Surprisingly rugged and delightfully diverse, this 17.7 mile hike along Econfina Creek is one of the top segments of the Florida Trail for scenic beauty. Scrambling through ravines, stepping carefully along sidehill, and looking down over sheer bluffs along this spring-fed creek, you’ll marvel that this hike is in Florida.
Following the course of Econfina Creek, this protected segment of the Florida Trail provides a gorgeous weekend backpacking experience, particularly in springtime when the mountain laurel and azalea are in full fragrant bloom. The upper portion of the creek flows swiftly through steep-sided clay banks, with ravines and vegetation reminiscent of the Appalachian Mountains. As the creek slows down in its southern section, it is fed by several large springs and has cypress swamps along oxbows. After the trail leaves the creek, it traverses long grades along rolling sandhills undergoing restoration to longleaf pine forests.
This is one of the best sections of the Florida Trail for trail diversity: this section makes a good training hike for the Appalachian Trail with its many ups and downs, both along the creek and in the sandhills beyond. You’ll be surprised at the diversity of landscapes here, ranging from high bluffs to low swamps, and more sidehill than any other section of the Florida Trail except perhaps the Suwannee River. You will also cross many, many bog bridges and boardwalks. One of the surprising things about this section is that the creek itself, while a highlight, is rarely a viable water source because of the steep bluffs and dropoffs. Plan on filtering water from tributaries that flow under footbridges into the creek, springs and spring runs, and the larger ponds.
There are several named springs along the creek as well as waterfalls and steep cliffs. The trail stays along bluffs as it follows the upper portion of Econfina Creek and crosses several suspension bridges. This section is a popular destination for weekenders with numerous campsites, including recreation areas that can be reached by vehicles with 4WD or high clearance. Of those public recreation areas, we recommend Devil’s Hole and Rattlesnake Pond for their beauty, nearby privies, and easy access to water. Free permits are needed in advance for those campsites, please see their waypoints for the links. Backcountry campsites and random camping require no advance planning or permits.
Hunting is permitted in Econfina WMA, so check on hunt dates before you plan your trek and be sure to wear bright orange during hunting season. Flooding, while rare, makes the upper section of this hike along Econfina Creek dangerous, as trail stays close to the creek and continually dips in and out of its tributaries over the northernmost 8 miles. Check the flood gauge for Econfina Creek as part of your trip planning.
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on any symbol for more details and on FT symbols to obtain custom directions to trailheads.
0.0 > From the kiosk at the Scott Road Trailhead, walk through the gap in the fence and follow the trail through an open area undergoing restoration to sandhill habitat. The trail quickly leaves the forest road and heads downhill towards the treeline—watch for a double blaze and a large sign with mileage soon after.
0.6 > Enter the deep shade of a magnolia-beech forest dominated by southern magnolia trees of all sizes, some of which are quite ancient and tower over the trail. Don’t just look up, but look down, too. Tiny treasures may catch your attention. In spring, notice the red blooms of Florida anise on the shiny-leaved shrubs beneath the tree canopy.
0.9 > When you first glimpse Econfina Creek, you hear it, too. When the creek is at just the right height, a short but broad cascade appears over an angular change in the bedrock across the creek, making a roar. Expect to cross numerous footbridges and plank boardwalks over tributaries for the next mile, some of which can be counted on for filtering water.
1.8 > Coming up soon after an outstanding view of a horseshoe bend in Econfina Creek, Two Penny Bridge is the first large suspension bridge along this section of the trail. Expect the bridge to sway as you cross, and enjoy the views.
2.0 > As Sweetwater Branch plunges over the lip of a cliff that’s somewhat obscured by tree roots, it creates Econfina Falls, which is silhoutted against a grotto hollowed out into the cliff. This is a nice place for a rest break, to listen to the tumbling waters. Just ahead is a beauty spot on the bluff that makes a good random campsite, but has no access to water.
2.5 > With its distinctive wooden apple, you know the Apple Bridge is up ahead before you reach it. It’s a tall footbridge with a guide cable, and it stretches high over Branning Branch, a major tributary flowing into Econfina Creek. You can’t access water from it.
3.3 > The trail dips in and out of ravines, some with flowing water at the bottom (and no bridges), as it comes up to and around a sharp bend in Econfina Creek. All along this section, the views are superb. A clearing in the bluff forest provides another random campsite in the pine duff. Expect to continue climbing in and out of dips and ravines for a while.
