Hiking through the most rugged hills this side of the Apalachicola River, you’d think you’d stumbled across a long-lost piece of the Appalachians as you climb uphill from Alamo Cave towards a cabin surrounded by trillium. Circling the perimeter of Hinson Conservation and Recreation in Marianna, the Hinson Trail – designated a National Recreation Trail in 2013 – offers not just rugged hiking and scenic views but a variety of habitats and historic sites to explore along its 4 mile circuit.
Length: 4 miles
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate to high
Cross trails enable you to adapt the length of your hike to the amount of time you have to explore. The trails nearest the river are the most rugged; those to the southwest of the Chipola River Greenway can be swampy and muddy. Use plenty of mosquito repellent when hiking near the river.
From I-10 exit 142, Marianna, drive south on SR 71 for 0.4 mile to Magnolia Rd. Turn right. Continue 2.9 miles, crossing the Chipola River at Bear Paw Adventures, to SR 73. Turn right. Drive 2.8 miles north to the entrance to Hinson Conservation & Recreation Area, marked with a large sign at Gator Hole Lane on the right. Follow the limerock road for 1.1 miles downhill into the preserve to where it ends within sight of the Chipola River and trailhead kiosk under the trees.
Start your hike at the canoe launch area on the Chipola River. Walking counterclockwise, you first tackle a portion of the trail that rambles along a peninsula, with the Chipola River to your right at all times. After 0.8 mile you reach Alamo Cave, where the first cross trail comes in. This cave is a large natural bridge, as you can see sunlight right through it. Here’s where the trail gets rugged, climbing up a steep and rocky slope to guide you above a segment of caves along the river known as “The Ovens.”
Passing the old cabin, the trail levels out but remains well above the river, with deep sinkholes on your left. Once the trail drops back to river level you pass a small spring and start to loop back after viewing a railroad trestle over the river. Leaving the river, the trail meanders through dense deciduous forest before climbing up a limestone escarpment at 1.5 miles and popping out into an open grassy meadow with a bench and pecan tree.
After another stretch of hilly trail in the forest – where we missed the next cross trail – you cross the park entrance road and continue west along open grassy areas and stands of planted pines. The next cross trail is at the remains of the old M&B Railroad, a track filled in with forest. From here, the trail continues into open areas and old pecan groves over the next mile, with stretches of woods providing shade.
Looping all the way up towards the front entrance before returning to the railroad tracks, you begin the descent back towards the Chipola River. Here’s where things can get muddy, as we found standing water throughout depressions in the forest for the next half mile, en route to the Chipola Greenway. When you reach the river again, turn left to follow the broad Chipola Greenway back to the canoe launch to complete the 4-mile circuit.
Members of the Panhandle Chapter of the Florida Trail Association built and maintain the Hinson Trail, and provide a very nice, detailed map of the trail and the features along it. They also lead guided hikes here periodically, check their Meetup group for details.