Managed by the Florida Forest Service, Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest offers visitors three marked multi-use trails across 3,600 acres.
The St. Marys River, which borders the forest to the north, is the forest’s primary water source.
The low pinelands, seepage slopes, ravines, and cypress swamps found here foster some of North Florida’s rarest flora.
Depending on the season, you may see purple baldwina, hartwrightia, pitcher plants, and even the rare Bartram’s ixia.
Fox, wild turkey, bobcat, gopher tortoise, ribbon snakes, and otters are some of the wildlife spotted here.
Two spur trails off this loop provide access to campsites with a view of Georgia across the St. Marys River.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 8.3 mile loop
Trailhead: 30.794002, -81.93836
Address: Penny Haddock 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.
Two first-come, first-served, primitive camping areas are located adjacent to the St. Marys River and require no additional fee or permit.
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. Go 2.5 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.
The White Trail begins at the parking lot, which features a kiosk with a map and information about the state forest.
The beginning of the trail follows a flat forest road through into rolling sandhills topped with longleaf pine.
After 0.2 mile it reaches a game check-in station. This is where the trail starts the loop.
Keep left to hike the trail in a clockwise direction, following the edge of a hardwood hammock.
After another 0.2 the trail reaches a double blaze on the left. Turn right, leaving the broader forest road for a smaller service road.
After 0.6 miles, there’s a sign to the right which describes the benefits of prescribed burning in the forest.
Continue following the white blazes. At 1.1 miles you’ll come to another double blaze. Turn left at this one.
The trail descends into a denser forest. After 1.5 miles, a blue-blazed spur trail to the left provides a path to a campsite on the river.
This side trip is a quarter mile each way and worth the walk. It arrives at a roomy primitive campsite overlooking the river, with a picnic table, bench, and fire ring. There is room for 3 to 4 tents.
Past the turnoff to the campsite, continue on the white-blazed trail and pass a creek with two culverts.
The trail rises slightly and meanders through a forest of loblolly pines with blueberry bushes in the understory.
At 2.5 miles, a double blaze marks a T intersection with another service road. Take a left.
After 2.8 miles, the trail passes a cypress swamp with a sign describing the distinctive habitats of cypress swamps, domes, and ponds.
Turn right at the double blaze. Just beyond the cypress swamp, another spur trail leads out to the second campsite.
This primitive campsite is similar to the first, but sports a wide, sandy beach directly on the St. Marys River.
Return to the main trail and follow the the white blazes through the pine woods. The trail becomes grassy, with pine needles underfoot.
In the spring, colorful wildflowers abound through this grassy space. Watch for hidden roots that could cause you to trip.
After 3.2 miles, there is a small oxbow pond on the left. These are formed when the curves of a river meander into themselves and are silted off from the main flow.
There is also a large river floodplain ahead and to left, spanning between the trail and the river. The trail veers around this but still encounters some muddy crossings.
At a double blaze at 3.5 miles, make a left. After the turn, the trail becomes more rustic.
Within a quarter mile, it makes a left turn. The blaze is missing. Scout around for blazes until you find the next one, 100 feet ahead.
At the next double blaze, turn left. At 4.1 miles, the trail crosses a wide grassy road. At 4.4 miles, make a right at the double blaze.
At 4.9 miles, there’s a double blaze on a large live oak tree. Take a left, and follow the white blazes until the trail intersects with forest road at 5.0 miles.
At this forest road take a left, follow the trail a bit, then go right at 5.2 miles. Continue on the path, watching carefully for white blazes here.
At 5.9 miles the trail makes a left before crossing a small stream. The trail follows the stream, with the path is quite eroded and washed out in some areas.
The natural forest meets a pine plantation at 6.1 miles. Bear right. When the trail meets a larger sandy forest road, you’ve hiked 6.4 miles.
Take a left and follow this road back to the game station, completing the loop. At the game station, make a left to head out to the trailhead and parking lot.
The full White Trail is 7 miles. If you walk out to each of the campsites, both of which provide excellent perspectives on the river, it’s an 8.3 mile hike.
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