Tarzan’s signature cry once echoed along the crystalline Silver River less than a mile from this section of the Florida Trail, which leads you through a dense, dark floodplain forest beneath a canopy of deep green palm fronds and ancient live oaks. Between 1932 and 1942, Johnny Weissmuller swung from tree to tree for the movie cameras amid this lush riverine habitat, but you have the option of an easy walk in the woods. Follow the Florida Trail on a linear journey through Marshall Swamp, and you don’t even have to get your feet wet. Underlain by gravel, the trail is slightly elevated above the surrounding swamp. Unless there’s been a flooding rain, the trail will be dry. Long bridges provide passage over the low depressions in the swamp.
Starting across the street from Silver River State Park, the trail makes its way south from a prominent trailhead along the Cross Florida Greenway at Sharpes Ferry Road (CR 314). The trail begins at the parking lot kiosk. Visit in winter to see a sprinkle of autumn color livening up the oaks, maples, and sweetgum, or before winter’s touch to savor the rich shades of green in the swamp at sunrise.
Location: Silver Springs
Length: 4.5 mile round-trip
Type: Linear with loop and spur
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: low to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
There are restrooms, picnic tables and potable water at the trailhead. Slather on the mosquito protection for this hike! And fair warning: walking on gravel this distance can be a bit rough on the feet. Use shoes with hefty soles. Bicycling is permitted on this trail.
From Interstate 75 in Ocala, take exit 352 and drive 8.4 miles east on SR 40 through Ocala to Silver Springs. Turn south on CR 35 (Baseline Rd) and drive 1.5 miles to CR 314 (Sharpes Ferry Rd). Turn left (east) and continue 2 miles to the trailhead entrance on the right.
The Marshall Swamp Trail starts adjacent to the trail kiosk, with a well-defined footpath leading through into an upland forest. Crossing a service road, you’ll see the first of several “Trail” signs confirming your route. The trail surface is compacted gravel, softened by more than a decade’s worth of grasses, mosses, and pine needles atop the footpath. Loblolly pines tower above a lower canopy of sweetgum, hickory, and red maples, a showcase of fall color.
Passing a bench, you reach the “Loop Trail” sign on the left at a quarter mile. You’ll complete the loop on the return trip. Continue straight ahead, noticing the enormous loblolly pine. One of the best reasons to do this hike is to see the truly ancient trees throughout this forest, particularly the pines. Crossing a bridge over the outflow of a cypress swamp, the trail enters Marshall Swamp, the landform named for an antebellum sugar plantation that stood a little north of here along the Ocklawaha River.
A side trail to the left leads to a boardwalk with an observation deck on a small willow pond, frequented by large frogs. Returning to main trail, you come up to the second Loop Trail junction at a bench at a half mile. Pass this by and continue on the main orange blazed trail. Hear that rustle under the cabbage palms? It’s probably an armadillo. The deeper you get into the swamp, keep alert for wildlife. Pileated woodpeckers call to each other in the high canopy.
While the trail is rarely soggy underfoot, you’ll see low-lying spots on both sides where water collects in the remains of rotted-out rootballs. This is a humid place, where sphagnum moss swarms up the trunks of cabbage palms and pine trees. More large pines power overhead. Grapevines as thick as a boa constrictor dangle from above. This is truly Tarzan territory—many of the Johnny Weissmuller movies were filmed just a few miles from here.
Passing an old tramway on the left, you’re reminded of the human legacy in ancient forests: most of the old-growth cypresses were logged out of this swamp more than half a century ago. Straight ahead is a massive swamp chestnut oak with shaggy bark, huge leaves, and a buttressed trunk to anchor itself deep in the muck. Bromeliads thrive in the high branches of the trees. Beyond a bench at 0.9 mile, notice the thickness of lichens on the tree trunks, as if painted on in multiple coats.
When the trail first opened, the tree canopy still blotted out the sky. Since then, a combination of pine bark beetle infestation and the loss of trees during hurricanes enables rays of sunlight to reach the forest floor in scattered spots. Unfortunately, near the mile mark, there is a new gash in this ancient forest – a fence erected by a private company that bought up part of the swamp and carved a swath down it to mark their territory. I’m told that this trail may move away from the fence at some point, but the swamp is deeper in that direction, so it will take some time. Meanwhile, as you walk, focus your attention away from the fence line and into the dense swamp to your right and its impassive understory, capped with towering cypress trees.
At 1.2 miles, you reach a boardwalk for the outflow of the cypress swamp, with a bench not long afterwards. As cypress knees creep right up to both sides of the trail, you know you’re in the swamp. There are times when the footpath may flood through this section. The cypresses here are not only tall, but their bases are heavily buttressed. Look carefully at those scrapes on the cypress bark: you might see the claw marks of a Florida black bear.
Swaddled in mosses and fungi, the rootballs of cabbage palms swell in size. Every log is covered in lichens and fungi, with some forming natural planters for ferns. Sweetgum rain down colorful leaves each fall into a sluggish stream, where a boardwalk arches through the cypress swamp past tall cypress knees, so tall they seem out of proportion to the trees themselves. A bench after the boardwalk is at the 2-mile mark of the hike. Old cypress stumps – what is left after logging – hide under the giant fronds of young cabbage palms. More tall trees tower overhead.
Thickly carpeted with fallen leaves, the final boardwalk leads you into a small upland area. At 2.2 miles you reach the picnic table, which marks the end of the Marshall Swamp Trail at a T intersection with a tramway. The Florida Trail continues down the tramway to the right on its way to the Baseline Road Trailhead, but this is your turn-around point, a good stop for hydration and a snack.
Retracing your walk through Marshall Swamp, pay attention to the sounds of the forest: a symphony of songbirds, the clatter of woodpeckers, the rustle of palm fronds in the breeze. After 3.9 miles, you return to the Loop Trail junction. Turn right to follow the blue-blazed Loop Trail through the upland forest around the willow pond. At the T intersection with a tramway, turn left to follow the trail past the “Loop Trail” sign. The trail goes over a culvert draining the pond into the swamp.
As the trail rises up into pine forest, keep alert for deer. Behind the “sabal palm” marker on the right is the largest loblolly pine you’ll see on this hike, and it’s certainly impressive. You reach the old “Loop Trail” sign and it points you to the left past the new sign, down a narrow corridor crowded on both sides by grapevines and saw palmetto. Reaching a T intersection with the back side of the first “Loop Trail” sign, you’ve completed the loop. Turn right to exit, finishing up your hike at the trail kiosk after 4.5 miles.