Sitting on the state line southeast of Folkston, Georgia, the Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest is certainly a place to get away from it all.
The sluggish tannic waters of the St. Marys River form the state boundary, snaking around bends marked by sandy beaches.
The dips and slopes where upland and riverine habitats meet incubate some of North Florida’s rarest flora, including purple baldwina, hartwrightia, and a lovely flower named for the flower hunter himself, Bartram’s ixia.
Length: 7.1 or 9.3 mile loop
Trailhead: 30.794640, -81.938328
Fees: Permit needed for camping
Restroom: Seasonal portalet at hunt camp
Map essential (pick up at entrance kiosk); compass or GPS strongly suggested. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of forest roads. Call in advance for camping permits. No hiking during hunts.
From the junction of A1A / US 1 and US 301 in Callahan, drive north 18.2 miles on US 301 through Hilliard to Boulogne. If you cross the state line, you missed it. Turn right on Lake Hampton Rd. Go 2.6 miles east to Penny Haddock Rd. Turn left at the state forest sign. Continue 0.8 mile to the parking area on the left. Start your hike at the kiosk.
Start at the kiosk and follow Forest Road (FR) 1 into rolling sandhills topped with longleaf pine.
At 0.2 mile is the check station. Keep left to follow the trail along a mowed footpath paralleling the forest road through the sandhill.
Look for hooded pitcher plants along the slope. When the trail rejoins FR 1, turn left, walking along the edge of a lush hardwood hammock.
Bog plants grow out of the slope, where the water table perpetually seeps. Scout this area for unusual flora.
You’ll pass a trail to the left that leads to one of the trailheads; skip this and continue along to the campsite sign.
If you want to see the St. Marys River down at the campsite, take this side trail to your left, which leads 0.2 mile to a fire ring and benches on a steep bluff above the river.
Continuing along FR 1, pass through a forest of loblolly pines with blueberry bushes in the understory. At the trail intersection, ignore the arrow and continue straight to see the second campsite.
This one, at White Sand Landing is more remote and inviting, with its own white sand beach and proximity to the dark water. You can see Georgia from here! There are no amenities, however.
Backtrack to the main trail and continue along FR 2 through piney woods lush in colorful wildflowers. At 4.9 miles, reach the beginning of a loop to the left that adds 2.2 miles to the hike, if you choose to take it.
Its main purpose is to get you to the river one more time, but it’s not as a scenic an access as the one you just visited.
FR 2 continues through sandhills and into a hardwood hammock with borrow pits. You pass the second access to the loop on the left.
In spring, pale meadow beauty adds splashes of pink to the landscape as you continue. When you reach the gate, walk through the pass-through and walk down Penny Haddock Road to return to your car.
Trail Map (PDF) Official Website