Also known as the Juniper Creek Trail, the Florida Trail along Juniper Creek is a gorgeous place to explore in springtime, when mountain laurel blooms in both pink and white and the dogwoods put on a show. It rambles through both Blackwater River State Park and Blackwater River State Forest, showing off views of the creek intermittently sprinkled with swamp crossings and stretches of longleaf pine forest.
One of the most beautiful segments of the Florida Trail in this region, Juniper Creek makes an easy day hike between two cars placed at both ends, since access is via paved roads. Expect to get your feet wet in wet flatwoods and titi swamps, particularly in the first segment just north of where you begin the trail up through the crossing at Indian Ford Road. North of Indian Ford Creek, the trail spends much of its time on bluffs along the creek, with access to sandy beaches and a surprising panorama from colorful bluffs standing more than 65 feet tall above the creek at Red Rocks.
March and April are excellent times to hike this section because of the colorful wildflowers along the route. You’ll catch mountain laurel blooming in March, and pitcher plants draping their blossoms in early to mid-April.
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 > The Juniper Creek Trail begins at the picnic area on the Blackwater River directly across and upstream from Deaton Bridge, where it immediately dives into the floodplain forests along the river. Puncheons cross most of the wet and muddy spots, but don’t be surprised if you need to wade a little.
0.5 > When the trail reaches higher ground, it turns to meet a forest road just beyond a tough-to-get-past gate. You’ll follow the forest road briefly. Watch for blazes re-entering the forest to your right. The road itself leads 0.3E to the main entrance of Blackwater River State Park, important to note if you plan to camp there or if your car is parked there.
0.8 > The trail leaves Blackwater River State Park and enters Blackwater River State Forest, quickly getting into another boggy area with bog bridges. It then rises up into an extensive longleaf pine forest.
2.5 > Crossing paved Indian Ford Road, an access point where you can park roadside on the grass, you’ll notice an old homestead uphill to the right. The trail continues through hardwoods and a stretch of young cedars, with a pitcher plant bog on a steep open slope just before the Indian Ford Creek footbridge.
3.3 > After crossing Alligator Creek on the next footbridge, the trail draws close to Juniper Creek under the deep shade of the thick forest where mountain laurel co-exists with cedars, sparkleberry, and southern magnolia. It’s a magical place, with glimpses of the fast-moving stream and its scattered sand beaches through the trees, the trail undulating with the rugged terrain created by the ravines of feeder streams. Most of the streams are bridged, but you will drop down through several titi swamps, jumping from puncheon to puncheon to keep out of the mud.
4.3 > Take the time to walk out to the sandy beach along Juniper Creek, one of the nicer access points to the creek along this section. It provides a good rest stop and nice views up and down the creek.
4.9 > The Football Field campsite is uphill 300 feet to the east. It’s easy to miss the turnoff. Get your water from Juniper Creek down a lightly traveled path in the opposite direction.
5.4 > Amid the beautiful setting of creek views and circling around swamps, there is a towering Atlantic White Cedar tree on the right hand side. This area is known for its champion-sized cedars; the tallest such cedar in Florida is along the Juniper Creek Nature Trail in Blackwater River State Park.
6.1 > Emerging from the sandhill forest that sweeps down to the bluffs above Juniper Creek, you reach the Bluffs campsite, a cleared area with a stunning view of the creek and its beaches. A side trail to the right leads to a small shelter with a fire ring. Continue north briefly for a side trail to the left down to a beach for a water source and swimming hole.
6.5 > Passing two side trails down to the creek, the trail is edged in mountain laurel, making for a beautiful passage in March. Note the whorled bark of tree trunks around you: those are Atlantic White Cedars. As the trail leaves the views of the creek, it rises up steadily through a longleaf pine forest.
6.9 > Watch for the worn path to the left which leads 0.1W down to Red Rock Bluffs. This outstanding natural feature and scenic view centers around a series of clay cliffs eroding down into the basin of Juniper Creek. The tip of it is deeply undercut in places, so watch your footing. Mountain laurel accents the area.
7.3 > After a walk through a longleaf pine forest with dogwood trees blooming in spring, the trail drops down to Red Rock Road, a paved road. This is the end of the Juniper Creek segment. The Jackson Red Ground segment starts across the road. There is space along the road to park a couple of cars, but the official trailhead is down at Red Rock Road canoe launch, 0.5W. Vandalism has been reported at both locations, so do not leave cars overnight.
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Blackwater Canoe Rental, 850-623-0235, 6974 Deaton Bridge Rd, Milton FL 32583. Since 1981, these folks have been renting canoes, guiding trips, and shuttling along the Blackwater River. Contact them if you’re up for a paddle or to see if they’re available for a shuttle (fee). They carry stove fuel (isobutane).
Blackwater River State Park, 850-983-5363, 7720 Deaton Bridge Rd, Milton FL 32583. Campsites $20+. Pads are gravel: pitching tents on grass is not allowed. Nice bathhouse. Reservations suggested, and definitely required on weekends. 50% discount for Florida seniors and disabled. Long-term secure parking available: combine this with a shuttle to do a backpacking trip along this section.
Adventures Unlimited, 850-623-6197, 8974 Tomahawk Landing Rd, Milton FL 32583. It’s a large outdoor recreation facility with canoe/kayak/tubing trips, cabins, camping, inn, ziplines, canopy walks. May provide shuttles for a fee if staff is available, call in advance to arrange.
For the southern trailhead, drive north from US 90 (east of Milton) on Deaton Bridge Rd at Harold for 3.6 miles to the parking on the left just after the bridge, within Blackwater River State Park. There is a state park entrance fee for parking. You’ll find restrooms and picnic tables right near the entrance to the trail.
For the northern trailhead, follow SR 191 north from US 90 through Milton towards Munson to the turnoff for Red Rock Picnic Area on Red Rock Road. Cross the bridge and continue uphill 0.5 mile past the picnic area to the kiosk for the trail. Limited roadside parking.