With 670 acres along the eastern shore of Lake Jackson, Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park provides recreation for all, with separate hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trail systems.
Built and maintained by the Florida Trail Association, the Phipps Park Trail is made up of three stacked loops and a connector, each increasing in difficulty and length.
Up to 7.5 miles of hiking is possible. Our description follows a scenic 6.1 mile loop that reaches all the highlights.
The park is a showcase of trees of spectacular size. The forest floor along portions of the hike has a carpet of trillium blooms each February.
Three trailheads off Meridian Rd provide access points to the loop. We started our hike at the first trailhead on the left, an entrance shared with the Red Bug mountain biking trail.
Meridian Park also provides walk-in access to the Lake Overstreet Trails inside Maclay Gardens State Park via a crosswalk.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 6.1 mile loop
Trailhead: 30.52913, -84.27923
Address: 4600 N Meridian Rd, Tallahassee
Restroom: At Meridian Park
Land manager: City of Tallahassee
Open sunrise to sunset. Trails intersect off-road biking trails. Orange blazes are hiking only.
Long pants recommended as poison ivy is prevalent in the shade. Use insect repellent.
From Interstate 10 exit 203, go north on Thomasville Rd (SR 61 / US 319) for 0.9 mile to the traffic light for Maclay Road. Turn left and follow Maclay Road for 2.2 miles, passing the entrance to Maclay Gardens State Park and ending at a T intersection and traffic light with Meridian Road. Turn right and continue a half mile to the Meridian Park Youth Sports Complex. Turn left and follow the one-way road around to the trailhead on the left.
Grab a map from the mailbox as you head downhill from the Meridian Trailhead, following the orange blazes through a lush hardwood forest.
Crossing a boardwalk through the sweetgum forest, the trail comes to a junction with the Coon Bottom Loop Trail. This is the first of many well-marked intersections.
Even without a map, the signage is detailed enough to lead you through the trail system. Turn right. The slopes are lush with trillium in February.
The trail goes sharply downhill, with many crossings of equestrian and off-road cycling trails, part of which parallels the footpath.
The steady downhill continues for some time beneath oaks and pines, southern magnolias adding spectacular beauty to the understory.
An alluvial creek cuts through the red clay hills, and the trail descends to meet it. The canopy is extremely high, with oaks, hickory, and sweetgum towering over the creek bottom.
Glimpse a grassy field before crossing a bicycle trail. The hiking trail joins a single plank balance-beam style bridge crossing Coon Bottom.
The trail parallels a green space uphill and to the right, which is park of the Forest Meadows complex of soccer and baseball fields.
Pass an ancient oak covered in a tangle of thick grapevines. Crossing a broad spot at Marker X, the trail rises uphill, the meadow, dappled in the sun, off to the right.
At Marker Y is another broad bike path crossing. The trail descends. It can become a streambed on rainy days. Netted chain ferns cling to the steep slope.
The first decision point is near a half mile. Following the Coon Bottom Loop takes you back to the trailhead. Switch here to the Swamp Forest Loop.
Cross a forest road into a dense woodland of old oaks and magnolias, a steep ascent with many roots across the trail.
After the connector to the Miller Landing Trailhead, turn left to stay on the Swamp Forest Loop. Bog bridges lead across an ephemeral pond at the base of the hill.
Past Marker C the character of the forest changes. Cross a gravel road, and the canopy opens up. Tall loblolly pine and oaks are joined by scattered dogwood.
Cross a gravel road at marker D, returning to lush bottomland forest with hickory trees. An enormous oak is at the bottom of the valley.
Climbing up through a deep rift in hardpan clay beneath the power line, it feels like an ascent in the Smokies, not the city of Tallahassee.
The descent paralleling the powerline passes under enormous tulip poplars, not a common tree in Florida.
The footpath levels and descends to the swamp bottom, where an ephemeral stream flows past and a bench provides a perch to enjoy the view.
The ups and downs continue along this path like a roller coaster in the woods. Pass an exit to Gate A and Miller Landing Rd, where the trail makes a sharp left.
Pass a grand old oak crumbling from age. Beneath another powerline, note coreposis and daisies lending color to the hillside.
Near 1.1 miles, the trail passes a landmark-sized oak before crossing a stream and a dirt road at Marker E.
The loblolly pine flatwoods beyond are a floral wonderland each fall with goldenrod and wild vanilla, tickseed, partridge pea, and milkweed.
Drop through an oak hammock into loblolly pine-topped clayhills, crossing a dirt road at Marker F.
Beyond is a magnificent loblolly pine that would take several people holding hands to encircle its base; it rises well above the rest of the canopy.
Past it is Marker G, the next decision point. Turn off the Swamp Forest Loop here onto the Creek Forest Trail, a linear connector leading to the Oak Hammock Loop near Lake Jackson.
An ephemeral stream flows beneath a canopy of Southern magnolia. Leaving the creek, the trail ascends into a tangled jungle of devil’s walking-stick.
Dropping downhill again through a wonderland of ferns fed by the creek’s humidity, the trail continues beneath tall sweetgum and tulip poplars.
At 1.7 miles is a trail junction is for the Big Tree Cutoff, which greatly shortens the return loop.
