One of the delights of Ochlockonee River State Park is the vast buffer around it, provided by St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and extensive marshes.
A healthy stand of longleaf pine grows right to the water’s edge, with abundant wildflowers found in the grasses below.
Using the park’s two well-defined interpretive nature trails, the Pine Flatwood Nature Trail and the Ochlockonee River Nature Trail, you can make a scenic loop encompassing riverfront and longleaf pine savanna.
There are several access points along this day hike. Registered campers can catch it outside the campground. Visitors driving the off-road loop can start by the pond.
Or follow our route below, which begins adjacent to at the picnic grounds at the confluence of rivers and marshes where the Sopchoppy and Ochlockonee Rivers meet.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 2.6 mile loop
Address: 429 State Park Rd, Sopchoppy
Fees: $4 per vehicle, $2 pedestrian or cyclist
Restroom: At the picnic area and campground
Land manager: Florida State Park
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome.
The park is 4 miles south of Sopchoppy along US 319. From US 98, follow US 319 north towards Sopchoppy. After you enter the park, follow State Park Rd past the campground to the end of the road at the picnic area.
The Pine Flatwood Nature Trail is the more prominent of the two trailheads as you pull into the parking area at the end of the road, so it’s where this hike starts.
It’s at the very end of the parking area as you loop around past the picnic area and the scenic drive entrance.
In springtime, the wiregrass blooms beneath the tall canopy of scattered longleaf pines, creating a soft haze across the forest floor.
To the right is the low-lying ribbon of marsh that makes up the floodplain of the Sopchoppy River and other tributaries flowing into tidal marshes that feed the Ochlockonee River.
Straight ahead, the sparse pine forest contains trees banded to mark the homes of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, which only nest in old-growth trees.
Pause at the base of one to note the candle-wax effect of sap spilling down the tree trunks as the woodpeckers maintain their nest holes, creating sticky stuff that helps ward off snake invasions.
This is a gentle trail, broad and well-kept, with the occasional interpretive marker. The forest understory is very open, with scattered clumps of saw palmetto and blueberry bushes.
Pass through a small copse of sand live oaks and rise up and over an ancient sandbar, noted by an interpretive marker next to a bench in the scrub.
Prescribed burns are used to manage the habitats, so you may see char marks on the bases of the trees.
Some of the older pines have the marks from turpentine tapping, the “catfaces” now healing scars rising up the tree trunks.
In both directions is a grayish haze foretelling a marsh coming up, and indeed, the trail passes through the middle of this wet prairie.
The earth becomes squishy underfoot. Look closely, and you will see carnivorous sundews glistening in the sun.
As the elevation increases, you’re firmly in the pine flatwoods once more, passing another bench. The understory is open enough to spot wildlife ahead.
The trail slips between clumps of saw palmetto as the forest becomes denser, with an understory of wizened sand live oaks around a half mile.
Curving left, the trail parallels the dense strand of forest in the distance. There’s a bench at 0.6 mile that lets you sit and stare out into the flatwoods, watching for deer.
The height and types of grasses in the distance change, indicating another seasonally wet prairie. The grasses grow almost to shoulder height.
Birdsong fills the air, as do mosquitoes. More sundews grow in the footpath, their reddish hue catching your eye.
At 0.8 mile, meet a T intersection in the trail. Make a right for a scenic linear spur off the main trail. The trail zigzags through the flatwoods, descending slowly into sandhill habitat with turkey oaks.
There are many more red-cockaded woodpecker nests marked here. This trail emerges at the scenic drive, which is simply a one-lane unpaved road through the flatwoods.
Turn right and walk up the road a little bit over a culvert, staying to the right at the fork, to reach a boardwalk and observation deck on Reflection Pond.
The deck is wheelchair accessible (if you arrived by car) and looks out over this beauty spot, where turtles bask in the sun and an alligator cruises the shallows. This marks one mile along the loop.
Backtrack along the scenic road and the trail that led you to the pond. Reaching the T intersection, continue straight past the trail you came in on from the left.
There’s another wet prairie to the right, and more clumps of saw palmetto here on the higher ground that the trail traverses.
Crossing the park road, you now start along the Ochlockonee River Nature Trail, the campground off to your left and a wet prairie to the right.
At a T intersection, a trail leads left to the campground. Turn right to walk between the tall pines. The forest becomes denser as you approach the river, with picturesque clusters of sand live oaks leading the way.
At 1.5 miles, reach the next T intersection at a bench overlooking the marshes, the river, and a small beach that grows in size as the tide flows out.
Turn right to explore this linear spur off the loop, paralleling the Ochlockonee River upriver. The trail descends through a tributary feeding the river, with many roots underfoot and sedges all around.
A salt breeze rises from the river as the trail meanders within sight of it, yet well shaded by the forest. Small cypresses line the river.
The trail makes a sharp right to meander along a marshy cove, ending at a trailhead at a boat ramp and picnic area after 1.7 miles.
Turn around and walk back through the shady forest, the river now to the right. Pass the T intersection and bench to continue along the bluffs above the river.
It’s obvious the trail has been relocated many times, as the river laps beneath the roots of the trees along the bluff, tearing away at the shore.
At 2 miles, there is an open bluff providing a view of the river’s pine-lined shores and of an osprey nest in a tall tree on the far shore.
Working its way past the campground, the trail rises up into a patch of scrub where there’s an outdoor classroom off to the right.
Keep right at the fork, passing another staircase down to the river and trail from the campground. Near the end of the campground is a second staircase.
Keep going straight along the broad trail as panoramas open up, since there are fewer and fewer trees in the way of the view of the river junction.
Cedars gracefully bend over the bluff, framing the scenery. While there is little shade, the views are outstanding.
Passing a road coming in from the left, you can see the trailhead kiosk of the Pine Flatwood Trail and the parking area coming up.
Trail’s end is at the trailhead for the Ochlockonee River Nature Trail on this side of the picnic area at 2.4 miles, adjoining a staircase down to the river.
But you’ll want to explore the peninsula, too. A wheelchair-accessible ramp leads down to the river.
Grand old sand live oaks provide deep shade throughout the picnic area, which yields to a boat dock and playground near the beginning of the scenic drive.
Looping around to the parking area, you’ve walked 2.6 miles.
Learn more about Ochlockonee River State Park
Ochlockonee River State Park
At Ochlockonee River State Park waters meet, the tidal bore of the estuary pushing upstream to meet two rivers draining the vast swamps of the Apalachicola National Forest.
See our photos from Ochlockonee River State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Myron B Hodge City Park
Myron B. Hodge City Park offers a nature trail where you can linger along the Sopchoppy River amid the sweet spring scent of Florida azalea.
Florida Trail, Sopchoppy
8.9 miles. Slipping through pine flatwoods and sandhills to the east of Sopchoppy, the Florida Trail plays tag with a network of forest roads that criss-crosses the southern portion of the Apalachicola National Forest.
Florida Trail, Sopchoppy River
4.1 miles. Following the gentle curves of the Sopchoppy River in the Apalachicola National Forest, this section of the Florida Trail is one of the most scenic hikes on the trail.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
Stretching across 70,000 acres in Florida’s Big Bend, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge protects one of Florida’s longest wild shorelines, more than 43 miles in three counties.