Paralleling the floodplain of Titi Creek and its tributaries, this 14.8-mile hike on the Florida Trail on the Titi section across Eglin will surprise you with its mature longleaf pine forests and steep descents into creek basins.
Traversing the central uplands and creek basins of what was once Choctawhatchee National Forest, this lengthy day hike – or overnight backpacking trip – is a pleasant immersion in mature forests mostly distant from road noise (unlike the adjoining Catface section, which is scenic but noisy). Titi Creek and its many tributaries define the relief in these clayhills, providing diversions from higher ground as you follow boardwalks through their floodplains and take a break on their bridges. Near the halfway point, JR Walton Recreation Area provides the opportunity to break this hike into an overnight backpacking trip.
All hikers entering Eglin Air Force Base must have a current Eglin permit. Obtain yours by visiting the Eglin Natural Resources website. This is a military reservation that tests bombs. Most military activity is on weekdays. You may encounter military personnel on maneuvers and hear the sounds of “thunder” in the distance as bombs are dropped. Aircraft may fly very low over the tree canopy. If you notice any sort of ordinance – rocket, bomb, hand grenade – do not approach it but note the location and call Eglin Security Forces at 850-850-882-2502. Do not random camp or stray off the trail corridor.
Before your hike, you must review the Public Access Map (PAM) before hiking at Eglin to ensure that a portion of the trail you plan to hike is not closed. Closures are posted up to three days in advance (called a “forecast”) in the PAM. Closures may be due to military training, prescribed burns, logging for longleaf habitat restoration, and a host of other reasons. We’ve discovered that the best times to hike this piece of the trail is on weekends, especially holiday weekends. It’s not easy to read the PAM, but the best guess we have on which blocks correspond to this hike are J-16, J-12, J-7, J-13, J-8, J-5, J-4, and J-1. When in doubt about a suspected closure, call Jackson Guard at 850-882-4165. At FPCON DELTA status, the entire base is closed, including all roads that cross it.
To camp at JR Walton Recreation Area, you must purchase an overnight permit ($5) in advance in person from the Jackson Guard office. It’s located in Niceville at 107 SR 85 and is open Mon-Sat starting at 7 AM. Call 850-882-4166 for closing hours and campsite availability.
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 > Start from the Old SR 285 trailhead. Sign in at the kiosk. Make an immediate left at the FNST sign, away from the old roadbed and into a scrub forest, where deer moss grows on both sides of the footpath. Dense myrtle oaks and sand live oaks yield to a more open understory with tall Choctawhatchee sand pines. A slope drops off to the right into a creek basin, which the trail parallels for some time.
1.3 > Scrub yields to mature longleaf pines as the footpath becomes thickly carpeted with pine needles. Cross RR 207, a frequently used range road for military and recreational traffic. It parallels the trail to the north as the trail continues compass west. As you cross it, you can see SR 285 compass east, and you cross another range road.
1.4 > Pass the junction with the 0.7-mile blue-blazed trail to Speck Pond Recreation Area. We recommend against camping there because not only does it require a camping permit, it also sits fully within view of SR 285.
1.5 > Bog bridges make it obvious that you’ve entered the Gum Creek floodplain. Winding through the floodplain forest, they lead to a sturdy footbridge crossing the tannic creek. The best approach for filtering water is the northeast side of the creek. If the creek is overflowing its banks into the floodplain, watch your step as you walk along the bog bridges. They continue past the creek crossing for quite a ways before you climb out of the floodplain and into the clayhills topped with longleaf pines and turkey oaks.
2.3 > Drop down a slope under the turkey oaks to the floodplain of Dog Creek, which the trail crosses on a plank footbridge between native bamboo. It’s much easier to filter water from the bridge at Dog Creek than the creek bank along Gum Creek. Climb back into the clayhill habitat, which is occasionally interspersed with dense stands of young sand pines.
3.0 > After you cross RR 531E, you see a glimmer of water off to the left beneath the pines. It’s a long, linear pond with tall pines along its rim. When the pond gets a little too full from rainfall, it can percolate out across the trail, making the footpath mushy or even a wade for a short stretch. The trail curves around the pond for nearly a half mile, with nice views.
