Mist rising off Sand Pond in morning is a must-see, making the cypress-lined lake ever so ghostly in the middle of Florida’s first state forest, Pine Log.
From the Sand Pond trailhead, which starts near the campground, three hiking trails offer different looks at the diversity of this forest.
Length: Up to 11.5 miles of loop and linear trail
Trailhead: 30.429083, -85.881850
Fees: $2 per person at Sand Pond trailhead
Restroom: At Sand Pond trailhead
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.
Pay the entrance fee and park at the Sand Pond trailhead. Walk down to the kiosk next to the pond to access the trail system.
Stretching from a power line off SR 20 east of Ebro to a subdivision that hugs the western edge of the forest, a linear segment of the Florida Trail slices through the park.
Once off the power line easement and into the forest, the trail is a narrow footpath with many bog bridges as it squeezes through titi swamps and crosses several creeks after following Ditch Branch. A designated campsite is along the historic military road that passes through the forest.
When the Florida Trail reaches SR 79, it uses the highway bridge over Pine Log Creek to reach a curved walkway to pass beneath the bridge and continue west towards Sand Pond Recreation Area. En route, it meets two loop trails that intersect it.
The first is the 5-mile Dutch & Faye Tiemann Trail. This loop is open to both hiking and off-road biking. It fans out into a mix of pine plantation, flatwoods, sandhills, and titi swamp to offer a broader range of habitat diversity to explore.
After the Florida Trail crosses Environmental Road, the unpaved road leading to Sand Pond Recreation Area, it meets the second loop trail, the 2-mile Campground Loop.
The Campground Loop is the most popular with visitors because of its shorter length and greater beauty for its distance. The highlight of the walk is a boardwalk leading through a haunting cypress swamp on the far southwest edge of Sand Pond.
The Campground Loop has red blazes, the Tiemann Trail is blue blazed, and the Florida Trail has orange blazes. You can access all three trails from the Sand Pond Trailhead at Sand Pond.
For great spring wildflowers and birding, head west on the Florida Trail to reach the pond beyond Sand Pond. There are benches along both loop trails.
Two other trail systems 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.