The southernmost section of the Florida Trail in the Apalachicola National Forest lets you get your feet wet, figuratively and literally, with the often-soggy habitats found across the largest of Florida’s National Forests. Meandering through impressive stands of healthy pine flatwoods along forest roads and footpaths, you’ll get a feeling of perspective against this vast woodland landscape.
A surprisingly interesting and easily accessed segment of the Florida Trail, this span of footpath between Medart and the Sopchoppy River is mainly within a maze of forest roads in pine flatwoods and pine plantations managed for timber prior to a shift in priorities to more natural habitats within the Apalachicola National Forest.
North of US 319, there are lengthy boardwalks with a balance-beam feel as the trail makes its way through pines and titi swamps to Lawhon Mill Road. Once you cross the road, the trail starts zigzagging its way along the forest roads, bridging them here and there with refreshing stretches of footpath under the pines. There are two designated campsites along this section – Bent Sapling and Sopchoppy River – and both must be used by backpackers during general gun hunting season. Otherwise, you’re free to random camp, and there are some pretty spots along the way, some of which we highlight below (and in the Florida Trail Guide app).
Deep within this section is a creek ford, which comes as somewhat of a surprise, and no matter the time of year, you can expect a little wading through deep puddles on some of the forest roads. West of the power transmission lines under which the GF&A bicycle path – now just in the planning stages – will eventually link Tallahassee with Sopchoppy, the trail zigzags through more pine flatwoods before entering two bayhead swamps where loblolly bay and pine trees tower well overhead. Crossing Oak Park Road, the last-chance opportunity for access to resupply in Sopchoppy, the trail continues into a climax sandhill forest dominated by laurel oaks, coming to the Sopchoppy River campsite and a walk on the river bluffs before using the FR 343 bridge over the river to reach its finale at the Oak Park trailhead.
The Apalachicola National Forest is a popular destination for hunters, especially during the fall deer season, when hikers are restricted to camping at designated campsites. The remainder of the year, you are welcome to random camp in any pleasant spot. Check hunt dates as a part of your trip planning, and always wear bright orange clothing during hunting seasons.
Walking southbound along this section of the Florida Trail from the Oak Park trailhead to the Carraway Cutoff trailhead.
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 > Starting off from the Carraway Cutoff trailhead northbound, you’ll quickly exit St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge just beyond a small bridge over a stream flowing into a swamp to your left. The sign for the refuge faces southbound. Once you’ve crossed that invisible boundary, random camping is permitted except during general gun hunting season in the fall. You’ll cross US 319 soon after the sign, watch out for high speed traffic that is not expecting pedestrians across the trail.
0.5 > Stop at the trail kiosk and sign in at the trail register. Get ready to walk the plank, as the next stretch of forest leads you to two long plank boardwalks in quick succession. The first one has a plaque denoting it was an Eagle Scout project. Both keep your feet dry in these bogs between the pines.
1.2 > Cross Lawhon Mill Road, a broad dirt road. The trail begins to follow old forest roads through the pine forest. Watch blazing at intersections very carefully, and always look for a confidence blaze in one direction or the other as you reach T intersections.
1.9 > Just 0.1 mile past a small stream bridged by an old boardwalk, you reach Bent Sapling Camp, a pleasant campsite in the sandhill forest with a fire ring and bench located at the end of the blue blaze.
2.1 > Cross a zigzagging plank boardwalk over a broad stream, a far superior water source for Bent Sapling Camp than the small stream to its south. Sometimes the boardwalk is too short and you end up wading through the stream on its north side as you cross the forest road it flows across.
3.0 > After a slog through a short stretch of titi swamp, the trail gains elevation, climbing onto high and dry sandhills. There are numerous spots to random camp here; our favorite is on the right side of the footpath under the shelter of a large oak tree, screened from the trail by a clump of saw palmetto.
3.5 > The pine flatwoods are particularly picturesque through this part of the trail, which remains high and dry, with more nice places for random camping. These, however, are not far from some lightly-used forest roads.
4.1 > Ford a well-flowing tannic stream which floods the adjoining forest road. It has a nice solid sand bottom to it, and is a good (but awkward) place to filter water if you don’t mind standing in it while filtering. Leave your pack on the dry trail before plunging in if you do so, since the trail continues around a corner through a titi swamp just north of the stream. The next quarter mile of trail tends to be soggy if not underwater, since this stream overflows through the titi swamps that adjoin the trail, which eventually follows deep ruts in a forest road.
4.9 > Once you cross FR 321-B, the trail climbs into a healthy sandhill habitat with plenty of nice spots under the oaks for random camping along the footpath. Oak leaves crunch underfoot as you head uphill, then downhill back towards the pine flatwoods.
