Distinctive as the first state forest established in Florida, Pine Log State Forest dates back to 1936.
With more than 7,000 acres across southern Washington County in Ebro and northern Bay County north of Panama City Beach, it’s an immense piece of public land amid vast private timber holdings, an oasis for outdoor recreation.
Trailhead: 30.429083, -85.881850
Address: 5583-A Longleaf Rd, Ebro
Fees: $2 per person at Sand Pond trailhead
Restroom: At Sand Pond trailhead
Land Manager: Florida Forest Service
There are multiple entrances to the forest off SR 79, Environmental Rd, and Strickland Rd in Ebro. Leashed dogs are welcome. Spring and fall hunting seasons may impact recreational users who go farther than the Campground Trail around Sand Pond Recreation Area.
From the intersection of SR 20 and SR 79 in Ebro, drive south on SR 79 to Environmental Road. Turn right and follow it to the recreation area entrance on the right. Drive down Longleaf Rd to Sand Pond Recreation Area.
Pay the entrance fee and park at the Sand Pond trailhead.
Sand Pond Recreation Area
One of our favorite locations for a beautifully situated campground setting, Sand Pond is a pleasant place to wake up in the morning.
Mist rising off the pond is a must-see. It’s even better on the opposite side of the recreation area from the campground, making the cypress-lined lake ever so ghostly. Wake early and walk the boardwalk on the Campground Trail for some of the best birding in the forest.
The recreation area is where three of the five trail systems within Pine Log State Forest come together, making it an ideal jumping-off point for day hikes and off-road bicycle excursions.
Dogwoods bloom riotously in spring around the picnic area and the massive octagonal picnic pavilion, both pleasant places to while away hours outdoors with friends.
Camping at Pine Log
For a site at Sand Pond Campground, you’re expected to make reservations in advance through Reserve America. Only two sites – #19 and #20 – are held for walk-in visitors. Nightly rates vary from $14 to $23. A cancellation fee of $9 is charged by Reserve America.
The sites, which include a picnic table and grill with the level pad, can accommodate tents, campers, or small RVs. All sites have a very nice view of the pond, since the campground wraps around it.
The bathhouse is located near the Sand Pond Trailhead. It’s an older one, but was in pretty good repair last time we visited. Its location also makes it accessible to campers utilizing the very nice group campsite located along the Campground Trail.
To use the group campsite, you need to call the forest directly. It is primarily available to organized groups like Scouting and church groups.
A primitive camping area at Hagar Landing is also available for tent campers. It’s popular with hunters during the fall archery season.
Camping at Hagar Landing costs $10 per night. You’ll need to contact the forest by phone about a gate code to get down into the area, which does get flooded when waters rise in the creek.
Hiking from Sand Pond Trailhead
From the Sand Pond trailhead, three hiking trails offer different looks at the diversity of this forest. Hikers should be aware that if Sand Pond has overflowed into the recreation area, all of the trails listed below may have sections that you would have to wade. If the water gets too deep for your comfort level, turn around.
To start your hike, walk downhill from the picnic area to the kiosk next to the pond to access the trail system. All three converge here. The Campground Loop has red blazes, the Tiemann Trail is blue blazed, and the Florida Trail has orange blazes.
The 2-mile Campground Loop is the most popular with visitors because of its shorter length and greater beauty for its distance. It goes due west and due north from the Sand Pond trailhead. To the north, it quickly enters an uplands area with tall pines.
To the west, it curves around the edge of Sand Pond with the two other trails. They leave the pond’s edge and the Campground Trail keeps following it until it reaches a boardwalk. This boardwalk is the primary highlight of the trail. Don’t miss it!
Faye & Dutch Tiemann Trail
A 5-mile loop circling the Sand Pond Recreation Area and crossing Environmental Road twice, the Tiemann Trail is open to both hiking and off-road biking.
While much of the northeast quadrant of it – the part nearest the campground – is through planted pines, it fans out into a mix of pine plantation, flatwoods, sandhills, and titi swamp to offer a broader range of habitat diversity to explore.
The primary trail through Pine Log State Forest is the Florida Trail. This 5.7-mile linear segment of the statewide National Scenic Trail passes right through Sand Pond Recreation Area, offering backpackers a place to stop and picnic, camp, and shower.
From this point on the footpath, it’s an easy 1.4-mile round-trip west along the orange blazes out to the park gate and back. It starts out by skimming along the edge of Sand Pond, behind the cypresses, sharing the route with the other two trails.
After crossing Strickland Road, it continues along the edge of Still Pond, another beautiful cypress-lined pond, before rising up into the sandhills to reach the western boundary gate of the park.
Hiking the Florida Trail east from the Sand Pond Trailhead will get you deep into the complex of ecosystems hidden deep within Pine Log State Forest.
We suggest two potential turn-around points. The first is the Old Military Road, 1.6 miles east. To get there, the trail leads beneath SR 79 and ascends a ramp up to highway level so you can use the pedestrian bridge to cross Pine Log Creek. The descent back down into the forest, however, is very steep.
A pitcher plant bog and two nice views of Pine Log Creek await at the bottom. After a walk through the pines and sandhills, you reach signage for the historic location of the Old Miltary Road.
Constructed between 1823 and 1824 to let platoons march from Pensacola to St. Augustine, it was the first overland route across North Florida. Turn around here for a 3.2-mile hike.
Another good turnaround point is 3.3 miles from Sand Pond at Ditch Branch. You’d continue past this point, following the orange blazes through pine flatwoods and titi swamps.
There are several bridges to cross along the way. If any of them are out, you will likely want to turn back at that point. Most of the streams you see are deeper than they initially appear.
Ditch Branch is in a small ravine and the trail goes downhill sharply to the bridge. It’s an unmistakable spot. The blue blaze just before the downhill is a side trail out to a forest road for an alternative route around the bridge in case of high water. You can use that blaze to make a loop and come back via the bridge.
Two other trail systems in Pine Log State Forest are accessible off SR 79: the 11.5 mile Old Sawmill Horse Trail, and the Crooked Creek Trails (primarily for off-road biking) – of 4.5 and 9 miles.
Both are on the east side of the highway as you are driving north from Panama City Beach, which is the nearest large community with services. Ebro, just a couple of miles north of the forest entrance, is a small crossroads at the junction of SR 79 and SR 20 with a motel and convenience store.