Of the two loops that make up the Torreya Hiking Trail at Torreya State Park, the Rock Creek Loop offers a satisfying mix of rugged terrain, views, and botanical beauty.
Scrambling through ravines and along ridges fronting the Apalachicola River, this 7.4-mile loop is anchored at its far ends by two distinctly different primitive campsites.
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Length: 7.4 Mile Loop
Trailhead: 30.559320, -84.949841
Address: 2576 NW Torreya Park Rd, Bristol
Fees: $3 per vehicle
Restrooms: At the picnic area on the main drive
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed pets welcome. Pay your entrance fee at the iron ranger as you enter the park.
From Exit 166 on Interstate 10, head south on Flat Creek Rd for 3.2 mile, and turn right onto Audie Clark Rd. In 1.1 mile, turn right onto Sycamore Rd and continue for 10.2 mile. Turn right onto NW Torreya Park Rd until reaching the park entrance in 2.6 mile. The trailhead is immediately on the left after passing through the main gate.
At the trailhead, take note of the informative signage and pick up a trail map from the cylinder attached to the kiosk.
Head south from the trailhead for about a hundred feet to the first junction, then turn left to begin the loop in a counterclockwise direction.
After crossing the main park road, follow orange blazes as the trail descends into the woods.
Damage from Hurricane Michael is immediately evident in the number of toppled trees surrounding the trail.
The power of nature can be seen clearly by the toppled canopy and the large numbers of trees growing back.
Thousands of saplings sprout from the sand and clay soils comprising of sweetgum, magnolia, oak, and hickory.
Many of these small trees are covered in bright green leaves, including the curious looking Ashe magnolia which also sports huge, fragrant white flowers.
The well-worn path follows a ridge for about a quarter mile before descending into the ravine and crossing the first of many small footbridges.
After climbing the other side, the trail crosses a relatively flat expanse of xeric pine flatwoods. Golden grasses and turkey oak saplings carpet the exposed forest floor.
Descending into another ravine on the other side of the pine forest, the landscape rapidly changes.
Vegetation becomes denser under a canopy of magnolia, and tulip trees covered in unique pale green and orange flowers.
Reaching the bottom of the slope, the trail crosses a little creek then turns sharply to the left.
Small waterfalls can be heard below as the trail follows the stream towards Rock Creek. Flame azaleas are in bloom in the early spring, lining the corridor with showy flowers.
In half a mile, the trail crosses one of a handful of bridges that will eventually be replaced after being wiped out by the storm.
The streams are shallow and easy to cross on foot, although keeping dry feet may be a challenge.
Shortly after crossing the creek, a blue-blazed connector trail beckons, leading eastward to the Torreya Challenge Trail.
Continue following the orange blazes north-westward, reaching the Stone Bridge in a tenth of a mile.
Patches of spruce pines line the pathway, interspersed with mixed canopies for the next mile of challenging terrain.
Steep climbs and descents could be described as mountainous, especially by Florida standards. In 0.7 mile, a convenient bridge with stairs crosses a creek and small ridge.
As the trail drops to the Apalachicola River, the surroundings quickly become more reminiscent of a subtropical jungle.
The pathway weaves through thick clusters of palmettos while skirting the banks of sandy creeks.
In 0.4 mile, a side trail leads to the Rock Creek Primitive Camp, nestled in the woods alongside the creek.
Heading westward for the next mile, a thick canopy overhead provides bountiful shade.
Glimpses of the Apalachicola river appear between gaps in the hardwood hammock as the trail begins to parallel the waterway.
Where you cross an open clearing, the Gregory House becomes visible atop a steep bluff
Leaving the river, the trail runs along a ridge base with views of floodplain forest and swamp below. Large cypress trees extend skyward out of this perpetually wet ecosystem.
Dozens of shallow streams make their way towards this wetland, running down the trail itself in some spots.
A particularly steep series of climbs begin after passing a blue-blazed side trail to the developed campground.
Spectacular views of the countryside await at the summits, one of which has a perfectly placed bench to rest on while appreciating the scenery.
The next blue-blazed side trail leads up to Rock Bluff Primitive Camp. Wild azaleas surround campsites with limited shade.
A thicker canopy provided more shade here prior to the storm, though the missing trees now allow for an unobstructed view of the Apalachicola River below.
After passing the campsite, the trail turns onto a rocky forest road.
Orange blazes mark the path as it follows the road for another half a mile before turning off into a thicket of pine flatwoods.
As the trail meanders through charred pines, red clay bluff gradually rises to the left of the pathway, eventually reaching a set of steps installed to allow passage to the top.
The view is particularly intriguing where the trail runs alongside these steep drop-offs.
Continue following the well-defined path as it winds south then back north through a minimally shaded pine forest for another half mile before completing the loop at the trailhead.
Learn more about Torreya State Park
An atypical hike by Florida standards, the aptly named Torreya Challenge Loop offers 7 miles of tough terrain and a scenic blufftop backpacking campsite.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
77.9 miles. Florida’s largest national forest, Apalachicola is a very lush place, which means soggy feet and spectacular botanical diversity south of Tallahassee.
One of the lesser-heralded delights of Torreya State Park is the Weeping Ridge Trail, which leads to a 25-foot-tall waterfall splashing off the ridge.
Above the Apalachicola River, the community of Chattahoochee hides a natural treasure in its deep ravines—a park named for its native son, botanist Angus Gholson.