For an acrobatic adventure on the Florida Trail, the 7.9-mile Yellow River section tosses both tricky swamp traverses and creative creek crossings your way. Spanning Blackwater River State Forest south of Holt and Harold, this is one of the newest sections of the Florida Trail.
This new section of the Florida Trail offers a workout for both mind and body while also eliminating 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. Right now, 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. Fording the broad, shallow ones is usually the sensible choice. Physical prowess and a sense of balance is needed on both creek crossings and traverses of floodplains and swamps, where slippery roots are sometimes your only high ground, and deep mucky holes between them need to be avoided. You will get your feet wet on this hike.
Fortunately, there are also long stretches of just walking through the woods, most of it pine forest within Blackwater River State Forest, all up for grabs for clearcut before restoration to the longleaf pine habitat that once swept across this region. It’s tough to say that this is a truly scenic section because of the occasionally ugly and sometimes sodden pine plantations and ground-up-by-heavy-equipment zones that punctuate it, but 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.
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. Water sources are certainly no problem through this section. All hikers need to be aware of hunting seasons in Blackwater River State Forest, particularly the fall general gun season for deer hunting, and be sure to wear bright orange during all hunts.
Because it is partly in a river floodplain, parts of this section 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 as an alternate route.
Although this hike is in the Eglin section of the Florida Trail, it is NOT part of Eglin Air Force Base. No Eglin permit is required to hike it.
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 > 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. Starting from the cemetery, follow the sometimes-muddy clay road away from the direction you drove in to park. It’s forested on both sides of the road.
0.2 > Watch for the double orange blaze indicating a turn into the woods on the left as the trail leaves Log Lake Rd just before a curve in the road, entering a corridor beneath oaks and sparkleberry with a smattering of bluestem palm through the understory.
0.6 > Find your way across a tannic stream flowing into the Yellow River floodplain, as there is no bridge. The trail hugs close to the edge of the floodplain swamps for this next stretch and will get inundated with water when the river is high.
0.9 > Cross Log Lake Rd, the road you were walking on earlier. You quickly come to an intersection with a blue blazed trail to the left. It leads to the official parking area and designated camping for this section at Guest Lake Park, at the end of Log Lake Rd. Accessible by vehicles, it’s a popular spot for boaters and anglers.
Picnic pavilions offer a place to sit in the shade, and a portable toilet was in place on our visit. Long distance hikers (and overnight visitors) can camp here for free, but be aware that vehicles can arrive at all hours at this remote location. For water, there’s a pitcher pump by the river, adjoining the last pavilion. Once you return to the trail, it crosses a sand road as you continue northbound.
1.3 > After a potentially soggy traverse of a boggy area in the pine flatwoods, the trail dips into the river floodplain, where it crosses a tannic stream. While narrow, it is deep, and a group of logs lashed together to make a bridge floated out of place. Look for a crossing.
1.8 > Beyond a sand road that is roughly the boundary for Blackwater River State Forest, the trail drops down through the pines into the denser forest along the river floodplain. Step across a tannic stream with several cascades along it. There is flagging indicating the best spot to cross.
2.3 > Cross a tannic stream. It is deep and not quite narrow enough to jump across. Find a place that you feel comfortable crossing, as there is no bridge. There is a little island in the stream that might assist.
2.6 > In a remnant of pine plantation with dense underbrush, you cross a sandy Jeep road before the forest yields to a more natural feel. The trail crosses a low-lying basin in the pine flatwoods that may flood extensively after heavy rains. There is no way around it: plunge in.
2.9 > Dropping down a slope through oaks and cedars, you reach the scenic floodplain of Julian Creek. The creek can either be forded or crossed on a felled log, if you feel confident of your balance. On the climb out of the creek basin, the footpath is a bit mucky. Watch for purple flower pitcher plants emerging from the muck.
3.3 > Cross the orange clay of Garner Landing Rd before entering the next stretch of pines and oaks, where there are a few spots you could pitch a tent on flat ground before the trail rounds the north end of an ephemeral pond that sometimes spills into the footpath.