4.4 > When the landscape finally flattens out in a pine forest away from the sight of the creek, you reach the junction for Trap Pond, a designated campsite set a half mile east down a blue-blazed trail along the edge of a small pond. Just after the junction, the trail crosses a second showy suspension bridge, the Fender Bridge, to the south side of Econfina Creek. At a dip into a ravine soon after, you can filter water by standing on a plank set there for that purpose.
4.9 > Emerging from a pine forest with a nice flat floor, the trail goes under power transmission lines before winding through another pine forest along the edge of a longleaf pine restoration area.
5.5 > In the deep shade of a bluff forest, the trail becomes sidehill above a steep wooded slope leading down to Econfina Creek. Notice the size of the Southern magnolias and oaks towering above the forest canopy.
6.5 > After traversing a series of deep, steep dips, some with water trickling through them, the trail ascends to a flat bluff well above a bend in the creek. This scenic perch makes a great rest stop or random campsite for a handful of tents. Beyond this spot, the trail resumes its intense ups and downs through the creekside ravines, with a handful of bridges easing the need to climb through every dip.
7.5 > A surprising panorama awaits at the Bluffs. Part sand and part clay, these eroding bluffs drop off quite sharply along a bend in Econfina Creek far below. There is no access to water: the sand is too steep and soft, and it’s best not to contribute to the erosion going on along the edges. For that reason, move along to a spot just before the trail enters the woods again if you’d like a dry campsite with a scenic view.
8.5 > After running atop wooded bluffs looking down on the creek, the trail loses elevation to start a lazy meander around cypress swamps in the floodplain, and one swampy sinkhole. When you reach the blue blaze, you’ve come to Devils Hole, the first established recreation area along this segment of the Florida Trail. It is a swimming hole, a water source, a beauty spot, and a very nice place to camp, with a privy not far away. A free permit is required for camping here.
8.8 > Back to its meanders along and above Econfina Creek, the trail continues through deep shade before popping out within site of a picnic bench and parking corral. This is Seashell Landing, another established recreation area within Econfina Creek WMA. While it has nice flat tent spaces, there is no easy access to the creek for water, as the soft sandy banks slip right down into deep water. Soon after crossing a forest road, the trail passes the picnic table and parking at Longleaf Pine as well. Like Devils Hole, both of these recreation areas require a free permit for camping.
9.5 > The trail sticks close to the bluffs above Econfina Creek until it comes up to a mileage sign and swings left to reach the road over Walsingham Bridge. Cross the bridge and follow the orange blazes beneath a power transmission line before re-entering the woods at a pass-thru next to a locked gate. The trail then follows a forest road through the forest, with a couple of glimpses of the creek through the understory.
9.9 > You can’t miss Tupelo Spring as you come around a curve and face this basin of blue shimmering behind the trees. A rough path leads down to the water’s edge, with a tricky jump over to a squishy sandbar where you can filter water. The sandbar is flanked by two springs, with Tupelo the larger, deeper, and bluer one.
10.3 > Climbing up through the sandhills, the trail emerges into a cleared area that offers yet another surprise. Steep sandy slopes drop off from the high reaches of the Econfina Bluffs and plunge down to the creek below. Stay back from the fragile edge of this erosional feature, as it is undercut in places. But wow, what a view.
10.7 > Leaving the deep forest surrounding the Econfina Creek basin, the trail crosses a small stream flowing through a culvert before it begins a surprisingly steep ascent to the top of a tall hill. At the top, you emerge out of the bluff forest to the edge of the sandhills.
11.4 > After the trail follows a fenceline around a corner and shows off deep ravines below, it plunges you down a steep slope right into one of those ravines to cross Quail Farm Spring Run on a plank bridge. Cool, clear water tempts, and it’s an excellent source, but take a look uphill first: the ascent out of this ravine is one of the steepest you’ll find on the Florida Trail, and first you have to find a way up and over that big tree root.
12.2 > Walking through a longleaf pine restoration area, you see a sinkhole downhill to the east. A beauty spot between jeep roads provides a place to take a break along the edge of a prairie rimmed by scrub forest. Soon after, you cross Strickland Road, a broad orange sand road that is the primary access for drivers to get to the recreation areas inside Econfina Creek WMA. Several more forest road crossings follow en route to the next ravine.
12.8 > It’s time for one more stretch of sidehill as the trail follows the wall of Rattlesnake Spring Ravine. One forest road intersects the trail and plunges down to the bottom of the ravine; the clearing it makes provides a view, and you can see, by the trees on the far side, just how deep this ravine is. The outflow from it feeds Rattlesnake Pond up ahead.
