With its first segments developed as backpacking loops in Withlacoochee State Forest in the 1970s, the Western Corridor of the Florida Trail is one of two options for circling around the Orlando metro. Well-established loops in Green Swamp, Richloam, Croom, and Citrus provide excellent weekend getaways for backpackers.
The thru-trail connects these trails with other public lands to provide a pleasant trail corridor up through the Cross Florida Greenway and the Ocala National Forest. The route starts out with the Florida Trail’s longest roadwalk, but also showcases some of its most beautiful parks and preserves along the Nature Coast.
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FLOODING can be a concern along the Withlacoochee River floodplain from Green Swamp East through Croom. At times the river and its tributaries may be high enough to inundate the trail past the point where it is safe to wade it. Check the river gauges near Richloam and Croom before heading into those areas. Even when river levels are normal, the ford at Devil’s Creek in Richloam can be dangerous after a rain since it drains a large floodplain. Never walk into flowing water.
Free permits are required in advance for camping in both Green Swamp East and Green Swamp West. Contact the Southwest Florida Water Management District at 352-796-7211 or reserve online. Camping access is limited during hunting seasons. In Withlacoochee State Forest (Richloam, Croom, Citrus), camping is only permitted in designated primitive campsites (free) and recreation areas (fee).
The Cross Florida Greenway provides a 39-mile corridor for backpacking the Florida Trail where hunting is not permitted. It’s an ideal destination for overnight trips during general gun season in the fall. The Office of Greenways and Trails requires a free permit for primitive camping along the Cross Florida Greenway. Call 352-236-7143 to obtain a permit. Florida Trail Association members do not need permits; simply carry your membership card with you.
During general gun (deer) season, backpackers in the Ocala National Forest must use designated campsites, none of which exist along the Florida Trail in Ocala West. Your only option is a commercial campground off SR 40. Random camping is permitted at all other times. A bear bag or bear canister is required for backpackers in the Ocala National Forest
Portions of the trail are high and dry with limited water sources. Because of this, logistical planning is crucial when backpacking in Croom, Citrus, and the Cross Florida Greenway.
Brooksville, Dade City, Dunnellon, Inverness, and Silver Springs make great base camps for day hiking portions of the Florida Trail that surround them. You’ll find both motels and campgrounds on public land in these communities.
The trail route passes through urban, industrial, and suburban areas for much of the roadwalk connector up to Green Swamp, so make use of motels in St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and Davenport: stealth camping isn’t safe. Use your street smarts while walking through urban residential areas and don’t leave your backpack unattended.
At Chinsegut WEA, the Conservation Center Tract is a birder’s delight. Sandhill cranes are common in May’s Prairie, which the loop trail circles for a 2 mile hike.
One of Florida’s longest backpacking loops – and the longest within a single piece of public land – the Citrus Hiking Trail offers up to 43 miles of rugged and interesting terrain near Inverness
Using the Florida Trail and the Blue Loop Trail, hikers can explore a picturesque corner of Withlacoochee State Forest in Ridge Manor along a 3.9-mile loop.
A walk in an urban forest, the Baseline section of the Florida Trail showcases restored sandhill habitat
With three stacked loops containing 24.9 miles of marked footpaths, the Croom Hiking Trail is one of the oldest and driest loop hike destinations for backpackers on the Florida Trail.
A pleasant ramble on bluffs above the Withlacoochee River, the Croom River Trail segment of the Florida Trail tunnels through oak hammocks and slips around cypress swamps along its 6.3-mile journey.
A prime destination for backpacking and day hiking near Ocala, the Florida Trail follows the Cross Florida Greenway for nearly 40 miles between the Withlacoochee and Ocklawaha Rivers
Bridging the Cross Florida Greenway across the Withlacoochee River, the Dunnellon Trail provides a destination for cyclists and hikers
Between Eaton Creek and Salt Springs, this 12 mile segment of the Florida Trail in Ocala West is high and dry, showcasing the life cycle of the sand pine scrub ecosystem.
On the Florida Trail south of Eaton Creek in the Ocala National Forest, you’ll traverse creeks, bayheads, and dense marshes draining towards the Ocklawaha River
Between the Land Bridge Trailhead and Santos, the 7-mile linear section of the Florida Trail winds its way around horse farms to meander through stands of oaks and pines.
Florida Trail Videos (Western Corridor)
East vs. West: which is best? I hiked both as a loop, so here’s a rundown of how the two corridors of the Florida Trail compare through Central Florida – and a little trail history.