3.8 > Beyond the pond, the forest gets denser, offering pools of shade under larger oaks and American holly trees in the lower canopy. A tunnel through the oaks pops the trail out into the clayhills again, recognizable from the large number of turkey oaks. Cross a two-track sand road, RR 531W. A delightful stretch of “wiggly trees” – sand live oaks with curving trunks – is up ahead, providing deep shade. The mature forests through this next stretch are a delight to hike through.
5.2 > After a long descent, the trail reaches Big Fork Creek. It’s an excellent spot to take a break, as the sturdy bridge has stairs to sit on, and a good turnaround point for a 10.4-mile round-trip day hike. If you’re wondering about the “Bob’s Side | Bill’s Side” board on the railing, that commemorates the first two trail maintainers in charge of this part of the Florida Trail in Eglin when the trail was first built in the early 2000s. Access for filtering water is best on the southwest side of the bridge, where there is a small sandy beach. Beyond the bridge, the trail continues along plank boardwalks – and right beside the creek for a while – as it leads you another quarter mile through the scenic floodplain.
5.8 > Another stretch of pine forest leads to a sand road in the clayhills. After you cross it, the surrounding pines are much taller. The landscape begins to show off a bit of a slope as it drops off towards a creek to the south. The more mature longleaf pines are uphill from the trail.
7.1 > Descending through laurel oaks down a long hill, the trail finally reaches a clay road, RR 220. Turn left to join the road to cross Titi Creek using the road bridge. Like Alaqua Creek, this is one of the major creeks in Eglin, and a popular destination for paddlers. Continue straight ahead along the road.
7.3 > The road reaches a junction of roads at JR Walton Pond Recreation Area, a scenic area with campsites, picnic tables, and fire rings. Orange blazes guide you to the right. Follow this road across a causeway with a nice panorama of JR Walton Pond. Once you’re across the causeway, the trail turns left. A kiosk marks designated tent camping for the Florida Trail, but given its proximity to the access road, we found a nicer spot off the road another quarter mile north. All campsites are open, first come first served, to any visitors with a camping permit.
7.9 > Leaving a turnaround loop in the vehicle road on the far side of JR Walton Pond, the trail rises away from the pond basin into sparse clayhills with longleaf pines. You cross a sand road.
8.5 > Signs indicate the crossing of RR 561, a double-track sand road leading towards an open grassy prairie in the distance. The forest is still very sparse here, but tall native grasses have filled in nicely under the pines, creeping in from the adjoining prairie. Cross another faded two-track road in the forest before the oaks and pines become dense again.
9.4 > A slope carpeted with pine needles leads down to Honey Creek, where a bench offers a rest stop. The creek is far below the bridge and has steep banks, but unlike most creeks at Eglin, the water is clear, not tannic. Another bench sits on the far side of the bridge, just before the trail turns sharply to start a switchback out of the creek basin.
9.8 > Yucca peeps out of the thick carpet of pine needles on the forest floor as the trail reaches RR 231 and enters a more mature longleaf pine forest.
10.1 > Over the next quarter mile, there are several two-track range roads to cross, starting with RR 573, which is marked with a sign. The habitat shifts from clayhills to scrub before you reach a faint two-track road after the footpath becomes sandy for a stretch. This is a good place to look for bear prints, as bears have been seen by hikers in this area. On the other side of the scrub forest, you’re walking through pine forests and clayhills again.
11.2 > When the trail starts to head downhill, you know you’re getting close to Silver Creek. The descent through the pines leads to a series of puncheon boardwalks across a bog, which end at the bridge over Silver Creek. This scenic, broad creek is clear and grassy, with a strong northward flow towards Titi Creek. Access for filtering water is only possible on the northwest side, since the east side of the creek is marshy. The trail climbs a gentle slope back into the clayhills.
11.4 > Soon after crossing RR 571, a two-track sand road, the habitat shifts to scrub. Choctawhatchee sand pines tower over gnarled oaks, and puffs of seafoam-green deer moss swarm across the forest floor.
12.0 > What a surprise it is to see a paved road! The trail emerges at Colonel Greg Malloy Rd, a handy access point for this part of the Titi section in Eglin. Cars can be parked along the shoulder for day hikes, but don’t leave one here overnight, as this is the access road for a prison. Benches adjoin the trail crossing on the west side of the road.
12.2 > Winding downhill past some showy Florida fringe trees, the trail reaches a puncheon boardwalk with a third rail. The boardwalk tunnels through the titi swamp surrounding Institution Branch. The creek itself is narrow and tannic but swift, and easy to access from the boardwalk for filtering water. The boardwalk continues on the far side of the creek, ending before a final uphill out of the titi tunnel and into the pine flatwoods.
