Wind through the pines and step back in time to trace the unfolding of the Battle of Olustee near Lake City. The hike through Olustee Battlefield is short, but its historical significance is great. More than 2,000 men died in this forest on February 20, 1864, when Confederate and Union forces met and fought the bloodiest battle on Florida soil.
As you enter the park, you pass a parking area on the left for the Florida Trail, which crosses in front of the fire tower. Continue straight, and park in front of the interpretive center, which is open 9-5, Thu-Mon, and features a 20-minute film on the battle as well as exhibits about Florida’s role in the Civil War. Take the time to visit the center before your hike, to have a better understanding of the magnitude of this battle.
Start directly across the road from the interpretive center, at the kiosk explaining the scene of the battle. Although this is an interpretive trail, it’s not like any other in Florida—as you walk around the loop, the signs explain how the battle unfolded. Continue past the kiosk to the first bench and interpretive marker, which marks the start of the loop. Turn right, following the wide open path (a “barrier free” trail, accessible to wheelchairs with assistance) into the pine flatwoods.
Length: 1.1 miles
Lat-Long: 30.214333, -82.388650
Fees / Permits: none
Bug factor: low
Restroom: at the museum
There is no entrance fee, except during special events.
From I-75 exit 427, Lake City, drive 18.6 miles east on US 90 east to Olustee Battlefield Historical State Park. On the way, you’ll enter the Osceola National Forest and pass turnoffs to Olustee Beach (a swimming area on Ocean Pond) and the Ocean Pond Campground. The entrance to the historic site is on the left. If you’re traveling on I-10 westbound, use exit 324 and follow US 90 west for 5.5 miles to the park entrance.
A red arrow on a silver diamond marks the trail route. When you reach the first T intersection, turn left, passing an interpretive marker. Walking through the pines, hearing the whisper of the wind through the treetops, it’s hard to imagine this forest as a battlefield. Yet this same expanse, thick with saw palmetto under the tall pines, provided little shelter when the armies met.
Off to the right of this side of the trail, the Union troops set up their lines. Behind them was an old open field, broken up by fences, and an impenetrable bayhead to block their retreat. In front of them, a marshy pond blocked their advance. Continuing down the broad needle-strewn path, you come to a fork at 0.2 mile. Stay to the left, walking towards the bench. Off to the right you can see the open field, kept in the same condition it was when the armies met.
After you pass the bench, you walk across the cross-trail through the battlefield, used by the re-enactors as they ride their horses from their encampment to the open field. Sets of bleachers attest to the interest in watching the annual re-enactment. Held the third weekend of February (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), the Battle of Olustee is the largest Civil War re-enactment in the southeastern United States, drawing up to 10,000 participants. Period encampments add living history to the mix.
Continuing past the field, the trail walks the edge between the scrubby flatwoods and pine flatwoods. Bracken fern fills in a vast open space devoid of saw palmetto. Just beyond the interpretive sign past the open field, the 48th New York lined up in the woods just shy of the bayhead. As the wind picks up, it rattles the saw palmetto fronds, and you hear the clash of bayonets. “Grape and canister swept by with hideous music, and shell after shell tore through our ranks and burst amid heaps of our wounded heroes,” wrote a survivor of the 115th New York.
Coming up to a bench at 0.5 mile, the trail turns to the left. Look across the expanse of pines. Even in the middle of the day, you can see a fine mist. Although the chemistry of tree transpiration causes “smokes” and “fogs” in dense deciduous forests, the mist that perpetually hangs in this particular pine forest has an otherworldly feel. Like Gettysburg, this battlefield harbors its own ghosts. A bayhead forms the thick wall of vegetation behind the pines to the right. This dense swamp proved fatal for many, blocking off the soldier’s retreat.
As the trail rounds a curve to the left, it heads along the line of the Confederate positions. The railroad to their backs, they came in from the vicinity of Ocean Pond, where they had built a temporary earthworks fortress. When the advance guard of the Union troops met the Confederate scouts in this forest, the earthworks were abandoned, and the Confederates moved forward to meet the Union troops at this point. A small bridge elevates the trail over occasional drainage flows. At 0.9 mile, a bench sits at an intersection with a jeep trail from the right. Continue straight towards the next interpretive marker.
Blackjack oaks take over the understory under the pines as you approach the cross-trail. Continue straight, following the red arrow. Given the age of the pines in this forest, it’s interesting that you see no catfaces from the turpentine industry that flourished in this area. The 1899 Florida legislature raised the funds to purchase this land and protect it as a historic site, to honor the men who died here. As you continue to walk, you can see the flags flying behind the interpretive center, flanking a memorial monument that dates back to 1912. The loop ends at a bench. Turn right to walk back past the kiosk and over to the parking lot, completing your hike of 1.1 miles