Camping at Blackwater River State Park, we were intrigued by a boardwalk leading from the campground towards the river.
We guessed it provided access to the sparkling beaches we’d seen crossing Deaton Bridge. And it did, but the trail kept going.
Signposted as the Juniper Lake Trail, it’s a scenic walk along the Blackwater River, with a central loop around an oxbow lake.
Joining up with the Pavilion Boardwalk, it connects the day use area and campground, providing several surprises along the way.
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Length: 1 mile round-trip and loop
Trailhead: 30.70813, -86.87538
Address: 7720 Deaton Bridge Rd, Holt
Fees: $4 per vehicle
Restroom: At the day use area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM until sunset daily. Bicycles not permitted.
Leashed pets welcome but not on beaches or swimming areas.
From Interstate 10 exit 31 (Milton / Navarre) drive north on SR 87 one mile to US 90. Turn right and continue 5.8 miles east to Deaton Bridge Rd in Holt. Turn left and drive 4.8 miles north to the main entrance of Blackwater River State Park. Turn right, pay your day use fee at the entrance station, and park in the day use parking area.
Although we hiked the trail from the campground, this out-and-back trip is normally done from the day use area.
Follow the accessible connector path from the parking area to the riverfront, where the Pavilion Boardwalk connects picnic shelters and restrooms.
Go straight ahead. The state champion Atlantic white cedar is near the restrooms. This species is common all along the river and grows to great heights.
Turn right on the next boardwalk. Leading through the riverfront forest, it empties onto a beautiful white sand beach on the Blackwater River.
Edged by cedars and oaks, it’s the easiest to reach of the beaches that build up along the river bends, but others are also popular.
The beaches on the south shore are accessible from the Chain of Lakes Trail that starts across from the Deaton Bridge trailhead.
Leave the beach along the other branch of the Pavilion Boardwalk, edging along a marshy swale and cypress swamp.
The Juniper Lake Trail starts past the pavilion, a corridor cut into the dense understory of the the riverside forest.
It joins a well-worn sand path under a canopy of river bluff forest with Southern magnolias, American holly, and the ubiquitous cedars.
The trail overlooks a marshy cover on the river. Pass the first junction for the Lake Loop.
Edging along the bluffs, the trail provides river views before slipping along the shoreline of Juniper Lake, a placid oxbow.
A marshy former portion of the river channel, it was left behind as the waters shifted, as they often do over time.
Sand drifts are common as the trail rises through this area, the river leaving deposits along its banks after floods.
The trail provides access to a pretty crescent of a beach on a curve in the river before it passes the second signposted junction for the Lake Loop.
Continue along the riverfront, the trail tunneling through vegetation and scrambling through dips to reach a panoramic view atop bluffs.
Walking among the cedars on the bluffs, emerge into a large open area with a broad, showy beach within view of Deaton Bridge.
The water was surprisingly shallow here, the ripples in the sand bottom of Blackwater River clearly visible despite the tea-colored tint.
This is the final beach along the walk, the closest to the campground. A boardwalk leaves the far end of the open area, spanning a cypress-gum swamp.
Views of the river continue to your left until the boardwalk ascends into a pine forest and ends. Continue forward on soft pine duff.
When the footpath ends at the campground, so does the Juniper Lake Trail. Your turn-around point is at a half mile.
Retrace your path along the river, enjoying the upriver views from the broad beach and the bluffs beyond.
Reaching the signposted Juniper Lake Loop Trail, turn left. Following the edge of Juniper Lake, it’s a little over a tenth of a mile through the dense bluff forest.
A bridge spans an outflow, and there are glimpses of the oxbow through the cedars and pines, with one expansive view of the open water.
At the trail junction, make a left and retrace your walk back to the Pavilion Boardwalk. Walk to its very end if you like, passing the State Champion tree again.
Taking the direct route back to the parking area, you tally a mile by the end of this hike.
Learn more about Blackwater River State Park
See our photos of the Juniper Lake Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.