Hiking in Florida can be a challenging and rewarding experience. Just a few miles inland from the Emerald Coast lie some of Florida’s wild and beautiful natural secrets.
Hiking the Eglin Section of the Florida Trail
The northern panhandle of Florida is host to the western gate of the Florida Trail, one of eight National Scenic Trails, with the Appalachian Trail being the most famous. The Florida Trail stretches a distance of about 1300 miles and is maintained by volunteers of the Florida Trail Association. For 44 miles, the Florida Trail traverses the Eglin Air Force Base Reservation.
In order to hike the Florida Trail through the Eglin Reservation, all hikers and campers, except for thru-hikers, must purchase a low cost recreational pass and camping permit that can be obtained through Eglin’s Natural Resources Branch, known locally as the Jackson Guard, located at 107 Hwy. 85 North, Niceville, FL 32578. Thru-hikers that have a letter from the Florida Trail Association in their possession are exempt.
The Florida Trail consists of orange blazes with blue blazes noting side trails to camp sites or water sources. A double orange blaze indicates a change in the trail and hikers should be alert for the next blaze. Before embarking along the trail, all hikers must fill out a registration card located at each trailhead’s kiosk.
The Titi Section covers 15.4 miles and begins just south of the city of Crestview on the east side of Hwy 85N at the FT Kiosk . This section takes its name from the numerous Titi bushes (pronounced “tie-tie”) found along the trail as it winds past Gum, Dog, Big Fork, Titi, Honey, Silver, and Pearl creeks. Atlantic White Cedar can be found along the Pearl Creek.
Campsites can be found heading eastward at the Pearl Backcountry Campsite, 1 mile in from the west, Jr. Walton Pond at 7.6 miles, and Speck Pond at 13.8. Pearl has no vehicle access.
The Catface Section stretches 14.6 miles and runs from the western SR 285 Kiosk on State Road 285 to Bob Sikes Road. Along this section Mountain Laurel and a variety of hardwood trees line the creek crossings. Hiking eastward, Red Deer Campsite awaits weary hikers at 2.6 miles in, and approximately 11 miles further along, Bull Campsite sits at 3.7 miles from the Alaqua Trailhead crossing on Bob Sikes Road. Neither campsite has vehicle access.
The Catface section gets its name from the tree scarring still visible along some portions of the trail where turpentine was once harvested and used in ship building. Excellent wildlife viewing observations can be experienced in many of the clearcut areas along this portion of the trail.
The Alaqua Section covers a 15.2 mile portion that begins south of Mossy Head at the Alaqua Kiosk on Bob Sikes Road and meanders through Magnolia forests, sand bottom creeks, pine wood forests and deer moss meadows until it emerges on the U.S. 331 trailhead near Freeport, Florida.
The Alaqua Campsite lies 3.3 miles from the western portal and only 100 yards from Hellfire Creek. As an added bonus, Eglin Air Force Base has place a picnic table and grill at this spacious campsite.
Hikers may encounter a large variety of wildlife including wild turkey, white-tailed deer, feral hogs, black bear, coyote, and fox. Birds include the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, osprey, bald eagle, and screech owls. Also often sighted are the Gulf Coast box turtle and the threatened Gopher Tortoise.
- Hikers traveling with dogs should be aware that dogs are not permitted on the Eglin portion of the Florida Trail.
- Filter all surface water collected along the trail before drinking.
- Use proper foot care while hiking.
This article is copyrighted by Bevery Hill