Ralph E. Simmons State Forest offers visitors over 3,600 acres of conservation land on which to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities.
The St. Marys River forms the northern boundary of the forest. The forest’s primary water source, it nourishes unique plant species. Longleaf pine is being reintroduced into upland habitats.
The forest is managed by the Florida Forest Service through a management agreement with the St. Johns River Water Management District.
This figure-eight loop is a draw for trail runners due to its elevation changes and its nearly perfect 5K length.
Birders and photographers enjoy its wildlife, including painted buntings, wild turkeys, southeastern pocket gopher communities, and gopher tortoises.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 3.6 mile figure-eight loop
Trailhead: 30.77964, -81.95313
Address: Lake Hampton Rd, Hilliard
Fees: $2 per person day use
Land manager: Florida State Forests
Phone: 904-845-4933 weekdays, 904-845-3597 weekends
Leashed dogs welcome. Hiking, cycling, and horses welcome. Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and extra water.
A primitive group camping area (presently closed) is located on Scott’s Landing Road.
Trails and campsites are closed during hunting season. Check the forest’s website for hunting dates.
From the west side of the Interstate 295 beltway in Jacksonville, take exit 28B to follow US 1/US 23 north for 12 miles to Callahan. Continue north along US 301/US 1 through Hilliard and Andrews for another 16.5 miles to Boulogne. Turn right on SR 121/Lake Hampton Road. After you pass Scott’s Landing Road on the left, the trailhead is one mile further on the left.
From the parking lot, follow the yellow blazes along a forest road through pine flatwoods.
At 0.2 miles, you reach the Yellow Trail loop junction on the right. Skip this and continue straight ahead to hike the loop in a clockwise direction.
At 0.6 miles the trail becomes more open and sunnier in a mixed woodland forest, with impressive stands of turkey oak interspersed with the pine.
Continue your flat, easy stroll on the forest road, following the yellow blazes.
At 0.7 miles, you’ll meet up with the Red Trail. Make a right on it to follow it in a counter-clockwise direction.
The Yellow Trail and the Red Trail share the path here for a short distance.
After just a tenth of a mile, the two loops diverge and the Red Trail veers left.
It descends into deep shade into a heavily forested area before emerging into the open again. At 1.1 miles, the trail curves west, making a left then a right.
A very wet, swampy area stretches across the forest a quarter mile later. Stay to the right for the driest passage.
At 1.4 miles you’ll reach St. Marys River and the forest’s northern boundary. The trail turns left to follow along the river on a high, sandy path.
At 1.7 miles, the trail reaches a power line easement. Follow the path and the power lines.
The trail makes a left back into the forest at 2 miles.
At 2.4 miles, you will again be where the Red and Yellow Trails converge. Take a left then a right at 2.5 miles to follow the Yellow Trail again.
Continue on this path, which has many turkey and deer footprints. The big mounds of sand on the forest floor indicate a large pocket gopher colony.
At 2.9 miles, bear right and continue following the yellow blazes.
At 3.4 miles you close the loop, having hiked the Yellow and Red Trails as a figure eight. Head back to the parking lot on the same road you came in on.
Learn more about Simmons State Forest
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Providing a peek into an ecologically important area along the eastern edge of Bethea State Forest, the 2.5 mile Maple Set Trail showcases the beauty of the St. Marys River basin.
A highlight of Jennings State Forest, this 3.5 mile loop traverses healthy longleaf pine habitat and showcases a series of cascades above the North Fork of Black Creek.
In the vast mosaic of pines and cypress swamp west of Jacksonville protected by Cary State Forest, the 1.4 mile Cary Nature Trail makes a great family outing