Apalachicola National Forest
Munson Hills offers two loops amidst rolling sand dunes stemming from a long vanished shoreline. To reach the trails, head south on Highway 363 from Tallahassee. A little over a mile south of the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail parking lot, the routes take off west. The Munson Hills Loop is challenging 7.5 miles through the most rolling terrain of the Apalachicola National Forest. If you are looking for a shorter ride, take the Tall Pine Shortcut about halfway out the loop, total distance 4.25 miles.
Munson Hills are sand dunes associated with a shoreline located here a million years ago. The sandhills form a foundation for a towering longleaf pine forest intermixed with ponds and wetlands. Frequent burning of the longleaf pine-wiregrass community creates this unique ecosystem. Before roads dissected the land, fires naturally spread after summer lightning storms. Plants and animals, such as wiregrass and gopher tortoises, have adapted and evolved with fire. Wiregrass is so closely tied to the natural fire cycle that it will only produce seed after a late spring or summer fire. For a spectacular display of new plant growth and flowers, visit a longleaf wiregrass area a few months after a fire. Keep an eye out for the purple blazing star, yellow colic root, or perhaps a rare orchid.
The bike trail often dips down in the sandhills through hammock ecosystems. These shady valleys will collect water and naturally hold a fire outside the perimeter. Oak, cherry, sassafras, and other hardwood trees are commonly found here. Blueberries and huckleberries also grow in these hammocks, providing a seasonal treat for bikers and the resident forest animals and birds. Most ponds are dry at some time during the year so they do not support fish, but you can find many salamanders, frogs, and snakes! Watch for deer and fox squirrels throughout the forest. Notice the many gopher tortoise burrows in the sand near the bike trail. These tortoises are protected by the State because their burrows provide homes to as many as 40 other animals, including the endangered eastern indigo snake. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker may be seen foraging on the pine trees above the trail.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication