11.1 miles. For an acrobatic adventure on the Florida Trail, the Yellow River Ravines section tosses both tricky swamp traverses and creative creek crossings your way. Spanning Blackwater River State Forest south of Holt and Harold, it showcases habitats along its namesake river.
This section of the Florida Trail offers a workout for both mind and body. It eliminated a long roadwalk along US 90 between Holt and Harold, a big step towards completion of a protected trail corridor through the region. As a young piece of trail, it has rough edges that will be smoothed out over time. Since we tackled it, some new bridges have been added. But in other spots, it takes some thought to puzzle out the best way to cross the creeks, most of which are not bridged, and some of which are deeper than they seem for their width. A sense of balance and a willingness to get your feet wet are key to enjoying this hike.
The Yellow River Ravines throws a lot of habitats at you for a day hike. You’ll cross pitcher plant bogs and scramble through steepheads, tiptoe through tangled titi swamps, and walk beneath majestic pines. There are also a lot of pine plantations and clearcuts where the forest is being restored back to longleaf. There are enough pockets of pretty around the creeks, swamps, and maturing longleaf pine restoration areas that memories of the not-so-lovely pieces will fade.
Although this hike is in the Eglin section, no portion of it is actually on Eglin Air Force Base, so there is no need for a permit nor to worry about the Public Access Map. Part of the land is managed by Northwest Florida Water Management District, but most of it is part of Blackwater River State Forest.
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons. Check the FWC website for hunting season dates for Yellow River Ravines WMA
Because it is partly in a river floodplain, parts of this hike are prone to flooding when the Yellow River rises significantly. If there is flowing water across the trail, turn back. Long distance hikers will need to follow US 90 to Harold to SR 87 as an alternate route.
Day hikers will likely want to use Canoe Cemetery or Guest Lake Park as one starting/ending point, and Deer Lake Rd as the other. This enables you to trim the hike to 7.3 or 8.3 miles (one mile difference between Canoe Cemetery and Guest Lake). If you are continuing through on a section hike or thru-hike, the full 11.1 mile Yellow River Ravines section ends at Santa Gertrudas Lane in a rural residential subdivision off SR 87 southeast of Milton near the racetrack, but there is nowhere to park in that area. A connecting roadwalk leads to the Eglin Weaver Creek section.
Long distance hikers can camp at Guest Lake Park, a welcome destination after the now-shortened 20.9 mile roadwalk through Crestview and Holt from Pearl trailhead at Eglin. There are also a few spots where random camping is possible for a tent or two, and a designated campsite 9.4 miles into the hike.
For the start of this section, take Interstate 10 in Crestview to exit 45, Log Lake Rd; you can also turn on to Log Lake Rd from US 90 in Holt at the Dollar General. Drive south along Log Lake Rd, which offers a nice view before the road descends the bluff into the Yellow River floodplain. Past the prominent entrance to River’s Edge RV Campground, Log Lake Rd becomes Canoe Lake Rd and the pavement ends. You have another 0.7 mile to go. Cross a wooden bridge over the outflow from Canoe Lake before making the curve onto Yellow River Log Lake Rd. Canoe Cemetery is at the next sharp curve. Do not block the road or driveway when parking here; parking is limited. Canoe Cemetery is the closest place to park to where the Florida Trail leaves the Crestview roadwalk to enter the woods along Log Lake Rd.
The road gets much softer past the next curve but if you have a high clearance vehicle or 4WD, you can follow Yellow River Log Lake Rd all the way to its end at Guest Lake Park, where there is ample parking. Parking at Guest Lake will knock a mile off your hike.
For the next major vehicle access point for this section, follow US 90 west from Holt to Harold. Turn south in Harold onto Miller Bluff Rd, crossing over Interstate 10. After 1.4 miles Deer Lake Rd is at a fork; bear left to follow it. Continue down Deer Lake Rd for another mile. Parking is roadside on the broad shoulder at the trail crossing for the blue-blazed Blackwater section. The Deer Lake Junction is 0.3 mile compass south along the blue blazes.
If you start from Canoe Cemetery, you’ll need to walk farther down the road, about a quarter mile, to where the Yellow River Ravines section starts with a double blaze leading into the woods on the left. The trail hugs close to the edge of the floodplain swamps for this next and will get inundated with water when the river is high. Crossing Log Lake Road, it meets the junction with the blue-blazed spur to Guest Lake Park. The park usually has a portable toilet and there is a pitcher pump.
After this junction, keep your eyes on the blazes as they lead you through bogs and into the floodplain forest, where there are several narrow but deep tannic stream crossings. You’ll pass a sign indicating you’ve entered Blackwater River State Forest before the trail enters pine flatwoods and the scenic floodplain of Julian Creek. North of Garner Landing Rd, the trail enters the tangled titi forest of Carr Lake Swamp, a tricky traverse up through Garnier Creek.
Climbing up out of that floodplain, you’re immersed in a longleaf pine restoration area about 5 miles into the hike. Follow the blazes carefully through the pine plantations beyond it. A flat log bridge with a cable crosses Burnt Grocery Creek. Beyond the next clay road is a large bog with pockets of pitcher plants. After 8 miles, you reach the junction with the Blackwater section. To get to a car parked along Deer Lake Rd, follow the blue blazes for a quarter mile north.
One of the highlights of the hike as you continue north for the next several miles is a cypress-lined oxbow lake along the Yellow River. Weaving in and out of pine plantations and gum swamps, the trail offers up a lot of titi tunnels to pick your way across.
The spacious Wild Azalea Campsite is located in a spot where the azalea is particularly fragrant in early spring, just above a crystalline stream that serves as its water source. The Yellow River Ravines section ends after after 11.1 miles as it climbs up a hill and pops out onto pavement in the middle of a subdivision.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Yellow River Roadwalk
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Crestview Roadwalk