In the fall of 1876, Reuben and Sara Jane Long established a homestead on Pat’s Island, a high spot in the Big Scrub. Shaded by longleaf pine and turkey oak, they grew sugar cane and corn, peas, beans, and watermelon, a frontier existence for a hardy family. Their son Melvin found and adopted a fawn he named Dogwood. More than 50 years later, author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings spent time at the Long homestead and learned about the fawn. It inspired her to write The Yearling, her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. When the novel became a movie, Pat’s Island became a set for some of the scenes.
Now part of the Ocala National Forest, Pat’s Island is a shady place in the desert-like scrub, with historical artifacts from the Long family waiting to be discovered—remains of homesteads, a cistern, a cattle dip vat, and the family frontier cemetery. The Florida Trail runs along the western side of the island, but the Yearling Trail provides easier access and your choice of two loops to explore this literary and historic site.
Location: Pat’s Island
Length: 5.7 miles or less
Lat-Long: 29.244700, -81.648283
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
From the intersection of SR 40 and SR 19 in the Ocala National Forest (between Juniper Springs and Astor), turn north on SR 19 and drive 6.2 miles to the trailhead, marked by a large sign on the left.
The trail starts at a kiosk at the parking area. Follow it into the open sand pine scrub. As the young sand pine forest grows, it’s a perfect haven for the rare and colorful Florida scrub-jay. The well-worn path may require some clambering over fallen trees, as this is a wilderness area, keeping trail maintenance to a minimum.
When you reach the trail junction with the “Jody’s Trace” sign, turn right to follow the yellow blazes up onto Pat’s Island, where longleaf pine and wiregrass dominate. Passing solution holes, you come to Calvin Long’s cattle dip, a concrete trough set into the ground at Marker 2, after 1.4 miles. The remains of his homestead are hidden by vegetation at Marker 3.
The trail veers left and rises into an oak hammock to meet another trail at a T. This is your decision point. You can shorten your walk to 3.5 miles by turning left here and left again at the next intersection. We suggest continuing on the outer loop to the right. You immediately come up to the edge of one of the most notable features of Pat’s Island, a gigantic sinkhole. A seep spring, where water dripped off bare limestone walls in the bottom of the sinkhole into catch basins, provided a trickle of water for the settlers. Dogwoods flourish along the steep slopes of the sinkhole, as do hickories.
Where the trail forks at Marker 5, stay to the left, and walk past Marker 6. These denote the location of the post office and home of postmaster Patrick Smith – no relation to the author of A Land Remembered, but the namesake of Pat’s Island. Resurrection ferns cover the trunks of towering sand live oaks. It’s n unusual pairing, since the ferns need dampness, and the oaks require a dry environment. At 2.5 miles, you reach the orange-blazed Florida Trail at a large marker. Turn left.
Follow the orange blazes along the Florida Trail as it winds through the scrub and over a couple of ridges, passing a clearing off to the left that would make a good dry camp for backpackers. At the next trail junction, which is marked with a post, turn left to continue the loop, following a historic road. Marker 8, on the right, is in front of what little remains of Reuben Long’s homestead: a cistern, used to cache rainwater. At Marker 9, turn right and wander down the side trail to see the Long Cemetery. Reuben Long is buried here, as are many of his children. Their tombstones faded with age, so descendants installed plaques on some of them.
As you walk out of the cemetery, continue up to the junction post again. The trail junction post marks the incoming cross-trail from the sinkhole. Turn right at the sign to rejoin the Old Grahamville Road, a faded wagon track. Marker 10 notes the site of Calvin Long’s homestead, where Marjorie learned of the family’s yearling story. When the movie was filmed in 1946, this was the location used as the movie set. The opening in the forest at Marker 11 is the site of Cora Long’s homestead.
Reaching the back of a sign at 4.7 miles, you’ve finished the loop. Continue straight out into the scrub to reach the parking area at 5.5 miles. If you skip Jody’s Trace and do the loop by reaching the cross-trail at the cemetery / sinkhole post (turn right to loop), it’s a 5.7 mile loop.
Alternate route: Hike the Yearling Trail from Pat’s Island trailhead