12.3 miles. An excellent overnight backpacking trip on the northernmost segment of the Florida Trail, the Wiregrass Trail gets you into the heart of an ecosystem that has vanished across most of the Southeast: the longleaf pine forest.
Heading north from its junction with the Jackson Red Ground Trail to the Alabama State Line, the Wiregrass Trail is the northernmost piece of the Florida Trail, and its connector for hikers headed north to continue along the Alabama section of the Eastern Continental Trail, a hiking route that spans from Key West to Cap Gaspe, Quebec.
Along the Wiregrass Trail, clayhills are topped with stately longleaf pine and wiregrass, with views that go on and on as you look out beneath the pines. This primary habitat is occasionally broken up by depressions with titi swamps, fragrant in spring but a bit tricky to traverse. South of Hurricane Lake, the trail parallels the Blackwater River, offering a few spots to clamber down to white sand beaches, before rising back up into the hills to meet the Jackson Red Ground Trail.
The Blackwater section was reblazed blue to indicate its status as an official side trail. You’ll still see orange blazes here and there along the route, and also in our older photos of this section.
Since the Wiregrass Trail starts at its junction with the Jackson Red Ground Trail, it’s a little tricky to cover it all unless you’re backpacking or hiking the entire Florida Trail through Blackwater in chunks. The closest paved trail access points are 4.2 miles north of the junction at Kennedy Bridge, or west 4.6 miles along the the Jackson Red Ground Trail from Karick Lake Recreation Area to the junction. Some forest roads get closer, but they aren’t somewhere you can leave a car. At the north end of this segment, it’s even trickier: the state line access is often impassible by a passenger car, no matter what your map software tells you.
For backpackers, logistically it makes the most sense to plan an overnight trip between Hurricane Lake and Karick Lake Recreation Areas unless you’re seeking to complete the full Florida Trail segment. It’s far safer to leave cars at the developed recreation areas – inform the camp host you’ll be backpacking -than outside of them. You could also start your hike within Conecuh National Forest in Alabama and hike southbound.
If you’re day hiking and have two vehicles, consider parking one at Kennedy Bridge and one at North Hurricane Lake and leapfrogging them: hike south from Kennedy Bridge to the Jackson Red Ground junction and return (8.2 mile round-trip). Hike between vehicles northbound (1.9 miles) to North Hurricane Lake. Move the Kennedy Bridge vehicle to Beaver Creek Rd. Walk up to the Alabama State Line and return (2.2 mile round-trip). Continue south to North Hurricane Lake (5.1 miles).
Frequent prescribed burns are used for forest management throughout Blackwater River State Forest. All times of year, expect at least a portion of your hike to be through recently burned forest. To avoid walking into an ongoing burn, call ahead to check on their schedule of planned burns along the Florida Trail, 850-957-5700.
FLOODING can make hiking along the Blackwater River and its tributaries dangerous. Check National Weather Service flood gauge. This section is particularly sensitive to flooding as it is in the Juniper Creek floodplain. Do not enter flowing waters.
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons in Blackwater River State Forest. Check the FWC website for hunting season dates.
To use Karick Lake and the Jackson Red Ground Trail as your southerly access point for this section, follow SR 189 north from US 90 to Karick Lake Recreation Area. Alternatively, access the trail via North Hurricane Lake Recreation Area: follow SR 189 north to CR 28; turn west and follow signs to North Hurricane Lake. Depending on road conditions, day hikers may be able to be dropped off along Sherman Kennedy Rd (a clay road) to start hiking north along the Wiregrass Trail, since the trail junction with the Jackson Red Ground Trail is almost within sight of that clay road. There isn’t a good place to park near the trail junction, however.
North from the junction with the Jackson Red Ground Trail, the trail crosses Sherman Kennedy Rd almost immediately before dropping down through the longleaf pine forest towards the Blackwater River. The trail comes up to a river bend before it starts a steep ascent into the forest, crossing the burbling waters of Honey Creek, it ascends to the heights of Blueberry Hill, where you may find flat spots for tenting as the trail drops downhill again. Snaking through titi swamps on boardwalks, the trail crosses a bridge and rejoins the Blackwater River at a scenic overlook, following the sandy banks briefly. You work your way through a tangle of titi swamps before reaching Kennedy Bridge Rd.
Crossing the river on Kennedy Bridge, the Wiregrass Trail continues north towards Hurricane Lake. As it approaches the South Hurricane Lake primitive campground, it starts to parallel a forest road before it heads for the lakeshore to join the levee that holds back this dammed-up stream to make a lake. On the far side of the levee you walk right into North Hurricane Lake Recreation Area, a very nice campground with restrooms and potable water. The trailhead is just outside the gate.
After the trail completes its sweeping tour of the hillsides above Hurricane Lake, it continues through rolling hills and immersive longleaf pine forest where every crease and fold in the landscape holds a titi swamp with a boardwalk or bog bridge across it. When you cross the pavement of Beaver Creek Rd, it’s just 1.1 miles more to get to the Florida Trail terminus at the Alabama border, a large kiosk. It’s best to have someone meet you (or a car waiting) at Beaver Creek Rd and backtrack to it to complete the hike.