Hugging the shoreline of Rocky Bayou, Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park has one of the one of the most picturesque trail systems in the Florida State Park system.
The 3.3 mile series of well-groomed loops is a delightful accompaniment to their top-notch campground, deeply shaded and also a stand-out for the state.
Ideal for introducing young children to a walk in the woods, each of the interpretive nature trails has its own special focus.
The Rocky Bayou Trail showcases habitats along the bayou, with excellent views from the shoreline.
Originally built around a pond, the Sand Pine Trail now loops natural habitats within the valley carved by Puddin’ Head Stream.
And the Red Cedar Trail, with a trailhead at the day use area, offers an interpretive walk in an upland forest dominated by cedar.
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Length: 3.3 miles
Trailhead: 30.500389, -86.43056
Address: 4281 SR 20, Niceville
Fees: $5 per vehicle
Restroom: At the day use area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM until sunset. Leashed pets welcome.
The park is along SR 20 east of Niceville, west of SR 293. Follow the entrance road into the park. Unless you’re here to camp, turn left to drive down to the Red Cedar day use area, the primary access point for all of the trails. Park by the kayak launch.
Perched on a bluff above Rocky Bayou, Red Cedar day use area has a beaten path going north past the kayak launch towards the campground and south through the picnic area.
The showiest trails within the park are on the north side of the campground, starting as loop hikes a half mile walk from this point. Both are well worth the trip.
For an easy, level 0.9 mile walk in the woods atop this bluff, turn left first. The Red Cedar Nature Trail starts at the south end of the picnic area.
Walk towards the picnic pavilion parking area and cross the crosswalk. The trail begins down the woodland path adjacent to the restrooms.
Pass Marker 1 quickly. A bench is on the right, facing a stately red cedar. Most of the forest is deciduous, and the understory is very open, with blueberry bushes and live oaks.
The landscape drops off abruptly to the right. A bench is at the at the base of a very large cedar with aromatic bark.
Beyond Marker 4, the slope forest is obvious, with many Southern magnolias throughout the forest as the landscape drops towards bayou level.
A laurel oak has a gaping hole in it, a perfect hidey-hole for a raccoon. The understory is so open you can see the footpath winding its way ahead.
Marker 5 is at a bench by a split oak that forms a natural portal. The trail passes through it not quite a quarter mile along the loop.
Pass Marker 6 for a mossy place dense with seafoam-gray clumps of deer moss.
At a fork, turn left for interpretive marker stops pointing out yaupon holly and saw palmetto.
The footpath meanders through sand pine scrub, but the ecotone with slope forest persists. Pass an unusually broad multi-trunked Southern magnolia.
Marker 9 calls attention to another magnolia, this one with a split trunk, and sparkleberry with its peeling bark.
Turning left away from Marker 10, pass a bench with a very tall sand pine next to it. The density of cedars begins to increase.
As the trail curves slightly, catch a glimpse of the bayou ahead. Past Marker 12, emerge from the trail to the loop in the park road.
Turn right to walk back up to your parking spot in the day use area, passing the restrooms along the way.
The full walk is 0.9 mile. Add in a hike to and on the Rocky Bayou and Sand Pine Trails to the north of the campground for 3.3 miles of hiking at this very pretty state park.
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