This hike presents a raw, pure and unfiltered Florida. A trail less traveled means a more intimate and up-close experience with Mother Nature. It's also not a trail for the faint of heart. A combination of firebreaks and access roads intertwine and ultimately lead you to the marked trail, which takes you back in time – back to Old Florida. A GPS is highly recommended on this hike, as it is easy to get turned around. The hike itself is not difficult, but due to the low terrain and marshes, the environment can become harsh. This hike is a combination of a there-and-back and a loop.
The trail head (30.12108, -84.31495) is at a small parking spot where Spring Creek Highway forks with Shell Point Road and Vickers Drive. There is no potable water or facilities. The entire hike spans roughly 6 miles, but due to poor trail markers, it is easy to add another mile to your day.
As you begin the hike, the first turn is easy to miss, and it is easy to start adding excess miles. Turn left at the Helopad site (30.12056, -84.31251). If you miss this turn, you can pick up the next access road to your left and it will connect you back to the main trail. For the first 1.5 miles of the trail you will traverse through pine flatwoods and cypress swamps. You'll end up at a dead end where you need to stay right and follow the firebreak line down about 2 miles. The entrance to the loop trail is where an access road connects to the fire break. The trail access is about 160 degrees between the access road and fire break, and it is marked by two trees (30.13799, -84.28207). Here the trail becomes more clearly marked but significantly harder to navigate during certain times of the year. It is highly recommended not to attempt this hike during the warmer months or rainy season. The marshes and swamps are easily flooded, and the trail winds right through these ecosystems.
As the trail progresses you will cross several bridges to help keep you above the cypress swamps. About halfway into the hike the canopy of the hardwood and slash pine forest is taken over by a Cathedral of Palms. A true forest of old-growth palms completely surrounds you. The Cathedral of Palms is such a fitting description for this cluster of Florida state trees. The Sabal palm, more commonly known as the cabbage palm, can reach heights of 80 feet, and young trees encase a delicacy known as the “heart of palm.” Harvesting has since been prohibited in Florida under conservation laws due to the fact that a young cabbage palm must be cut down to extract the core.
You’ll navigate low-lying areas surrounded by palms, cypress and slash pines, crossing over and beside fresh and brackish water estuaries. Watch your step because this is prime territory for alligators and snakes. At coordinates 30.12644, -84.28492 you will cross over the access trail to enter the last section of the main trail. At this point you can choose to take the access trail back to the main fire break if you prefer not to continue through the woods. However, Shepard’s Spring, a beautiful crystal clear spring, is steps away and worth seeing. As you enter the trail again, you will find a bench (30.12618, -84.28532) with a guide pointing to the left for the spring (a short in and out trail) and to the right to continue the hike. Swimming is not recommended.
The last portion of the trail is an alternate route for the Florida Trail. It is not heavily trafficked, there can be many downed trees. This section also is more prone to flooding, and there are no bridges. When this section is under water, a detour at the primitive camping site (30.12915, -84.29318) allows for access on a road for the completion of the hike. The access road takes you back to the fire break line that brought you in, and you will follow it back out to complete the hike.