In the fall of 1876, Reuben and Sara Jane Long established a homestead on Pat’s Island, this high spot in the Big Scrub.
Shaded by longleaf pine and turkey oak, they grew crops for themselves and raised a family on the Florida frontier. Their son Melvin found and adopted a fawn he named Dogwood.
When author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings visited the Long family in the 1940s, she spun the family stories into The Yearling, her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
When the novel became a movie, Pat’s Island became a set for some of the scenes.
Protected as part of Juniper Prairie Wilderness, Pat’s Island is now a destination for learning about life in the Big Scrub, with The Yearling Trail providing two loops around it.
Length: 5.3 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.244700, -81.648283
Fees / Permits: free
Restroom: Several miles south at the Juniper Run take-out on SR 19
Land Manager: U.S. Forest Service
Open 24 hours. Leashed pets welcome.
The segment of the Florida Trail along this loop, as well as south of here to Juniper Springs, is in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness. Bears are frequently seen in this area.
Backpackers are welcome to random camp along the Florida Trail all times of year in this wilderness area except where posted otherwise. The National Forest requires you to bear bag or use a bear canister.
From the traffic light at the intersection of SR 40 and SR 19 in the Ocala National Forest, drive north on SR 19 for 6.2 miles to the trailhead. It is across from Silver Glen Springs.
The trail starts at a kiosk at the parking area. Follow it into the sand pine scrub. As the young sand pine forest grows, it’s a perfect haven for the rare and colorful Florida scrub-jay.
When you reach the trail junction with the “Jody’s Trace” sign, turn right to follow the yellow blazes into the longleaf pine forest of Pat’s Island.
Past a couple of sinkholes in the scrub, the trail comes to Calvin Long’s cattle dip, a concrete trough set into the ground at Marker 2.
The trail veers left and rises into an oak hammock to meet another trail at a T. This is a 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 quickly come up to the edge of one of the most notable features of Pat’s Island, a gigantic sinkhole where the settlers once collected water from a seep spring in the bottom.
Where the trail forks at Marker 5, stay left. It and Marker 6 note the location of the post office and the home of postmaster Patrick Smith, for whom the island was named.
Wandering off the island and into the scrub, you reach the Florida Trail at a post after 2.3 miles. Turn left to stay on the loop
Follow the orange blazes along the Florida Trail as it winds through the scrub and over a couple of ridges, passing a large clearing that makes a good dry camp for backpackers.
At the next trail junction, which is marked with a post, turn left to continue the loop. Marker 8 is in front of what little is left of Reuben Long’s homestead, a cistern outlined by a fence.
At Marker 9, turn right and wander down the side trail to see the Long Cemetery. Most of two generations of this pioneer family are buried here.
Returning to the trail junction, turn right – the trail in front of you is the incoming cross-trail from the sinkhole.
Marker 10 notes the site of Calvin Long’s homestead, where Marjorie visited and was inspired by the family stories.
When the movie The Yearling 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 a post at 4.6 miles, you are back to the start of the loop at Jody’s Trace. Continue straight out into the scrub to reach the parking area at 5.3 miles.
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
Across from The Yearling Trail trailhead, explore Silver Glen Springs.
Connecting Silver Glen Springs with the river it feeds, the Lake George Trail provides an easy day hike to picturesque views of Lake George on the St. Johns River.
Connecting to The Yearling Trail, these Florida Trail segments provide additional miles of hiking.
10.6 miles. One of the few designated wilderness areas that the Florida Trail traverses, the Juniper Prairie Wilderness in the Ocala National Forest is a wildlife-rich mosaic of ancient scrub forests, pine islands, and broad open prairies.
A ramble through Pat’s Island on the Yearling Trail brings home the reality of forest fires sweeping across a once-lush landscape.
On a return trek to Hidden Pond, we find that all is well in this oasis in the middle of the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, just waiting for backpackers to savor it.