The place: the Suwannee River. The year was 1863, and those pesky Federals were snooping all over Florida, seizing goods and burning plantations. A steamboat builder in Bradford Springs wrote to Governor Milton to let him know he’d scuttled his finest craft in the nearby springs to keep it out of enemy hands. More than a century later, you can dive into the depths of Troy Spring and see the steamboat’s remains, or simply stroll along the shoreline and take in the fabulous views of the Suwannee River, a beauty at any time of year. The nature trail is only a half-mile long, but a good introduction to habitats found along the bluffs of the Suwannee River.
Length: 0.5 mile
Lat-Long: 30.005522, -82.998071
Type: Loop with side spur to river
Fees / Permits: $5 per carload or $4 for individual
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: At the trailhead
Follow US 27 from High Springs northwest to Branford, and cross the Suwannee River. Continue 5 miles to CR 425 / Troy Springs Road. Turn right. Drive 0.8 mile and keep left at the fork. The park entrance is on your right.
When you emerge out of your car at Troy Spring State Park, you’ll notice the odd looking benches near the restrooms. If there aren’t any divers around, it won’t be obvious how they’re used – to hang air tanks and wetsuits. This park is centered around the depths of Troy Springs, which offers diving (no solo, open water only), snorkeling, and swimming within sight of the main flow of the Suwannee River.
The nature trail starts directly across the parking area from the diver prep area, in a climax laurel oak forest. Look for the hiker sign marking the start. It’s a counterclockwise loop, the understory thick with grapevine, leafy underfoot. Shelf fungi swarms up rotting logs, and lizards play on the bases of tall slash pines. Poison ivy creeps near the footpath. The corridor is lined with young pines, and the oaks have large hollows, perhaps home to a barred owl. The forest has a mix of pines and oaks, including water oak, live oak, and laurel oak, with a bit of sweetgum to add fall color. The path is not blazed, but obvious from use.
Hear that hiss? It’s not a snake, but it might startle you. It’s the sound of a diver letting compressed air out of his tank. Sparkleberry forms a canopy overhead, marked with splotchy white and green lichens on its trunk. After a quarter mile, you pass two truly outstanding slash pines and the remains of others that once stood here, defying the logger’s saw. Birdsong fills the air in morning.
To the left, trees are growing out of a mat of aquatic plants in a low floodplain. There are roots and mounds all around. The trail reaches a T with a forest road and turns left. It loops around the mounds, which appear to be forest-covered spoil from digging a pond, which is now covered in a green blanket of algae. Wild white indigo blooms in front of another small green pond beneath the pines.
The trail emerges onto a sand road. Turn left and walk between the cabins to make a beeline towards a bench overlooking the Suwannee River. Interpretive information abounds, teaching you about epiphytes, manatees, and the leaping sturgeon that cruise the Suwannee and sometimes knock people out of their boats. A path leads down the bluff to a boat ramp on the river.
Walk back up the bluff and keep to the right, where there’s a nice view of the spring mouth from a jumble of rocks along the edge of the water. Watch your footing! You’ll need to return the way you came, back past the bench and up to the road, and turn right to exit. You emerge at the parking area. Don’t forget to walk down to the spring to savor the view – and take the plunge, if it’s a warm day.