Apalachicola National Forest Activity Guides:
Apalachicola National Forest Trails:
Apalachicola National Forest
Apalachicola National Forest Overview
Associate freely with the word Florida. You're thinking art deco and palm trees, or ticky-tack sprawl, or maybe an anthropomorphous mouse, right? Very, very few people would conjure up images of the wild, woolly boondocks, and yet that's exactly what you'll find southwest of Tallahassee, in the Florida Panhandle.
Apalachicola National Forest is more than half a million acres of bald-cypress swamp, densely overgrown wilderness, and stands of longleaf and slash pines that support the world's healthiest population of red-cockaded woodpeckers. It also has open savannas, odd plants from sundews to orchids to titi thickets, and fascinating karst-plain sinkholes. It is home to the swampy, eight-mile stretch of the Florida Trail through Bradwell Bay that Backpacker magazine has rated one of the toughest hikes in North America, to several gorgeous, navigable rivers that are perfect for multi-day canoe adventures, and even to rollicking, single-track mountain-bike trails.
So the next time you're breezing down I-95 on your way to the Sunshine State's more publicized attractions, consider a stop at Jacksonville. One of the Southeast's more underrated wild places awaits.
Hike the Florida Trail through Bradwell Bay
If you're like most of us, chances are that any encounter you've had with one of North America's most mysterious, fascinating landscapes—a southern blackwater swamp—has been from a nature preserve's raised boardwalk or from within a canoe's gunwales. But the long-distance Florida National Scenic Trail is routed straight through the Bradwell Bay Wilderness, giving hikers an opportunity to sink themselves chest-deep, literally, into the riot of life found in these natural communities. Why, you ask, would anyone want to enter the realm of alligators and water moccasins on their terms? Well, notwithstanding the outstanding bird-watching, botanical treasures, and overall eerie beauty of the swamps, we're not completely sure. But anyone who trudges through the water and muck of Bradwell Bay's titi thickets, bald-cypress swamps, and "upland" pine stands certainly has our utmost respect.
Paddle the Ochlockonee River
More traditionally pleasurable is a multi-day canoe trip down the Ochlockonee, the longest of Florida's national forest rivers. The river is bordered by diverse habitat including cypress swamp, high bluffs forested with loblolly pine, beech, magnolia, and oak trees; common critters include deer, wild hog, opossum, alligators, owls, a slew of wading birds, and red-cockaded woodpecker. There are campsites here and there through the national forest and at Ochlockonee River State Park.
Explore Wakulla Springs
The spring is one of the largest and deepest in Florida with as much as 12,000 gallons per second flowing from the underground cavern. Glass bottom and "jungle" boat cruises introduce the spring and the abundance of wildlife living along the spring run. Birdlife is everywhere including anhingas (snake birds), bald eagles, osprey, herons, purple gallinules, and the rare limpkins. Watch for alligators, turtles sunning on logs, and snakes in tree branches. The park has no campground, but a quaint, Spanish style hotel furnishes overnight accommodations with a dining room and soda fountain. Swimming in the spring water is wonderfully refreshing on a hot day.
Fish the Apalachiocola River
Fishing the Middle Apalachicola is great. Bluegill and shellcracker fishing is excellent in the spring around river treetops and in sloughs off the river. Best baits are crickets, earthworms, catalpa worms, and oak worms. And there's superb bass fishing in the spring and summer—use plastic worms and crankbaits. Sunshine bass can be caught in the spring and fall by fishing off sandbars. Best baits are jigs, spoons, and live shad. Speckled perch can be caught from January through March around submerged treetops using live minnows.
Drive the Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway
If you're in this part of Florida in the steamy summer months, an air-conditioned cruise along this 31-mile auto tour—with stops for birding and brief walks—may be about the right speed. The paved roads of Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway loop through the southwest portion of the forest; you'll travel through flat to gently rolling terrain and moist lowlands. Along the way you'll be able to explore bays of magnolia and cypress, groves of oak, and the stands of longleaf pine that thrive in the sandhills and flatwoods. Grassy, open spaces along the route mark savannas, which provide moist-to-wet terrain that support many varieties of wildflowers including orchids, pitcher plants, and sundews. These savannas are among the most botanically rich of natural communities. Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, fox squirrels, black bears, bobcats, wild turkeys, gray fox, raccoons, and alligators are at home in the diversified ecosystems of the Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway.
- Water Worlds
- Start underneath the shadow of the mouse's giant ears, then flee the amusement park mania by heading to the seldom-experienced, truly unique aquatic wonders of Central Florida, the Panhandle, and state's Big Bend.
- The Florida Trail
- Apalachicola National Forest
- A Day in Bradwell Bay
- Glorious Mud Along the Florida National Scenic Trail
- Seven Hills to the Sea Bicycle Tour
- A Guide to a Week's Spin through Northwest Florida
- Top Ten Active Spring Vacations
- Florida, Daytona Beach, Panama City Beach, & Orlando