If you think Florida doesn’t have steep trails, this one will dispel the myth. To the west of Tallahassee, The Ravine Trail at Lake Talquin State Forest is part of the Terry Rhodes Trail System at the Bear Creek Educational Center south of Quincy, and is notable for clinging to the edges of a rather large and lengthy steephead ravine, following the topographical contours nicely. You’ll have to put on the brakes on quite a few of the hills.
A big bonus to this hike is that the Ravine Trail is also an arboretum with detailed information about the native trees found in the bluff and ravine habitats of Florida’s Panhandle. To reach the loop, you follow the Living Forest Trail, an accessible, albeit steep, interpretive trail with “talking trees” that the kids will love.
Length: 2 miles
Lat-Long: 30.477157, -84.625806
Type: loop and round-trip
Fees / Permits: $2 per person, children under 6 free. Annual passes cost $30.
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: At the trailhead Day use only. Open sunrise to sunset. Be sure to exit before the gates close!
For more information: Lake Talquin State Forest
From I-10 exit 181, Quincy, drive south 4.5 miles on SR 267 to the entrance of the Bear Creek Tract on the left. Alternatively, if you’re coming from Tallahassee along SR 20, pass the Bloxham Cutoff near the Jackson Bluff Dam and continue to where SR 267 heads north. Turn right and drive north 7.5 miles, passing through Wetumpka, to the Bear Creek Educational Forest entrance on the right.
Your hike starts from the parking area in front of the Bear Creek Environmental Center, a rather large and showy environmental education center with a demonstration garden and restrooms out front. The trailhead for the Terry L. Rhodes Trail System is on the far side of the building, so walk across to the kiosk to start your hike. A heads-up–mileages on the kiosk are greater than what I calculated using my GPS, and are in fact listed as shorter on the Lake Talquin State Forest website. The three trails in this trail system – Living Forest Trail, Ravine Trail, and Bear Creek Trail – are all part of the Florida State Forests Trailwalker program. Pick up a map for the Ravine Trail, which has alphabetic markers keyed to notable points along the route.
To get to the Ravine Trail, which is a loop, you must follow the linear, paved Living Forest Trail. This asphalt path narrows down and leads into a dense bluff forest along faded orange blazes. American holly, oaks, and sparkleberry are throughout the forest.
Along the Living Forest Trail are interpretive “Talking Trees.” These posts contain a
recorded message in lieu of (or in addition to) the traditional interpretive signs. Press “Push” at the first one to learn the detailed backstory about this forest. Its existence is a feat inspired by Aldo Leopold, and it’s history includes Prince Murat, a cousin of Napoleon Bonaparte. Stop and listen to the ranger – or rather, the tree – tell the tale.
When the leaves are off the trees, you can see the ravine down at the bottom of the hill. As you walk along, pause and learn more about the flora and fauna at the speaker boxes along the route. Although the trail is suitable for wheelchairs, it is a bit lumpy in places. I’d recommend a spotter or good brakes, as this hillside is also steep. To assist with the grade, the trail does make a rather large switchback on its descent as it snakes down to the bottom of the ravine.
At the Southern magnolia “Talking Tree,” a side trail leads off the paved trail to race to an observation deck above the reservoir within the ravine. The Living Forest Trail takes a more gentle slope to end up at the same spot. This is where the Ravine Trail and Bear Creek Trail begin. Around you is a natural arboretum of well-identified native trees, and you’ll see many more along the loop. Pignut hickory, white oak, and American beech stand tall over another “Talking Tree” by the water.
Ravine Trail (loop)
At 0.4 mile, continue downhill and follow the signs and blue blazes to start the Ravine Trail, which turns to the right to follow the shoreline of the reservoir. This is a simple impoundment, a natural creek in a steephead ravine blocked off at one end to create a small lake where water lilies drift across the surface and tall Southern magnolia are reflected in the water. American beech is a major component of this bluff forest, obvious from its ribbed leaves. Interpretive markers assist in helping you identify enormous trees like the loblobby pine as well as smaller ones like the musclewood. A swamp chestnut oak drops huge leaves across the footpath. The trail drops down close to the water’s edge, where blue-winged teal stir along the edge of the pickerelweed. While it seems unlikely because of this terrain, alligators are present in this creek.
White-tailed deer dash through the open understory, up the steep hill. Look across the water–the hill over there is even steeper. A belted kingfisher chatters, staking out its territory. After 0.6 mile, the trail starts up a very steep slope past the remains of a former bridge (which once bridged the creek). At the intersection with a side trail, stay to the blue blazes. Up and up and up you go, into a laurel oak forest. The ravine drops steeply off to the left, hidden behind a screen of understory. In spring, dogwood trees are in bloom. As the trail crosses a bridge and starts to round the ravine, the dropoffs are rather steep, the distance down to the bottom quite noticeable. Stand still and you can hear water trickling down the sides of the steephead below you, forming a clear sand-bottomed stream at the bottom.
As the trail curves left and drops steeply, you walk under a spruce pine with dark bark amid mountain laurel and Florida star-anise. It’s a botanical beauty spot in spring, with trout lilies peeping out from amid the leaf litter. Leaving the pretty stream at 0.8 mile, the trail heads back uphill, passing spruce pine, chokecherry, and wild olive along ever-increasing grades. You can hear traffic nearby, as the trail is drawing close to SR 267 for a short stretch. Walk fast, and you’ll be out of breath quickly. Better to savor the stroll. The dropoff is steep and deep. At 0.9 mile, an overlook provides another beauty spot to enjoy the steep ravine. The melodies of songbirds echo through the forest. Here’s where you need a hiking stick for the extreme descent.
Winding its way around the various seeps and tributaries feeding the creek, the trail gets into a stretch of not-so-pointless ups and downs. An unmarked trail comes in from the right as the Ravine Trail heads into a switchback. Looking down into the creek, it is beautifully clear. A spruce pine towers overhead, dropping pine cones very out of proportion with the tree. At another pretty spot where the creek twists and curves through Florida anise, sphagnum moss grows thick and tufty. At Marker P, a cascade drops a foot or more, drawing your attention to the miniature waterfall. Beyond it, the impoundment pool begins. Extremely tall spruce pines tower over the trail as you pass the other set of remains of bridge piers at 1.3 miles. In summer, look for pyramid magnolia in bloom. It has an elongated leaf with a bulge, very different from Southern magnolia. Another overlook provides a view of the impoundment, with a sweeping view towards the dike at its end.
Welcome to the native azalea garden. Whether it was planted here or just happened, the slope forest at 1.5 miles hosts a bevy of rare spring beauties, including Chapman’s rhododendron, mountain laurel, and flame azalea. It’s also where the Bear Creek Trail, marked with orange blazes, comes in from the left. Continue straight along the blue blazes. The trail meets a forest road, and signage indicates you should head downhill. At the bottom is a junction of junctions–the Bear Creek Trail goes off to the right again, and the Ravine Trail turns left to cross the dike that forms the impoundment. This short walk provides an open perspective on the impoundment, a good place to scan the lily-laden surface for waterfowl. Water gushes out of a pipe into the forest below.
Reaching the far end of the impoundment, the Bear Creek Trail goes straight ahead up the forest road, on the orange blazes. The Ravine Trail turns left, so make the left turn. The trail crosses a little bridge over a tributary, and within a few paces, you return to the end of the loop, at 1.6 miles. The observation deck is to your right. Head uphill to meet the Living Forest Trail again, and follow the paved path back up to the top of the hill to return to the parking area, completing a 2 mile hike.