Created by volunteers from the Friends of Wakulla Springs, the Wakulla Springs Trail provides up to 10 miles of hiking in a round-trip and loop that showcases the variety of habitats along the river’s floodplain. A new bridge over Sally Ward Spring Run provides access to the uplands along the far side of the Wakulla River, where ancient trees tower over the hardwood forest. Sample a little, or head out for a long day hike: the choice is yours in this wonderland in the Woodville Karst Plain.
Length: Up to 10 miles
Lat-Long: 30.233708, -84.302148 (turn around at 30.239505,-84.297994)
Type: round-trip and loop
Fees / Permits: state park admission
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Bug factor: High
Restroom: Near the trailhead
The bug factor is high because ticks are a known problem in this area. Use full precautions against tick bites and check yourself thoroughly after the hike.
A fabulous destination for outdoor recreation, Wakulla Springs is centered around one of the world’s largest springs, where a swimming area and diving platform awaits. Tour boats provide an up-close look at the ancient cypresses and bird life along the Wakulla River. Wakulla Lodge is Florida’s only state park lodge, a historic site with unique decorative touches and some of the finest food this side of Tallahassee. For more information: Wakulla Springs State Park
From Tallahassee, follow US 319 / SR 61 south of Capital Circle. Turn left to stay on SR 61 as it heads south into Wakulla County. At SR 267, turn left. The park entrance is on your right.
From US 98, follow CR 365 (from the west) or SR 267 (from the east) to SR 267 west of CR 363. The park entrance is on the left.
Follow the park road back to Wakulla Lodge. The trailhead kiosk is at the lodge parking lot.
Starting prominently at a kiosk at the parking area for Wakulla Lodge, the Wakulla Springs Trail begins as a boardwalk connecting two karst features – depressions in the limestone bedrock known as sinkholes. Interpretive displays explain how water moves through karst to emerge as Wakulla Springs. Benches provide overlooks into the sinkholes. Leaving the boardwalk, the blue-blazed trail meanders along a nicely graded footpath beneath tall loblolly pines, crossing the park road. Along the way, an Eagle Scout project has enhanced the trail nicely by creating unique interpretive displays about the trees you’ll find along this trail.
Coming to a former junction in the trail system – now blocked off from use – the trail swings to the right. You’re following a portion of the old Sally Ward Trail, updated to include these new interpretive signs and a broader, easy to walk footpath. Watch for the twists and turns in the trail as you walk beneath hickory and southern magnolia in this hardwood forest. Spanish needles grow beneath a sweetgum tree. Winding beneath sparkleberry and laurel oaks, it’s a comfortable walk.
In spring, the leaves are falling from the live oaks and the colorful pinkish-purple blooms of the eastern redbud stand out in the otherwise sparse canopy. Enormous southern magnolias add their deep greens high above. The understory is full of young spring greens, shoots and sprouts pushing through the leaf litter and young leaves emerging along the yaupon holly and catbrier. A hint of violets kiss the forest floor.
By 0.4 mile, the elevation is dropping noticeably as you draw closer to the floodplain forest that surrounds the Wakulla Springs basin. The forest becomes thicker as you reach a boardwalk that leads you through the floodplain forest. In spring, you can see quite a distance between the trees, primarily red maple and sweetgum, which have lost their leaves. Water sits in large puddles, surrounded by mucky spots. Strewn by the wind, the yellow blooms of Carolina jessamine decorate the forest floor. As the boardwalk ends, you rise back up into a forest of tall oaks, southern magnolia, loblolly pine, and eastern redbud. Birdsong fills the air. With the new starting point and prominence of this hiking trail, it’s likely you’ll pass many other park visitors out for a stroll: the appeal of getting to the other side of the river is a strong draw.
You reach a point of divergence, where this new trail makes a sharp right, away from the blocked-off Sally Ward Trail, which used to head for the small spring basin found near the park entrance. The trail jogs through more hardwoods, headed up and over a small bluff – which, if you peer closely at the ground to your right, is made up of middens dense with snail shells, much like those found along the St. Johns River. Reaching Sally Ward Spring Run at half a mile, you cross it on a sturdy bridge well up over the floodplain. The run is crystal-clear. Upstream, enormous cypresses tower overhead. Downstream, the run meanders through the floodplain forest; a family of ducks drifts on the current.
The trail continues as a boardwalk over the broad floodplain of the spring run, a cypress swamp with several side channels that water rushes through when the spring is overflowing. Due to the nature of karst, heavy rains in Tallahassee can cause these springs to gush. In this part of the forest, cypresses are of notable size, some with trunks that would take several people holding hands to encircle. The broken-off stumps of even larger cypresses speak to an era long past, before loggers found these ancient trees and floated them away.
As you leave the end of the boardwalk, your attention is captured by red buckeye sporting crimson blooms. In this hardwood forest, the understory is very open, the canopy tall, the trail deeply shaded. Downhill and to your right is denser forest – it’s closer to the spring run, transitioning into the floodplain. The trail stays to the high ground, circling around the Wakulla Springs basin in a broad arc. This is a spectacular example of a hardwood forest in North Florida, with a nice variety of trees and surface limestone breaking through the forest floor. Jutting from fallen logs, giant shelf fungi and delicate oyster fungi add their scents to the mix. Southern magnolias rise tall against the blue sky.
Off to the right, big cypresses define the edge of the floodplain. A pilated woodpecker swoops down and feeds on a rotting tree before playing hide and seek in the forest in response to footfalls in the fallen leaves. As you step over rocks and roots past a large fallen tree, note the karst depression off to the left – perhaps the beginning of a sinkhole, or the entrance to a cavern, blocked up with leaves and rocks. Either way, it’s another place for rain to drain into the spring basin.
There’s a transition in the landscape around you as you start to enter a denser forest, possibly drawing closer to the Wakulla River – it’s hard to tell, as there is no sign of water. But there is dahoon holly and elm, and a slight bit of elevation loss as the younger trees crowd more closely together. A hollow up ahead is filled with saw palmetto.
Upon reaching the Mile 1 marker, I continued another 0.2 mile to look for the river, but still saw no sign of it through the trees. With limited time to continue in the late afternoon, I turned around. But I encourage you – keep exploring! In all, the linear portion of the trail heads out to Mile 4, and then a two-mile loop through pine flatwoods brings you back around to that marker for the return trip. I’ll tackle the whole thing someday, but not this year.
The return trip is easy enough, since you’re retracing your steps and the trail is well-marked: you won’t stray from the footpath. Enjoy the journey.