Pass by it and ascend along an ephemeral stream. Spruce pines rise from the forest floor, and oyster fungi carpets fallen logs.
A bench at 2 miles marks the beginning of the Oak Hammock Loop. Stay left to hike this 2.5-mile loop clockwise to views of Lake Jackson.
Up a steep incline, a bench looks over a deep ravine. Keep climbing! Some of the roots provide natural stairs.
Rise up to THE oak of the Oak Hammock Loop, an enormous, broad live oak with a bench in front of it.
The trail crosses a gravel road and you see a large meadow off to the right. The orange blazes lead you down the gravel road oh so briefly and then into a stand of pines.
Beneath the planted pines is a symphony of flora, including American beautyberry, tall yellow blossoms of cowpeas, and partridge pea.
The pines are planted in rows the old traditional way, but the trail winds through them in an angle so as not to force geometry upon you. To the left is a pond in the distance.
Trail markers jog right to an angular corridor, a long, straight row of pines, trunks rising like cones.
Exiting the pine plantation, the trail loses a little elevation beneath the mix of pine and oaks.
Yellow sulfurs and golden fritillaries pollinate flowers in fall, when the mass migration of North American butterflies passes through this point.
Making a little jog to the left, the trail continues on a distinct moderate downhill. Morning glory cascades over the understory shrubbery.
The trail drops through an ephemeral wash and climbs under tall oaks draped with Spanish moss.
In quick succession, cross a forest road at Marker J and an equestrian path at Marker K into a dense forest of oak and pine.
Descending through the forest, notice a gap in the trees. It provides a perspective on the floodplain of Lake Jackson.
It’s a curious lake, a classic estavelle in the language of karst geology. It drains itself completely through a sinkhole into the aquifer on a regular basis.
It refills naturally, all controlled by the level of water and water pressure in the aquifer beneath.
It’s tough to see the water – or the surrounding marsh – through the trees unless you’re here in the dead of winter.
Past Marker L the trail drops down near lake level. It may still be hard to see, but easy to hear the squawk and clatter of wading birds in its marsh.
The trail drops through a steep basin around 3 miles and through a sometimes-dry creek bed. Several ephemeral streams drain into Lake Jackson.
None are bridged. It’s the story of this trail system– ups and downs, cross a stream and back up again.
At Marker M, the farthest point on the trail system, is a mailbox with trail maps. Several trails meet at this junction.
The orange blazes lead into a pine plantation and a young oak hammock before balancing along the edge of a slope beneath sweetgum, beech, and oak.
Emerge into a meadow at Marker N at 3.6 miles, along the forest road. Pass a bird box and some picnic tables. Watch for the double blaze to the left.
A side trail leads to a wildlife viewing platform, likely a good place to watch for deer and turkey.
Cross a forest road at Marker O at 4 miles. The trail drops steadily downhill through a dense understory.
Past Marker P, the trees get taller and older, including some massive hickories and blackjack oaks. At Marker H, complete the Oak Hammock Loop at 4.2 miles.
Rejoin the Creek Forest Trail linear connector, retracing your steps. Use Big Tree Cutoff if you’d prefer to knock 3/4 mile off the hike.
Otherwise stay on Creek Forest Trail to the Swamp Forest Loop, continuing straight ahead at 4.8 miles.
Dropping steeply towards a fern-lined creek bottom, the trail winds along hillsides carpeted in trillium blooms in February, particularly near the bench.
Enter a forest of tall, old Southern magnolia, noteworthy in height and girth. Their fragrant blooms open early June.
Along with spruce pine, shaggy-barked bluff oaks provide botanical clues to the karst landscape underfoot.
The trail makes a sharp left and crosses a tiny ephemeral stream, its edges swarmed with ferns. Marker R is at the other end of the Big Tree Cutoff.
A large interpretive sign explains the upland hardwood forest. Pass Linda’s Lagoon, named for long-time trail maintainer and our friend Linda Patton.
Beyond Marker S at 5.4 miles, cross a balance beam of a bridge to continue on the outer portion of the Coon Bottom Loop.
Turn right and cross the bridge to follow this picturesque creek upstream. It cuts through clay banks and slabs of limestone, burbling and cascading.
Leaving the stream, the trail passes an interpretative marker for a pignut hickory. Interpretive markers are common along this section since Coon Bottom is the shortest loop of the series.
Dropping past the blue blazes of the bicycle trail and Marker T, the trail reaches the floodplain of Coon Bottom.
Hickory nuts are strewn across the forest floor and cypresses rise along the creek. Past a tall American hornbeam, the trail reaches a rather large footbridge at 5.7 miles.
Jogging left, the trail almost kisses the bike trail before it caroms back over towards the creek. Sand spread throughout the understory belies the extent of the floodplain.
Split rail fences define the course of the hiking and biking trails, since they stay close together through this area.
Past a “Creekside” sign along the bike trail, walk beneath a very tall tulip poplar and black cherry trees, notable for their rough striped bark.
The trail turns slightly and climbs uphill, the trailhead visible through the trees. The loop ends at Marker V. Turn right to exit, completing a 6.1 mile hike.
See our photos from Phipps Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park
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Fort Braden Trails
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Apalachicola National Forest
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