Salt marsh, salt marsh, and more salt marsh: the sweep of a grand estuary surrounds you at Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve, a 413-acre preserve managed by the city of Yankeetown.
With interpretive plant identification, an accessible boardwalk, picnic area, canoe launch, and a 30-foot observation tower, this is a scenic destination you won’t want to miss.
A full circuit of the preserve’s trio of trails enables you to walk up to 2.5 miles. Park at either the accessible Salt Pond Trail or at the Education Center to explore the preserve.
Our route leads you around Salt Pond before using the linear green-blazed Marsh Trail to connect to the Oak Hammock Trail, home to the tower and its views.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 2.5 miles
Trailhead: 29.028244, -82.726545
Address: 1001 Old Rock Run Rd, Yankeetown
Restroom: At the environmental center, along with privies along the trails
Land manager: City of Yankeetown
Open dawn to dusk. Front gate locked at sunset. Leased dogs welcome. Bicycles not permitted on boardwalks.
Following US 19 north from Crystal River to cross the Withlacoochee River, turn west on CR 40 – aka “Follow That Dream Parkway” – at the light in Inglis. Follow the highway through Inglis, Crackertown, and Yankeetown. You’ll see the sign for the preserve on the right soon after the intersection with CR 40A. Follow Old Rock Rd, the unpaved (but hard-packed limerock) one-lane road, into the preserve.
The Salt Pond trailhead is the first trailhead you’ll encounter along Old Rock Rd. It’s a small parking area with a composting privy and kiosk with map.
Our hike begins here, following the boardwalk as it lifts you a foot or two above the forest floor of the pine flatwoods.
The boardwalk takes a hard right where a set of stairs leads to a footpath, the Marsh Trail. You’ll intersect it later. Turn right.
Shortly after the turn, an observation platform is on the left, tucked between the cedars. It provides a panorama of Salt Pond, a tidal pond.
This is an excellent stop for wildlife watching and birding. In the distance is a bridge in the salt marsh.
Wait a few minutes to see a mullet jump, or a raccoon sneak through the black needlerush over to the muddy edge of the pond.
Past the next set of stairs – leading onto an unmarked trail – the boardwalk makes a hard left and arrives at the next observation deck at a quarter mile.
It’s here we stood and watched for ten minutes as a young bald eagle circled Salt Pond, occasionally alighting on the top of a snag to stare down into the water.
Tunneling beneath cedars and cabbage palms, the boardwalk curves with the edge of the pond until it becomes a bridge between the pond and a vast salt marsh to the north.
Two benches provide a place to sit and watch for birds in this panoramic landscape.
The boardwalk continues through more vegetation, with interpretive markers beneath many of the plants and trees.
Past another set of stairs, come to the end of the boardwalk as it spirals in to face the pond from another observation platform.
Step off this platform and to can sit on a bench near the water on a peninsula of limestone. Be cautious of lingering too long on a warm day: there are sand fleas, and they do bite.
Back on the boardwalk, take the first staircase to your left. The footpath through the pines leads to a T intersection. A left leads back to the trailhead to complete a 0.7 mile walk.
Or let the adventure continue: turn right and follow green blazed posts down the Marsh Trail.
You won’t get wet feet on this hike: the name is for the scenic views of the marshes from the little hills that the footpath goes up and down in the pine flatwoods.
Live oaks cast a little shade and saw palmetto grows sparsely under the trees. To the right is an expanse of needlerush to the horizon, just beyond a screen of cedar trees.
Climbing up and over a sand ridge, the footpath passes through a small patch of scrub forest.
As the trail turns to face Rock Rd, there is an obvious trailhead kiosk on the other side of the road, complete with a railroad crossing sign.
It is the trailhead for the yellow-blazed Oak Hammock Trail. For now, stay on the Marsh Trail, which hugs close to the edge of the salt marsh.
Enjoy more sweeping panoramas and an unusually high concentration of surface limestone. Small ropes mark off solution holes in the limestone bedrock of this dry island in the marsh.
Needlerush intrudes into the footpath before it rises into an area of human activity. There are sheds, maintenance equipment, and a very large building.
Once a home, it is now the Educational Center, renovated by the volunteers who look after this preserve, Friends of Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve.
Follow the faint trace of a footpath along the marsh edge as it loops around the buildings, reaching a kiosk at the main parking area 1.1 miles into this hike.
The yellow-blazed Oak Hammock Trail starts just past the kiosk. Walk the causeway to the observation tower, visible from the last portion of the Marsh Trail.
The top deck is 30 feet high and provides a panorama of the surrounding marshes and Withlacoochee Bay, as well as the distant Gulf of Mexico.
To the south is the Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant, presently undergoing decontamination before demolition.
Beyond the tower, the Oak Hammock Trail continues out the causeway to an island with large live oak trees.
Keep to the right at the trail junction to clamber to the high point of the island, which may have been a homestead.
Not native but pretty, ginger blooms under one of the oaks as if someone planted it there a long time ago. Picnic benches sit in the shade.
A narrow path continues beneath a bower of ball moss caught in the limbs of cedar trees to a rocky point.
The trail narrows more, slipping between rocks and native coontie until it reaches a promontory overlooking a tidal creek.
Oysters grow atop the rocks. It’s a beautiful view marking the end of the trail at 1.4 miles.
Return the way you came to get back to the clearing with the picnic tables, and keep to the right this time.
Passing a composting privy, the trail emerges within view of a dock on Helverson Creek.
It is the launch point for the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve Paddling Trail and approximately an hour paddle to Bird Creek Park at the end of CR 40.
Leaving the dock, keep to the right to pass the privy and watch for the yellow posts that mark the trail.
They lead to the causeway, which must be crossed again to return to the main parking area.
There are several routes back to Salt Pond trailhead. Follow the Marsh Trail or Rock Rd to backtrack. To explore a little something new, follow the yellow-blazed Oak Hammock Trail.
It stays south of Rock Rd then crosses it at the kiosk with the railroad sign to meet the Marsh Trail. Turn right to reach Salt Pond, completing a 2.5 mile hike.
See our photos of Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Paralleling a completed segment of the ill-conceived Cross Florida Barge Canal, this 5.1 mile paved bike path surprises with hills, overlooks, and a panorama stretching to the Gulf of Mexico.
The eastern terminus of the Withlacoochee Bay Trail is home to a surprisingly hilly trail above a freshwater marsh along the saltwater Cross Florida Barge Canal.
Looping around a cypress-lined pond in the midst of pine flatwoods northwest of Dunnellon, the Buck Island Pond Trail at Goethe State Forest has quite a few interesting features, including a pitcher plant bog.