7.3 miles. Also known as the Juniper Creek Trail, the Florida Trail along Juniper Creek is a gorgeous place to explore in springtime, when mountain laurel blooms in both pink and white and the dogwoods put on a show. It rambles through both Blackwater River State Park and Blackwater River State Forest, showing off views of the creek intermittently sprinkled with swamp crossings and stretches of longleaf pine forest.
One of the most beautiful segments of the Florida Trail statewide, Juniper Creek makes an easy day hike between two cars placed at both ends, since access is via paved roads. Expect to get your feet wet in pine flatwoods and titi swamps, particularly in the first few miles just north of where you begin the trail up through the crossing at Indian Ford Road. North of Indian Ford Creek, the trail spends much of its time on bluffs along the creek, with access to sandy beaches and a surprising panorama from deep red clay bluffs standing more than 65 feet tall above the creek at Red Rocks.
March and April are excellent times to hike this section because of the colorful wildflowers along the route. You’ll catch mounds of mountain laurel blooming in March, and pitcher plants draping their blossoms in early to mid-April. In addition to wildflowers, keep alert for champion-sized Atlantic white cedar and impressive longleaf pines. Two designated campsites are along the route, with the Bluffs campsite offering scenic views, beach access, and a rare Appalachian Trail-style shelter as well as space for tents.
The Blackwater section was reblazed blue to indicate its status as an official side trail. You’ll still see orange blazes here and there along the route, and also in our older photos and video.
If you start your hike as described, from the recreation area inside Blackwater River State Park, a state park entrance fee applies. For an out-and-back hike, starting from the northern end of this section is better: free parking, more interesting scenery not far along the hike.
Frequent prescribed burns are used for forest management throughout Blackwater River State Forest. All times of year, expect at least a portion of your hike to be through recently burned forest. To avoid walking into an ongoing burn, call ahead to check on their schedule of planned burns along the Florida Trail, 850-957-5700.
FLOODING can make hiking along Juniper Creek, a major tributary for the Blackwater River, dangerous. Check National Weather Service flood gauge. This section is particularly sensitive to flooding as it is in the Juniper Creek floodplain. Do not enter flowing waters.
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons in Blackwater River State Forest. Check the FWC website for hunting season dates.
For the southern trailhead, drive north from US 90 (east of Milton) up Deaton Bridge Rd at Harold for 3.6 miles to the parking on the left just after the bridge, within Blackwater River State Park. There is a state park entrance fee for parking. You’ll find restrooms and picnic tables right near the entrance to the trail.
For the northern trailhead, follow SR 191 north from US 90 through Milton towards Munson to the turnoff for Red Rock Picnic Area on Red Rock Road. Cross the bridge and continue uphill 0.5 mile past the picnic area to the kiosk for the trail. The trailhead is just ahead on the right, with limited parking.
Since the trails of Blackwater River State Forest were established before they received National Scenic Trail designation as part of the Florida Trail, all of them retain their old names. A sign at the picnic area in Blackwater River State Park calls your attention to the start of the Juniper Creek Trail, which is the Florida Trail route. It immediately dives into the floodplain forests along the river.
Puncheons cross most of the wet and muddy spots, but don’t be surprised if you need to wade a little. Within the first mile, more signage points out the changes in land management – you walk out of the state park and into the state forest – before the trail enters an extensive longleaf pine forest.
By the time you are several miles in, north of Indian Ford Road and Alligator Creek, the trail swings out close to Juniper Creek under the deep shade of the thick forest where mountain laurel co-exists with cedars, sparkleberry, and southern magnolia. It’s a magical place, with glimpses of the fast-moving stream and its scattered sand beaches through the trees, the trail undulating with the rugged terrain created by the ravines of feeder streams. Most of the streams are bridged, but you will drop down through several titi swamps, jumping from puncheon to puncheon to keep out of the mud. Look for side trails leading to beaches on Juniper Creek, and the champion-sized trees overhead.
As its name implies, Bluffs Campsite sits atop the bluffs above a bend in the creek at a particular picturesque location. Side trails lead to the shelter and to a beach that serves as a water source and swimming hole. The next mile of trail is a wonderland of mountain laurel blossoms – in both white and pink – each March. Watch for the worn path leading down to Red Rock Bluffs. This don’t-miss natural feature centers around a series of clay cliffs eroding down into the basin of Juniper Creek. The tip of it is deeply undercut in places, so watch your footing. Mountain laurel accents the cliffs.
It’s less than a half mile up to trail’s end at Red Rock Road, a paved road. The trailhead is uphill to the right. Across the road is a kiosk marking the start of the Jackson Red Ground Trail, the next segment of the Florida Trail northbound.
FLORIDA TRAIL NORTHBOUND: Jackson Red Ground Trail
FLORIDA TRAIL SOUTHBOUND: Hutton Unit