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.
R/T Length of Trail: 7.9 Miles
Duration of Hike: 3:15
Type of Hike: Y-configuration
Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: Minimal
Cons: There is some ugly, burned forest as you approach Gap Point; some portions of the trail have deep sand, and this may add some difficult to this hike (the main reason I rated it as a low-end moderate hike and not a beginner hike)
Points of Interest: East Slough Overlook; Ocean Access at Primitive Campsite #2; Gap Point
Trail Blaze Color(s): None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Year-round
Fees: There is a $6 entrance fee per vehicle (2-8 people) for St. George Island State Park. The fee is $4 if a vehicle has only 1 person, while there is a $2 fee for pedestrians, bicyclists, and extra passengers in vehicles. Pay at the ranger station at the entrance to the park.
Beginning Point: East Slough Beach Use Area/East Slough Trailhead
Directions: From Eastpoint, FL: Follow FL State Route 300 for 5.6 miles across the St. George Island Causeway (Bryant Patton Bridge). At the T-intersection on St. George Island, directly in front of the St. George Island Lighthouse, turn left onto Gulf Beach Drive. Follow Gulf Beach Drive through the developed section of St. George Island for 4.2 miles to the entrance to Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park. Pay your fee at the entrance station, and continue on the park road/scenic drive for another 2.6 miles. Then, turn right into the huge parking area for East Slough Beach Use area (I bet this fills up fast in summer!). The trail starts to the left of the road as a boardwalk across the tall dunes, across from the parking area.
A map and some other information regarding this hike can be viewed here.
Most of the islands and beaches in Florida have been totally developed. Fortunately, a few islands and their beaches have been preserved. The eastern tier of St. George Island, protected by St. George Island State Park, is one such example, and it indeed is a great thing that this still-being-developed island has a wild side remaining to it. The hike detailed here showcases the wild side of St. George Island very well. Take a look at the developed section of the island, and imagine what it may have looked like before all the houses were built.
The hike begins on the East Slough Trail, across from the East Slough Beach Use Area. The trail begins as a boardwalk that ascends over an area of dunes near the park road. Do not walk off the boardwalk onto the dunes - this is sensitive, endangered habitat. The boardwalk continues into pine forest on the approach to East Slough. At 0.2 miles, reach East Slough Overlook. Before turning right to continue the trail, continue straight to the observation deck.Here, you can see East Slough. East Slough originates as a wetland farther east into the island, and then turns into a bay, which you can see here. Return to the main trail, and continue on the sandy path paralleling East Slough eastward. At times, you may catch glimpses of the tall dunes to your right. At 0.5 miles, cross a footbridge over a wetland adjacent to East Slough. At 1.05 miles, cross the head of East Slough on a long footbridge. To your left, take a look at how the wetlands turn into open water. At 1.1 miles, reach the end of East Slough Trail. The Gap Point Trail goes left and right here. For now, turn right - you're headed to the campground for extra mileage (you can skip this part of course). The trail is sandy, flat, and very wide. At 1.7 miles, reach the campground. This is also the Gap Point Trailhead, and a lot of people start here and simply do the Gap Point Trail out and back. Retrace your steps to the East Slough junction, reaching it at 2.3 miles, band continue straight. The trail is slightly narrower. This is a perfect example of a slash pine/coastal scrub habitat. As the trail follows a peninsula leading out to Gap Point, you can watch East Slough to your left. Also, take a moment, and stop to analyze the little things found in this landscape dotted by sand.
At 3.15 miles, reach a junction. Here, a spur trail goes right to Primitive Campsite #2. Turn onto this spur trail, and follow a sandy path toward the north coastline of St. George Island. St. George Island is one of those places where both shores of the island have a beach, although the south shoreline (the oceanfront) has undoubtedly the better beach. At 3.6 miles, reach Primitive Campsite #2 and the end of the spur trail. Here, the ocean is straight ahead. Walk to the edge of the water and observe the narrow strip of beach dotted by dead trees standing like dark statues. From here, you can see the mainland and the community of Eastpoint in the distance. To the far left, you may spot the Bryant Patton Bridge. From this viewpoint, retrace your steps to the main Gap Point Trail, and continue on it. You will shortly enter an ugly area, where it seemed like a prescribed burn had gone a bit over the limit, with some dead or severely damaged pines and rosemary bushes. At 4.75 miles, bear left. The ocean comes into view - you are approaching Gap Point. At 5 miles, reach Gap Point. There are excellent views here into the ocean between the mainland and St. George Island, towards the Bryant Patton Bridge and beyond. A small island, Goose Island, lies straight ahead off the shore of St. George Island. To the left, you may be able to see the mouth of East Slough. From this vista, retrace your steps along the Gap Point Trail and then East Slough Trail back to the trailhead for a total hike of 7.9 miles.
Hike the East Slough Trail out and back - 2.2 Miles
Hike the Gap Point Trail out and back plus spur trail to Campsite #2 from the campground - 6.15 Miles
After the hike, check out the St. George Island Lighthouse. Also, drive the scenic park road to the east end of the road at the Sugar Hill Beach Area. You will see some very tall dunes along the way.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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