3.6 > You know you’ve entered Carr Lake Swamp when the terrain gets a bit tangly. This half-mile stretch along the eastern edge of the swamp ducks into a maze of twisty tree trunks in a forest of black gum, with big puddles, roots, and sometimes flowing water underfoot.
4.3 > A narrow waterway flows out of Carr Lake into Garnier Creek through a very swampy area in the confluence of watersheds. It’s tricky to pick your way through the swamp, using roots to stand on instead of allowing them to trip you up. Fortunately, there’s a patch of usually-solid ground on the shore of Garnier Creek before you attempt the crossing, which required a ford of the shallow, sand-bottomed creek. Beware of the mucky stuff along the near shoreline.
4.4 > After a steep climb out of the Garnier Creek floodplain, the trail crosses FR Y16 before entering a long, pleasant stretch rambling nearly a mile along the edge of a longleaf pine restoration area. While there is little shade as the trees are still young, the views are nice uphill; downhill, dense deciduous forest characterizes the river floodplain.
5.6 > Leaving the longleaf, you enter pine plantations, which will eventually also be restored as well. Entering a tangle of gum swamp, the trail crosses a tannic stream; logs provide a way to keep your feet dry. After you climb out of this floodplain, a blocked-off forest road provides a rare piece of cleared, level ground that could serve as a place to take a break or pitch a tent.
6.4 > Weaving out of the pine plantation into the river floodplain, the trail leads you into a thicket of titi and black gum, with plenty of roots in the footpath. Pass a line of pines cut off several feet up as if they were meant to be fenceposts.
6.8 > The pine forest opens up to reveal blackberry bushes in a clearing. They generally bear fruit in early July, which is probably not when you want to be hiking this section. Mind the thorns!
7.4 > Just a little past FR Y15, a clay road reinforced with gravel, the trail dips down into the floodplain of Burnt Grocery Creek to reach a log bridge. The bridge surface is flat, so with the cable, it’s easy to keep your balance while crossing this broad creek. Muddy spots on the far side of the creek appear anytime the creek has overflowed its banks lately. Pick your way across a mucky tannic stream that flows downhill towards the creek.
7.6 > Cross Deer Lake Rd, a clay road. The trail rounds a broad, marshy area with outflows you must cross before the landscape opens up into a big bog. This is a challenging traverse, hopping between dry hummocks surrounded with dark water, deep holes, and clusters of white-top pitcher plants, which grow most profusely along the edges of the open area, especially where the trail reaches higher ground on the far side of the bog.
7.9 > At Deer Lake Junction, the post with both orange and blue blazes, this trail segment ends at a decision point. For day hikers, it’s 0.3 mile north to a pulloff along Deer Lake Rd where it’s easy to leave a car. For long distance hikers, this is your decision point for where your hike is leading you. The blue blazes continue north through the Blackwater section up to the Alabama state line and connectivity to the Eastern Continental Trail route through Alabama. Staying with the orange blazes, you enter the Yellow River Ravines segment, which continues west towards the Weaver Creek section of Eglin and eventually to the trail terminus at Fort Pickens.
<<< SOUTHBOUND NORTHBOUND >>>
This section sits between and south of two small communities along US 90, Holt and Harold. Holt has several restaurants, a Dollar General, and two small stores; the Crestview roadwalk leads long distance hikers right past these services. Harold, which is several miles north of Deer Lake Junction via the Blackwater section, has a small country store with hot food.
CAMPING: If you’re towing a camper or driving an RV, you’re in luck: River’s Edge RV Campground, 850-537-2267, 4001 Log Lake Rd, Holt 32564 is just up the road, along the roadwalk leading here. Shady sites, wifi, and laundry, $30. Pets welcome.
Tent campers can stay for free at Guest Lake Park, where there is no water or electricity but there might be a portable toilet. The camping area is under the pines behind the picnic shelters. Open fires are not permitted.
LODGING: The closest lodging is in Crestview, one exit east along Interstate 10. With more than a dozen chain hotels around the I-10 interchange, 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: Holt has two small convenience store delis and Susan’s Restaurant, 850-537-3333, 522 US 90, a nice stop for Southern cooking. If you have a car, Crestview has many restaurants to choose from.
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. 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 end of 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.