This is one hike that’s no walk in the park. The reason? The very name of the place, Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, gives it away. We’re talking serious topography here. The trail drops into several steephead ravines, emerges on high bluffs above the Apalachicola River, and dares you to take on another steep down and up before you head back home. Unless you’re used to hiking up and down steep hills, expect this hike to take a couple of hours. Take time to savor the views and the botanical wonders you’ll encounter.
Length: Up to 3.3 miles
Lat-Long: 30.454700, -84.970433
Type: Round-trip and loop
Fees / Permits: None
Bug factor: Moderate
Managed by The Nature Conservancy, the trail has reopened after closure for habitat restoration work.
Located just south of Torreya State Park along CR 12, the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve can be reached from either SR 20 in Bristol (drive north on CR 12) or from I-10. Driving north from Bristol, go 1.6 miles to Garden of Eden Road, turn left at the sign, and continue 0.4 mile to the parking area. From I-10 exit 174, head south on CR 12 for 20.3 miles, passing Torreya State Park. Turn right at Garden of Eden Road. There are no facilities at the trailhead.
From the kiosk at the parking area, the trail starts out in basic sandhill habitat—lots of open space, lots of sand and turkey oaks, and not especially inviting. But before you hit the half mile mark, the fun begins. Hang on for a steep descent as the trail makes a sharp left in the deep shade of a bluff forest following the edge of a ridgeline around a massive steephead ravine. You can see a loooong way down to the right. At the bottom of the ravine, a bridge crosses a burbling brook. Arrive in March or April to catch colorful red Florida anise in bloom, and look down at the splashing water to catch a glimpse of a speckled frog.
What goes down must come up, so it’s a steep, steep ascent up the other side of the steephead. Ashe magnolia and sparkleberry crown the top of the ridge. The understory is very open, enabling you to look down to the right into another ravine. At 0.6 mile, you pass an outhouse-shaped camo blind to the left, just over the property line. The landscape drops off very sharply to the right—be cautious, as the trail is narrow and pitched.
At 0.8 mile, look off to the right to see what looks like water in the distance through the trees and needle palms growing along the ridge. Drop steeply into another ravine down a set of stone stairs. Scramble down a steep slope into a forest of what seems like rhododendron (and indeed, there are such plants that grow here, but I need to verify), and cross a bridge over a swiftly flowing stream that appears to come from an outflow pipe, perhaps directly from the river. The trail parallels the stream. As you make a slow ascent out of the ravine, you rise into sandhills much like those at the start of the trail, and the footpath makes a sharp left up a wide road—follow the blazes!
At 1.3 miles, the trail veers left down a forest road and passes between two posts. Look off to your left to see another ravine, which you can traverse on the return trip. Sporadic plant identification markers start here, helping you to understand the complex botany on this bridge. At 1.4 miles, you emerge at an unexpected viewpoint— Alum Bluff, with its vast panorama of Apalachicola River, even better than the views at Torreya State Park. Standing 135 feet above the river where a Confederate gun emplacement once assisted in protection of the arsenal at Chattahootchee, you have a decision point—retrace your route for a 2.6 mile round-trip hike, or continue along the loop to do the full 3.3 miles.
The ravines along the far loop are deeper and steeper than the ones you’ve encountered up to this point. The loop returns you back into the second sandhill area, nearest the bluffs. From there, you retrace your route through the first two ravines back to the parking area.