13.5 > After the trail winds between oak hammocks and level ground suitable for random camping, it comes to the crossing of a gravel road. Here’s where it’s worth making a detour. Turn trail east and head down the road to Rattlesnake Pond South Recreation Area, the nicest of all of the recreation areas in Econfina Creek WMA. The camping area, which is flat and set under tall pines with a nice carpet of pine duff, is separated from the parking area by a fence. Although vehicle access is permitted, this recreation area can only be accessed by rough roads, so you’ll often have the place to yourself, except on weekends. Enjoy the shade of the covered picnic pavilion and the view of the lake from it. Campsites have picnic tables and fire rings, and there is a permanent set of portable toilets here. If you want to camp here, get a free permit online.
13.8 > As the trail swings around through a pine forest to meet the shoreline of Rattlesnake Pond, it comes within view of the recreation area off to the right when it turns left. Since it is so close to the water’s edge, the trail may be a little muddy or slippery through this area, where carnivorous sundews grow in abundance. The trail leaves the shoreline to circle a sinkhole in the pine forest before it comes up to a trail junction with a campsite sign. This blue-blazed 0.5 mile side trail leads to the Rattlesnake Pond primitive campsite at the north end of the pond. Unlike the recreation area, this site needs no permit and is for backpackers only.
14.4 > Cross Econfina Road, another orange sand road. You’re walking through a part of Econfina Creek WMA that is in transition. As you continue northbound for the next two miles, you will encounter restoration efforts in various stages of completion, from recent clearcut of pine plantations to mature longleaf forest. Northwest Florida Water Management District has purchased the upland recharge areas for the many springs of Econfina Creek, and most of this acreage was originally in pine plantations being grown for paper products. Longleaf pines once covered most of the Southeastern United States, but were heavily logged over the past century and replaced with faster-growing commercial crops of sand pine (for paper) and slash pine (for lumber). The District is undoing that habitat damage by clearing pine crops and replacing them with young longleaf pine seedlings. The process will take time and will definitely look ugly anywhere a pine forest has been recently clearcut.
15.4 > A blue blaze alerts you to a short side trail (trail west) to Little Porter Lake, where there is a designated camping area with a nice view of the water. Pitch in the shade of the oaks or by the marshy lakeshore. This is the last nearby reliable water source for this next section of the trail, which is otherwise mostly dry.
16.0 > The trail drops down into a puddle of shade at the bottom of a dry sinkhole, where the only patch of mature trees – a native oak hammock – remains in an otherwise desolate looking landscape. As you climb back out of the sinkhole, you may notice a chair. You’d think it was installation art, with its seat of sticks, but no, it was a serendipitous find amid a clearcut. Stop and take a seat. And a selfie.
16.4 > After crossing a small, sometimes dry stream, the trail winds along a small ridge above a pond lined with oak trees. As it draws close to the oaks, you can see some nice flat places for random camping. Up and over the next hill is a view of Mabel Porter Pond at a gate adjoining a forest road. A sign says camping isn’t allowed here, but if you need water, this is the last place you’ll find it along the Econfina Creek section, down the hill beyond the gate.
17.2 > Beyond the forests of young, maturing longleaf pines, the landscape opens up into a showcase of what all of the western side of Econfina Creek WMA will eventually look like: a healthy, picturesque longleaf pine ecosystem with grassy slopes and scattered tall pines. Enjoy the views as the trail circles around it on the hilltops.
17.7 > The trail emerge into a clearing in a sand pine plantation just past a kiosk to find the parking corral for the SR 20 trailhead. From here, thru-hikers must walk along SR 20 to reach the next completed section of the Florida Trail at Pine Log State Forest.
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RESUPPLY: The nearest services to this section of the trail are part of the community of Fountain, starting with a Dollar General a quarter mile south on US 231 from the trail crossing 2.8 miles east of the Scott Road trailhead.
CAMPING: Pine Lake RV Park, 850-722-1401, 21036 US 231, Fountain FL. This commercial campground 0.6 mile south of the Florida Trail crossing at US 231 has camping cabins as well as sites for tents, trailers, and RVs, all set in a nice pine forest. Laundry facility on site, along with a recreation hall with a kitchen and a library. Wifi and computer available.
Econfina Creek Water Management Area has numerous drive-in campsites which visitors can reserve for free. Given the extensive network of dirt roads and soft sand or mud, a high-clearance vehicle or 4WD is recommended to reach these sites. Visit their website for a full list of all recreation areas with camping.
From US 231 north of Fountain, follow Scott Road west for 2 miles. Keep right at the fork. Watch for the narrow trailhead access road on the left at a Water Management District sign. Follow the road back to the parking area. The southern terminus is 10 miles west of Fountain along SR 20, on north side of the highway past the entrance to Pitt Spring.