic river below.
On the opposite bank, oak trees cling to exposed limestone as tall pines tower overhead, their branches covered in Spanish moss.
Nearby, a blaze is painted on concrete remains of a long-abandoned bridge situated on the bank, adjacent to a set of pilings in the middle of the river.
Beyond Ratcliff Creek in another half mile, shade is plentiful as the well-defined pathway passes under a canopy of oak, ash and tupelo trees.
In 1.4 miles, a picnic bench provides a resting spot within spectacular scenery of a white sand beach.
Huge oak branches arch overhead, and tall, near-vertical craggy limestone walls rise from the opposite side of the river.
Head westward from the beach. The sound of Mills Creek can be heard immediately before you round a corner and see the crystal clear waters cascading over tiers of limestone.
A few exposed stones can be used to hop across the creek before climbing a little hill and passing through a clearing behind a house on the river.
Sections of the trail traverse a small ridge formed by hundreds of years of fluctuating water levels.
A steep slope drops off to the river on the left, while a more gradual slope descends into valleys to the right.
Some of the depressions are barren, likely holding water most of the year, while others are a bit drier and filled with seas of palmettos.
At the six-mile mark, a tall wooden bridge spans a significant water crossing. Wider than many of the other tributaries nearby, Mitchell Creek’s clear run rushes quickly along hilly terrain towards the river.
Majestic live oaks extend into the upper canopy or lay across the forest floor among holly and sparkleberry shrubs lining grassy banks of the river.
The bluffs are in a constant state of change from flooding, and in some spots the trail has been routed away from large chunks that have fallen in.
After passing a gate designating that you have entered Holton Creek Conservation Area, a small spring emerges the side of a bluff.
Cool, clear waters consistently rush forth from a deep hole within the earth, running across the sandy bank for a short distance to the murky waters of the Suwannee.
Less than a mile past this spring, Holton River Camp comes into view.
One of several designated River Camps along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, Holton Creek is the only one directly adjacent to the Florida Trail.
This location is an excellent spot to spend the evening, providing tent campsites alongside five reservable covered shelters nestled in a dense riverside forest.
The River Camp is also home to a side trail leading to the Guardian Cypress, a pair of cypress that are the Florida co-champions for their incredible girth and height.
Learn more about the Florida Trail Suwannee section
See our photos from this Florida Trail section
More worth exploring in this area.
Crossing scenic karst landscapes alongside sinkholes and around its namesake spring, the Holton Creek section of the Florida Trail provides botanical and geologic immersion.
7.8 miles. Rugged climbs through abandoned river channels and along the highest elevations along the Suwannee River make this hike a serious roller-coaster through river bluff forests and sandy beaches.
4.7 miles. Roly-poly and rugged, the Florida Trail across Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park showcases the beauty of the Suwannee River from its bluffs.