12.9 > Loblolly bay trees line the trail as it descends gently into the floodplain of Moore Creek, a narrow waterway spanned by a single plank. Beyond that bridge, puncheon boardwalks get you through the potentially wet traverse of a gum swamp before the trail rises into the pines again.
13.7 > The trail pops out into full sun at a broad easement for a power transmission line. A culvert pipes water under the trail. Off in the distance to the east, you can see traffic on a road in Crestview. Traffic noise will affect the remainder of the hike.
13.9 > Pearl Campsite sits at the end of a short blue blaze to the west. It’s the only designated backpacking campsite along the Titi section (versus the two campgrounds with vehicle access). It has a fire ring and benches, and sometimes even a stack of firewood. Obtain water from Pearl Creek, just a little ways north along the trail. This is the last of the creeks you’ll cross on this section. You can see ripples on the bottom of the creek through the crystal-clear water.
14.4 > One short stretch of the namesake of this section, surrounded by titi (a member of the buckwheat family) means this bit of footpath is almost always damp, if not under water. If you haven’t gotten your shoes wet yet, you might do so here.
14.8 > Reach the Pearl trailhead at busy SR 85. Be sure to sign out at the kiosk. The Florida Trail becomes a roadwalk here as it continues north, following SR 85 north through Crestview to US 90 west. The blue blazes on the kiosk call your attention to the Cimmaron section of the Florida Trail, which starts across SR 85 and heads west. This spur trail is a popular out-and-back overnight hike. See a map and full details about it from FTA Choctawhatchee Chapter.
<<< SOUTHBOUND NORTHBOUND >>>
This section sits between two communities with services. At the east end, Mossy Head has both a large 24-hour Love’s Truck Stop and adjacent Sleep Inn at the Interstate 10 interchange with SR 285. At the west end, Crestview is a city with a huge cluster of hotels and restaurants surrounding Interstate 10, and the Florida Trail goes right past all of them on the next section northbound, the Crestview roadwalk connecting Eglin East to the Yellow River section.
LODGING: At Mossy Head, try the new Sleep Inn, 850-307-9000, 17834 SR 285, right next to the Love’s Truck Stop. With more than a dozen chain hotels around I-10 in Crestview, there’s a room for every budget. We’ve stayed at the Super 8, 850-682-9649, 3925 S Ferdon Blvd (aka SR 85) and the Comfort Inn, 850-682-1481, 900 Southcrest Dr, in the past. Econolodge, 850-682-6255, 3101 S Ferdon Blvd, adjoins the Walmart just north of the Interstate.
DINING: Beyond the fast food options at the truck stop in Mossy Head, it’s worth the drive to Simply Good BBQ, 850-892-4494, 12496 US 90, for some local chow. In Crestview, if you have a favorite fast food place or major chain restaurant, chances are you’ll find it along SR 85. We prefer eating local, so we have a few places we’ll recommend. La Rumba, 850-683-0208, 100 John King Rd, is a cousin to the one in Defuniak Springs, with the same great food and 2-4-1 margaritas. Downtown Crestview is only a few miles north, and it’s where you’ll find the most well-established local options, including Desi’s, 850-682-7477, 197 Main St, an all-you-can-eat buffet (lunch only) featuring good Southern cooking, and the Tropical Palm, 850-682-5532, 286 Main St, a nice local diner. There is even a food truck court downtown! The Florida Trail currently walks long distance hikers right through the historic downtown. Look for the orange blazes along the sidewalk on the west side of Main Street.
From the interchange of SR 285 with Interstate 10, drive south on SR 285 for 2 miles to reach the Old SR 285 trailhead on the right. The approach to it is a little rough, and you’re essentially parking off road near the kiosk.
For the Pearl trailhead, take Interstate 10 to the SR 85 exit in Crestview. Drive south 3.1 miles, past all the hotels, and cross the bridges over the Shoal River. Get in the left lane. You’ll see a large FNST sign next to the road. Turn left at the turnout for Col. Greg Malloy Rd but make a U-turn instead to get in the northbound lanes of SR 85. A quarter mile north, look on the right for the unpaved entrance to the Pearl trailhead, which is down a short dirt road that parallels the highway.