Paralleling a segment of the failed Cross Florida Barge Canal, this mostly linear section of the Florida Trail sticks to a high berm created when the canal was dug. Nicely shaded for much of its route, it’s a gentle walk with the occasional scenic view of the waterway and the forests on its north side. Most of this section of trail is on the Cross Florida Greenway, where hunting is not permitted. The trail leaves the protection of the Greenway when it leaves the dike, entering pine flatwoods in the Ocala National Forest for the last mile or so of the hike.
Length: 5.3 miles
Lat-Long: 29.545365, -81.728781 (Buckman), 29.507838, -81.804003 (Rodman)
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: 2 of 5
Bug factor: 2 of 5
Restroom: At both trailheads
Potable water is available at both trailheads and at the Rodman Campground. Water can be obtained from the Cross Florida Barge Canal at a couple of spots, including under the SR 19 bridge. If you’re backpacking, it’s safest to leave your car at the Rodman Campground (fee).
Buckman Lock South Trailhead: From the intersection of SR 19 and SR 316 in Salt Springs, drive north along SR 19 for 12.5 miles. Turn right onto Rodehaver Boys Ranch Road. Just before the road enters the ranch gates, turn left onto a rough, narrow road, which is the access road to the recreation area on the south side of the lock. Park at the campground on the left just before the lock.
Rodman Trailhead: From the intersection of SR 19 and SR 316 in Salt Springs, drive north along US 19 for 12.3 miles. Turn left onto the George Kirkpatrick Dam Road and drive 3.6 miles to the recreation area on the left. Park near the spillway and restrooms.
Starting from the parking area for the primitive campsite on the south side of Buckman Lock, walk up towards the lock and turn left when you see the orange blazes. You pass through a gate onto a berm above the Cross Florida Barge Canal, and after a short while the berm steeply ascends. Songbirds are everywhere in the early morning hours, and because of the waterway, you’ll see anhinga and cormorants, kingfishers and osprey as well.
It’s a long straightaway ahead of you, with sweetgum and live oaks offering spots of shade along the way. One of the must-stop spots is the water check station you’ll encounter, where you can step out on the platform a little for a peep through the vegetation to see the cypresses on the far side of the canal. At the same spot on the left is a waterway filled with large water lilies; the water slowly drains down into a cypress swamp below the berm.
You begin to see a bridge over the treetops up ahead, and pass under the bridge at 1.8 miles. It’s SR 19, up on a ridiculously high bridge that was built in the 1960s when plans were still underway to build the barge canal. Below it there is a primitive boat ramp with access to the canal for water. The trail continues close to the water’s edge for a while, next to wax myrtles where songbirds perch. There are lovely, broad views of the pine forest on the far side of the waterway, and you can get so caught up in the views and the birds that it’s easy to miss the turn where the Florida Trail makes a sharp left and climbs back up to the upper terrace of the berm. Keep alert for it! The trail climbs up and over to a second high berm, farther away from the water, and turns right to follow a fence line atop the berm in the midst of pines and oaks, which hide the waterway from you for most of the next mile—although you can still hear the buzz of fishing boats on the water. The berm drops down a little and levels out around 3.1 miles. Along this section, on the left, large fields of blackberries are plump and ripe in late spring, and there is access through the fence to enable you to gather some up. The juicy fruits certainly will attract bears when they’re in fruit.
At 3.7 miles, you reach a fence with a “Cross Florida Greenway” sign. This marks the back side of the Rodman Campground. A double blaze bids you to turn left and head downhill off the berm into the forest, paralleling the fence. Blazes are on the opposite side of the fence as you go around the campground, the trail a narrow level path between a firebreak and a ditch, the firebreak a demarcation between the Greenway and the Ocala National Forest, where hunting is permitted. The trail pops out at a road crossing along Kirkpatrick Dam Road, both sides well marked with Florida Trail signage. After crossing the road, you are now officially in the Ocala National Forest, walking through a slash pine forest with a dense understory of gallberry and saw palmetto, the trail a well-defined corridor on soft pine duff. Where you come to the blue-blazed side trail to Rodman Campground at 4.3 miles, there is a hiker register in a mailbox. Stop and sign it.
The understory opens up a bit as you round an ephemeral wetland under the pine trees, and then it’s back into the narrow corridor between the saw palmetto, a well-shaded patch of forest. Within the next half mile, the trail makes an abrupt sharp right onto a firebreak, and emerges at the side of Kirkpatrick Dam Road. Turn left. The orange blazes lead along the road and across the dam spillway. However, if you’re backpacking and want to grab potable water, you may want to take the low road that accesses the parking area and restrooms. A staircase next to the spillway connects the two. From the top of the road, you can see the sweep of Rodman Reservoir off to your right. Continue along the road until you reach the staircase next to the spillway; it leads down to the parking area and restrooms. You’ve hiked 5.3 miles.