5.4 > Crossing FR 321, the trail joins a jeep track through the pines that parallels the broad forest road briefly before leading you back to FR 321 to cross it again. Soon after, the trail goes beneath power transmission lines. What is a sand road here now under the power lines will eventually become the GF&A bicycle path linking Sopchoppy with Tallahassee.
5.9 > Join FR 321-C briefly to cross a stream on a highway bridge. This tannic stream provides a permanent water source for the next dry section of trail, but is a little tough to get to for filtering water. Keep alert, as the trail turns east and heads into the pines right after you cross the bridge.
6.2 > With the trail jumping on and off of small jeep tracks and forest roads, you must keep alert to the blazes, especially after this reverse Y intersection where the smaller forest road that the trail is on joins a wider one, then leaves it to the east on a footpath into the pines. Continue an immersion in mostly-dry pine flatwoods for the next mile.
7.4 > Entering a bayhead swamp, the trail gets increasingly mushy underfoot and wading may be necessary. Watch for roots and mudholes that can trip you up through here. The deeper you get into the swamp, the taller the trees get, especially the loblolly bay trees and pines. There may be one brief section of dry island in the middle of the swamp.
8.1 > Cross Oak Park Rd (FR 365). Sopchoppy lies 5.3 miles west and is your last chance resupply for the next 60 miles, if you’re a long distance hiker headed northbound. Enter a climax sandhill forest dense with laurel oak. Barring flooding along the river, your feet should stay dry for the remainder of the hike. If you run into flowing water on the trail up ahead, it’s a dangerous situation; backtrack to here and consult Google maps or the Florida Trail app for how to use forest roads to skirt the remainder of this section and the Sopchoppy River section up ahead. Check water gauge for the Sopchoppy River.
8.4 > Pass the sign and clearing for Sopchoppy River Camp, the second designated campsite along the Florida Trail in the Apalachicola National Forest. It is high and dry, and has a bench and fire ring. Access to water, as the sign says, is up ahead. Not far after it passes the campsite, the trail reaches the bluffs above the river.
8.6 > A broad, steep path leads down to river level for access for filtering water from a sandy beach. It’s worth a scramble down to admire the view of this tannic river flowing past. Soon after the path to the river, the trail reaches FR 343, where you must clamber over the guardrail to walk across the highway bridge over the river. The views are nice from here, too.
8.9 > This section ends at the Oak Park trailhead, one of the largest trailheads you’ll find along the entire length of the Florida Trail. Since the Sopchoppy River section of the trail lies just to the north of the trailhead – and is one of the most beautiful sections of the trail statewide – it’s no wonder!
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Long distance hikers headed north into the Apalachicola National Forest should resupply in Medart, which is closest to the trail, or in Sopchoppy, best reached via Oak Park Road. Once you cross Oak Park Road, there are no options for resupply anywhere near the Florida Trail for another remaining 60 miles north through the Apalachicola section.
RESUPPLY: Sopchoppy Grocery, 850-962-2231, 60 Rose St, Sopchoppy, FL 32358. Small grocery store for this historic community, with fresh fruit, meats, typical resupply basics. Call ahead for hours. Closed Sundays. You’ll also find two small convenience stores at the corner of Rose St. and US 319 in Sopchoppy.
LODGING: Buckhorn Creek AirBnB. Long-time outdoor enthusiasts and friends of ours take in guests in a peaceful setting surrounded by St. Marks NWR. May be able to assist guests with logistics or meals, check ahead.
CAMPING: Myron B. Hodge City Park, 850-962-5486, 220 Park Avenue, Sopchoppy FL. Campsites along the Sopchoppy River, $15. Bathhouse and riverside swings, nature trail. Can accommodate tents or campers. Call ahead for reservations or contact them by email.
For the Carraway Cutoff trailhead at the south end of this section, bear right at the Y intersection where US 319 diverges from US 98 west at Triangle Mart in Medart. After 1.1 miles, turn left onto Carraway Cutoff, a dirt road. Continue another quarter mile or so to the small trailhead on the left. It can handle 3 or 4 cars.
The Oak Park trailhead is 6.3 miles north of Sopchoppy. From downtown Sopchoppy, follow Railroad Avenue north. Entering the rural community of Oak Park, it becomes Oak Park Road, which turns to dirt (and becomes FR 365) as it enters the Apalachicola National Forest. Once you’re on the dirt road, turn left at FR 343. After the road crosses the Sopchoppy River, there is an enormous trailhead parking area on the right side of the road.