As part of a question sent to me by Rick, a reader in New England, he asked “we would be interested to find an area where we hike from inn to inn over a few days” as part of a vacation day hiking in Florida. As I’m in the midst of working on a new Florida Trail guide, it got me thinking: where is this possible? Along much of the Florida Trail’s route, there aren’t services close enough to make an inn-to-inn style walk feasible, except along some of the rail-trail corridors like the Cross Seminole Trail and the Withlacoochee State Trail, which mean walking on pavement.
I like the “rugged during the day, comfy at night” idea. I first ran across this concept while hiking in the Bruce Pensinsula of Ontario, Canada many years ago. You hike the linear Bruce Trail atop the very scenic and rocky Niagara Escarpment, and have your luggage escorted ahead for you to the next B&B along the way.
A SUWANNEE SOJOURN
One spot I can think of where it might be possible to enjoy scenic hiking and comfort in Florida is along a portion of the Suwannee River, where outfitters American Canoe Adventures and Suwannee Outpost cater to folks doing the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, of which the Florida Trail is a part. I’ve used both for shuttle services in the past. Here’s a rough plan for up to a week, with the assumption you set up reservations and shuttles in advance.
DAY 1: Get to Lake City, Florida, just south of the junction of Interstate 10 and Interstate 75. Pity Amtrak is no longer running to this gateway town! There are dozens of hotels to choose from at every price level. I’ll vouch for the Hampton Inn and the Holiday Inn & Suites, where I’ve stayed most recently.
DAY 2: Have the cab take you (or drive your car) to Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park (cabin rental), or stay at the White Springs B&B, which shortens today by a mile and adds one tomorrow. If you took a cab, get dropped off at Bell Springs trailhead [30.329298, -82.689613]. If you drove, call ACA about a shuttle. Hike west into White Springs along the Florida Trail right to the cabin door, stopping for a meal en route. Looks like Fat Belly’s on US 41 S and pizza from the gas station up the hill from the park entrance are the only options for food in White Springs now, with word that the Telford Hotel has closed again. Spend the night in your cabin or room. 9 miles.
DAY 3: Have ACA pick you up and take you to Camp Branch trailhead [30.3778, -82.8789]. Walk the 1-mile blue blaze to the Florida Trail and head east back along the orange blazes to Stephen Foster to your cabin. 14.2 miles. If you need to leave the car somewhere, behind the gates at Stephen Foster is a great place. Just let the rangers know before you leave on foot for the rest of the trek. Long-term parking for hikers is down by the river gazebo access to the Florida Trail.
DAY 4: Call Suwannee Outpost and have them take your bags to Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park (cabin rental), where they are based, dropping you off at Camp Branch along the way. Take the blue blaze trail again, and this time check out the scenic loop (an extra half-mile walk). Hike west from Camp Branch to Spirit of the Suwannee. 6.8 on the trail, 7.5 or so total to get to the cabin area. The cabins here range tremendously in quality and cost (from old mobile homes to a gorgeous “Treehouse”), ask ahead. Check ahead for which days the SOS Cafe is open.
DAY 5: Arrange for Suwannee Outpost to drop you off at Gibson Park [30.438753,-83.093018] and walk east, back to where you stopped the day before. Spend another night at Spirit of the Suwannee. 15.5 on the trail, 16.2 or so total.
DAY 6: Have Suwannee Outpost take your bags to Suwannee River State Park (cabin rental) and drop you off at Gibson Park; you walk to your cabin at Suwannee River State Park. 15.2 miles on the trail, 16.7 to the cabins. Tricky part: no food nearby, and you’re on foot. Good news: a new convenience store is being built between the Florida Trail and the state park. I’m sure they’ll keep busy. A couple miles east of the park, the Falmouth Crossing General Store (386-
DAY 7: Have Suwannee Outpost give you a ride back to a hotel in Lake City, or to Stephen Foster if you left your car there. Depart from there.
You’ll need to join the Florida Trail Association to do this hike, as the trail crosses some private land through this section.
You’ll also need to keep an eye on river levels, as this section is impassible when the Suwannee River is over 60 feet. Make sure you have a Plan B!
One final note on this section: it is NOT flat! It’s quite hilly for Florida, with the trail dropping in and out of tributaries and climbing bluffs. There are even waterfalls along the way. The scenery is some of the best in the state. Be sure your hiking capability is up to the mileage. Carry a water filter in your day pack in case you need extra hydration.