Falling Waters State Park: Sinkhole Trail, Falling Water Falls, Wiregrass Trail, and Terrace Trail, Chipley, Florida
When you think Florida, wetlands and beaches come to mind. Perhaps springs, prairies, and ranches come to mind as well. However, would waterfalls come to mind? Probably not. Falling Waters State Park protects one of Florida's truly most unique features - a waterfall that lands into a sinkhole, where the stream disappears into the Florida Aquifer. The park's hiking trails showcase a couple other interesting features as well, including a set of sinkholes near the king of them all, a longleaf pine forest, a small lake, and a capped oil well location. This hike occurred on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016. My plan was to hike the Sinkhole Trail, visit Falling Water Falls, and then to hike the Wiregrass Trail and the Terrace Trail out and back.
St. George Island is a barrier island near the Florida Panhandle, located at the mouth of the Apalachicola River. The island stretches for 20 miles along the coast, and most of the island is developed. However, St. George Island State Park protects the eastern tier of the island. In this park, a scenic drive and several hiking trails provide views of dunes twice the height of a human, as well as a coastal scrub habitat. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 2nd, 2016. My plan was to hike the East Slough Trail to the Gap Point Trail, and then hike the Gap Point Trail to Gap Point. Along the way, I would hike the spur trails to the campground and to Primitive Campsite #2. I would return the same way.
One of two primitive trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Stoney Bayou Loop follows several old forest roads through several different ecosystems, including pine flatwoods, a cypress swamp, and an open marsh. On this hike, you will get the chance to see an alligator or two, and you will be presented with good birding opportunities near the open marshes. To top of this excellent hike, you will have a vista of Stoney Bayou Loop #1, a large lake that touches the trail. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. This was my final stop of the day, and I was going to hike the Stoney Bayou Loop, a primitive trail, clockwise.
The St. Marks Lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse in Florida. The lighthouse marks the mouth of the St. Marks River. The town of St. Marks just to the northwest used to be an important port back in the early 1800s. In 1831, construction of the St. Marks Lighthouse was completed to help guide boats to the port at St. Marks. On the Lighthouse Levee Trail, you will travel along a dike near Lighthouse Pond to a promontory extending out into the Gulf of Mexico, before reaching the historic St. Marks Lighthouse. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. I was planning to hike the Lighthouse Levee Nature Trail out and back from the boat ramp parking to the historic lighthouse.
A relatively new nature trail at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Cedar Point Trail follows a dike between a salt marsh and a dredged boating channel to a wild location where the waves of the Gulf of Mexico hit a pristine shoreline. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. This trail was my third stop of the day. Each trail just kept getting better - there are beautiful views to be seen from the Cedar Point Trail, despite its short length. My plan was to hike the trail out and back.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge: Tower Pond Nature Trail and Headqaurters Pond Nature Trail, St. Marks, Florida
Tower Pond and Headquarters Pond are two small ponds in the southern section of the St. Marks Unit of St. Marks NWR. Two nature trails visit these ponds. On the Tower Pond Nature Trail, you will visit an old fire tower before circling Tower Pond via a number of paths and forest roads. You will also see some salt marshes. Along the way, don't miss the photo blind for great birding opportunities. On the shorter Headquarters Pond Trail, which leaves the same trailhead, you will take a quick walk to an observation platform overlooking Headquarters Pond, a small body of water full of lily pads. If you're lucky, you might even spot an alligator. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. These two trails were my second stop of the day, after the Plum Orchard Nature Trail. I planned to hike the Tower Pond Trail clockwise, and then, I would hike the Headquarters Pond Trail out and back.
One of the shortest nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Orchard Nature Trail packs several interesting sights in its 0.7 miles, including a small pond that is good for birding, a boardwalk across a marsh, and a dense corridor of saw palmetto. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. The Plum Orchard Nature Trail was the first nature trail I hiked on this day. My plan was to hike the short loop clockwise.
Coming in at over 600,000 acres, Apalachicola National Forest is Florida's largest national forest - it is the home to the famed Bradwell Bay Wilderness, one of the wildest swamps in Florida. While the forest may be best-known for the large swamp expanse of Bradwell Bay, it is also home to an uncommon sight - numerous pitcher plant bogs scattered throughout the area. One particular hiking trail, the Wright Lake Loop, visits several of these pitcher plant bogs in the western section of the forest that are easy to get to. However, after a month of historical rains, they may not be quite so easy to get to. This hike occurred on Thursday, December 31, 2015. My plan was to hike the entire Wright Lake Loop, but due to impassable sections of trail with pretty severe flooding ongoing in all of the nearby creeks, I was forced to abandon my plan and hike merely a small segment of the Wright Lake Loop.
