Most folks who hear about the Green Swamp imagine a giant watery wilderness like the Okeefenokee or the Everglades. As the headwaters of four Florida rivers—the north-flowing Withlacoochee and Ocklawaha, and the south-flowing Peace and Hillsborough—this is, however, a different kind of swamp. The rivers are born in mosaic of uplands and lowlands, ranging from high, dry sandhills and upland pine forests to dark cypress floodplains and wet flatwoods. Featuring oak hammocks, prairies, sinkholes, and caves, the Green Swamp is a microcosm of Central Florida habitats and a crucial recharge area for Florida’s water supply.
The park has offers two different trails, for different audiences:
The 5.4 mile Withlacoochee River Trail (a.k.a. the “Florida Trail,” but not part of the 1,400-mile National Scenic Trail) parallels the river floodplain and leaves the park to loop through cypress swamps and oak hammocks. It has two primitive campsites.
The 2.5-mile Nature Trail stays within the park and connects the picnic areas, observation tower, wetlands boardwalks, and cultural features. It also includes a family-friendly primitive campsite not too far from the restrooms. Both trails start at the first parking lot on the left when you enter the park.
Location: Dade City
Length: 5.4 or 2.5 miles
Lat-Long: 28.344642, -82.119806
Type: Loop and round-trip
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
There are restrooms, picnic tables and potable water at the trailhead. Slather on the mosquito protection for this hike!
Heading south into Dade City on US 98/301, keep left at the fork for the truck route and immediately turn left onto River Road. Go 4.5 miles to Auton Rd at the Withlacoochee River Bridge. Turn right; the park entrance is immediately on the left. Stop at the kiosk at the entrance for a trail map and an interpretive guide. The hikes start next to the canoe dock in the first parking area on the left, but can also be accessed from the last parking area on the left.
Look for the “Florida Trail” sign at the canoe landing. The first stretch of the trail offers the best views of the river, including an ancient cypress stump with new life sprouting from it. Most of the cypresses here were logged out 50 to 150 years ago, and a second-growth forest has emerged. The trail is shaded by live oaks festooned with resurrection fern and orchids. In wet weather, the forest is a riot of green.
Emerging from the forest, you’ll walk along the edge of a prairie. Soon before the trail takes a sharp left, away from the park and into a bower of live oaks. (A right turn will take you to the far parking lot and the Nature Trail.) Continue along the prairie’s edge, keeping alert for the orange blazes as you enter the Green Swamp.
The loop begins at 1.6 miles. Turn right to walk through a pine forest at the prairie’s edge; look for herons and egrets. At 1.8 miles and 2.9 miles are blue blazes leading to the trail’s two primitive campsites. At around 3 miles, the trail turns to parallel the Withlacoochee River floodplain upstream, alongside the vast cypress swamp. At 3.9 miles, look across the dark water to a scout cabin on the far shore.
The loop ends at the 4-mile mark. Continue back along the trail to either the far parking lot (and the Nature Trail) or the canoe landing.
This yellow-blazed interpretive trail is perfect for a hike with kids. It weaves along and across the paved bike trail to emerge at the far parking lot and restrooms. Past the water fountain is the 40-foot observation tower. Trails take off in several directions and run back into each other, each showcasing a little slice of habitat: sandhills to the left, and wetland straight ahead, where you might see alligators from the boardwalk.
After visiting the wetland, follow the trail downhill into an oak hammock, site of the replica pioneer homestead and Creek Indian village. The yellow blazes head east from the two villages, past playgrounds and picnic areas, back to the parking lot near the canoe launch.