For a sample of the massive floodplain forest that surrounds the Suwannee River as it nears the end of its journey to the Gulf of Mexico, the River Trail at Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge provides a gentle immersion into the swamp on a boardwalk near the park’s headquarters. This is the only trail in the refuge that actually leads you to a view of the Suwannee River.
Length: 0.6 mile
Lat-Lon: 29.376335, -83.043766
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate to high
From Chiefland, follow CR 345 south from US 19. Turn right on CR 330 and continue southwest. The road becomes CR 347. After 15 miles, you reach a sign for the refuge at NW 31 Place. Turn right and park in the parking area for the trailhead.
Starting out from the parking area, the trail heads into the floodplain forest, where royal ferns rise up from the damp ground. The path turns onto a broader trail covered with pine needles, dropping into a bottomland forest of red maple, sugarberry, hickory, and sweetgum. Bald cypress becomes the dominant tree as the trail turns into a causeway through the cypress swamp. The blooms of golden aster add a splash of yellow to the green backdrop. Rising up into the hardwood forest, the trail passes an ironwood with pink and white lichens on its trunk.
At a bench, the trail turns left onto a boardwalk, winding through the floodplain forest on the river’s edge.Where you lean over to look over the boardwalk, beware of poison ivy – here, it grows so lushly from large vines wrapped around the trees that it mimics the leaves of the hickory trees, which also turn color in fall. You can see glimpses of the river between the sweetgum and willow oaks.
After a quarter mile, the trail ends at an observation platform on the Suwannee River. It’s a great place to sit and watch wading birds in the shallows, or ospreys soaring overhead.
Just ten miles or so north of where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico, the Suwannee is a broad, swift-moving river bounded by unbroken floodplain forests on both sides. Smooth patches of water alternate with ripples, catching reflections of the sky. Watch closely, and you may see a manatee slide by on its way upstream, or an alligator breaking the surface with its knobby tail.
Leaving the platform, retrace your steps back along the trail, turning right at the bench and left when you see the gate ahead of you. When you reach the parking lot, you’ve walked 0.6 miles.