Located along Florida's Gulf Coast, Tate's Hell State Forest is one of Florida's largest state forests - and one of its wildest. Tate's Hell State Forest is home to several dwarf cypress swamps, one of the most bizarre sights to be seen in Florida. On this short boardwalk, you will get a chance to see one of the largest dwarf cypress swamps in Tate's Hell, where none of the cypress trees are taller than 15 feet, and some are over 300 years old. This hike occurred on Tuesday, December 29th, 2015. My plan was to follow the Ralph G. Kendrick Dwarf Cypress Boardwalk out and back to an observation area overlooking the dwarf cypress swamp.
The Sopchoppy River is a minor river that originates in the Apalachicola National Forest in Florida's Big Bend region. On its way south to the Gulf of Mexico, it flows into the Ochlockonee River and becomes part of an important estuary network at Ochlockonee Bay. The small, historic town of Sopchoppy, based in 1894 and currently with a population of less than 500 people, sits on the banks of the Sopchoppy River. The town's park does not amount to much when one thinks of hiking trails, but its short nature trail leads to and along the river, allowing visitors to see the blackwater river and the habitats found along it up-close. This hike occurred on Monday, December 28th, 2015. My plan was to simply hike the short nature trail from the Sopchoppy City Park to some views of the Sopchoppy River.
The Tennessee River is Tennessee's grand river. Near the city of Chattanooga, the river carves a passage through a deep gorge before becoming Nickajack Lake. On this hike atop a finger of the Cumberland Plateau that juts out into the Tennessee River Gorge, you will see several vistas of the river, a bizarre geological formation called the Natural Bridge, and a number of wet-weather waterfalls - they really are invisible, unless you happen to hike the trail in the middle or after a notable flooding event. Expect quite a workout curving throughout countless hollows before arriving at Ransom Hollow Overlook, one of the best vistas on the southern Cumberland Plateau. This hike occurred on Saturday, December 26th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Pot Point Loop clockwise from the Snoopers Rock Trailhead.
Palmetto Trail: Oconee Station to Oconee State Park, Tamassee Knob Trail, Station Cove Falls, and Oconee Station Nature Trail, Walhalla, South Carolina
The Palmetto Trail is South Carolina's master trail, and when finished, it will extend across the entire state from the mountains to the coast. The trail starts off with a bang, and it's very first section is packed with interesting features, from a 60-foot waterfall to a historic site at Oconee Station to a breathtaking view from Tamassee Knob. Go in the winter, and you'll be treated to great views throughout the entire hike. This hike occurred on Saturday, December 19th, 2015. My plan was to first hike the Oconee Station Nature Trail, and then hike the Palmetto Trail's "Oconee Passage" from Oconee Station to Oconee State Park. Along the way, I would stop at Station Cove Falls. After reaching Oconee State Park, I would hike the Tamassee Knob Trail along a narrow ridge extending to a small summit with a fantastic vista.
Nantahala National Forest: Bearpen Gap Trail to Albert Mountain and Long Branch Trail, Franklin, North Carolina
The Standing Indian Backcountry Area and the Southern Nantahala Wilderness comprise one unbroken tract of mountains and deep river valleys near the town of Franklin. The headquarters of Nantahala River, one of North Carolina's best-known rivers, are located here. Dozens of miles of hiking trails weave through the area. Two mountains are the key destinations in the region: Albert Mountain and Standing Indian Mountain. On this hike, you'll have the opportunity to use seldom-traveled trails in a loop or shuttle hike that visits the summit of Albert Mountain. This hike occurred on December 5th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Bearpen Gap Trail from the lower end near the Nantahala River to the upper end at the Appalachian Trail. From there, I would follow the Appalachian Trail up and over Albert Mountain to the Long Branch Trail. Using the Long Branch Trail, I would return to FS 67 and the Nantahala River area. I would finish by walking FS 67 back to the Bearpen Trail.
The city of Gainesville has a lot of preserves with short nature trails that uncover the urban beauty found in the city. Gainesville's first nature preserve, 21-acre Alfred A. Ring Park, has a short trail with views of the pretty Hogtown Creek ravine that is uncommon in central Florida's flat landscape. Throughout this short hike, you will travel across hills and boardwalks exploring the creek valley. Go in the spring, and you may even spot some wildflower such as Solomon's seal. This hike occurred on Sunday, November 29th, 2015. My plan was to hike the trail along Hogtown Creek out and back, returning via the playground and garden.
Protecting over 2000 acres of land along and near Old Tampa Bay, this park is an important preserve of one of the few natural habitats along Tampa Bay, where most of the shoreline is now developed and the native ecosystems are gone. The park has three trails that explore different ecosystems near the bay. The Otter Trail is the park's longest trail - it explores upland forest near an estuarine creek known as Double Branch Creek. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 28th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Otter Trail clockwise. This was the third and final trail in the park that I hiked on this day.
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