A vast reservoir along the Ochlockonee River behind the Jackson Bluff Dam, which feeds a hydroelectric plant helping to power Tallahassee, Lake Talquin is a rarity in Florida due to its sheer size and character. From the picnic pavilion atop the park’s main ridge, the water shimmers in the distance, and a clamber down to the boardwalk makes you feel like you’ve descended into the heart of the Adirondacks, with hilly forested ridges across the water in every direction.
The interpretive trail at Lake Talquin State Park is a tease, leading you up to the edge of ravines but never plunging in, and scooting out near the edge – but not to the edge – of the bluffs that stand well above the lake. With a mostly open understory, strategically placed benches, and gentle terrain changes – despite the geological forces at work all around – the 1.1 mile footpath is an easy walk for visitors of all ages.
Length: 1.1 miles
Lat-Long: 30.436595, -84.536576
Fees / Permits: State park entrance fee of $2 individual, $3 per carload
Bug Factor: Low
Restroom: Near the parking area
Open 8 AM-sunset daily
Lake Talquin State Park website
From Tallahassee, follow SR 20 west for 10.6 miles to Jack Vause Landing Road, where you’ll see the sign for the state park. Continue carefully for the next 0.3 mile down this narrow, one lane clay road which leads to the park entrance road. The park road and parking area are paved.
The nature trail starts on the south side of the parking lot, leading you into a beautiful bluff forest of Southern magnolia, oaks, and sparkleberry. After a handful of steps, you reach a fork in the trail to start the loop. Keep right. Blue blazes and blue arrows mark this interpretive trail. Stop and listen for “The Sounds of Nature” at the first interpretive sign. In the early morning hours, birdsong echoes throughout the forest.
The landscape slopes off sharply to the right into a forest-filled ravine. The understory is very open under the oaks, magnolias, and slash pines. In the winter months, when the leaves are off the trees, it’s rather obvious that you’re on a high ridge above Lake Talquin. You pass an oak tree with a gaping hole in its base. Close to the head of the steephead ravine, a deeply folded landscape, an interpretive sign discusses habitat. The trail curves to the right to parallel the top of the ravine. Scattered saw palmetto dot the understory. Straight ahead, the landscape simply drops off, with glimpses of blue through the trees– the lake. A jog to the left takes you towards another ravine, passing more interpretive information, and off to the right the lake becomes obvious, across the deep bowl of ravine.
The trail swings away from the ravine, passing a slash pine with a pucker in its trunk and a large old oak that looks like it’s about to fall. Beneath the pines, the understory is thicker. The landscape undulates off to the right, and the view of the water becomes clearer. The trail continues to parallel the lake, and now it’s obvious you’re atop a peninsula jutting out into this hydroelectric reservoir.
After a half mile, the trail reaches the point of the peninsula, where several benches provide a place to sit and watch for raptors on the breeze. The trail folds back to run along the peninsula, paralleling itself, with the lake on your right. Laurel oaks and slash pines compete to provide a canopy as the trail turns away from the lake and into the forest again. A lone, young sweetgum showcases colorful leaves as the trail dips downward, headed towards another ravine. The understory is once again very open. Past an unusually large sparkleberry, there is an interpretive sign on attracting wildlife. A large Spanish bayonet stands out against the otherwise soft textures of the forest. The footpath is covered in pine duff, and much broader, as if it were a forest road. The forest to the right steeply slopes off into ravines as the trail pulls away from them. Deep shade makes this a pleasant walk.
The footpath rises in elevation, and with it, more dense undergrowth in the understory. You pass the “Animal Tracks” sign at 0.7 mile, where there’s an oddly twisted pine and a stand of yaupon holly. Small depression pits are in the woods to the left. Heading downslope again, the trail passes a minor depression to the right before it flattens out again. A post that says “Mile 1” has a bench just beyond it. At a double-blaze with a bench, make a sharp left to leave the broad path for the narrow one. Slip through a tunnel of sparkleberry, and you can see the shimmer of the lake up ahead. The loop ends, and you emerge at the parking area after 1.1 miles.
For an extra stroll that’ll give you a workout, continue across the parking lot to the picnic shelter. There used to be a nature trail on the bluffs here — I found remnants of a footpath and old blazes — but it seems to have been abandoned. Make a beeline for the stairs to the lake. Eight landings down, there’s a gorgeous boardwalk along the reservoir, which visitors use for fishing, birding, and just hanging out. Climb five landings up to get back to the bluff. Follow the old road down to your right for a walk to the boat ramp, which provides another perspective on the lake. Climb back up that road – or return via the boardwalk and stairs – to the picnic pavilion to exit. It’s a scenic quarter-mile walk.