Apalachicola National Forest
Phone - (850) 643-2282
Website - www.fs.fed.us/r8/florida/recreation/index_apa.shtml
Admission Fee - Vehicle parking fee
Directions – Camel Lake; CR 105 west off SR 65. Wright Lake; CR 101 west off SR 65.
After a century of abuse from clear-cutting and turpentining, the land south and west of Tallahassee was riddled with runoff and scars. In 1936 the exhausted land was bundled into the Apalachicola National Forest - more than a half-million acres of low-lying cypress, longleaf pines and wiregrass savannas. Conscientious forest management has brought back many a tree but wildlife can’t always be restored. Such is the case with the red-cockaded woodpecker, a cardinal-sized, black-and-white bird with a red-streaked black hood that depends on mature pine trees for its survival. A fully grown pine tree often suffers from a fungus that makes the heartwood soft and easy to excavate for the woodpecker. Old growth pine forests have been mostly decimated and regenerated forests aren’t allowed to keep their most mature trees so today the red-cockaded woodpecker has lost more than 99% of its liveable habitat. It is estimated only 15,000 birds survive today and the largest red-cockaded woodpecker population in the world lives in the Apalachicola National Forest.
About 69 of the 85 miles of trails here come on the long-distance Florida National Scenic Trailbut canine day hikers will want to focus on the loops at Wright Lake and Camel Lake. The Wright Lake Loopmixes cypress and wetlands into its five miles, using wooden bridges to ferry across numerous creeks. This is an easy, shady two-hour ramble for your dog. More challenging is the nine-mile Trail of the Lakesthat combines with the orange-blazed Florida Trailto close the loop. You can warm up for this rollicking canine hike with a tour of the one-mile Camel Lake Interpretive Trail. For a real challenge in the Apalachicola National Forest there is the 13-mile stretch of the Florida Trail that routes directly through the notorious Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area. At full strength, this passage requires sloshing through waist-high water that has led Backpacking Magazineto call it one of the toughest hikes in America. Certainly no place for a dog but in times of drought it is well worth checking out for its eerie beauty.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: There are trails for equestrians, trails for off-road vehicles, trails for bikes and trails for hikers
Workout For Your Dog – Your dog can spend several hours to a week
Swimming - Alligators and snakes are ever-present but there are plenty of places for your dog to slip into the water
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are permitted on the trails and in the recreation areas
Just to the south of Wright Lake are the ruins of Fort Gadsden, a sturdy bastion built by the British to recruit slaves and local Indians to fight against
the Americans during the War of 1812. When the war ended, the British wanted nothing more than to get back to England and abandoned the fort, still fully-armed, on the Apalachicola River. More than 300 fugitive slaves and Choctaw Indians moved in and staged periodic raids into Georgia from “Negro Fort.” This angered Andrew Jackson who ordered the fort destroyed. On July 27, 1816 a heated cannonball flew into Negro Fort’s powder magazine and ignited an explosion that was said to be heard in Pensacola, 100 miles distant. Jackson directed the fort to be rebuilt and upon
inspection was pleased enough to name it after the builder, Lieutenant James Gadsden. During the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied Fort Gadsden until a malaria outbreak forced it to be deserted forever.
Bear CreekEducational Forest
Phone - (850) 488-1871
Website – www.fl-dof.com/state_
Admission Fee – Vehicle parking fee
Directions - Tallahassee; west of town via I-10. Take Exit 181 and head south on SR 267 for 4.8 miles to tract entrance on left.
The journey of the Ochlockonee River from Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico was interrupted on the outskirts of Tallahassee in 1927 by the construction of Jackson Bluff Dam to generate electricity, create recreation and produce waterfront real estate. The river backed up enough to create the 8,850-acre Lake Talquin. Bear Creek Educational Forest is a 492-acre tract of the Lake Talquin State Forest. Opened late in 2005, programs are offered for free to school and youth groups.
The full trail system at Bear Creek sweeps away from the same trailhead as you work your way downhill to the forest’s two feature routes. The Ravine Trailis a sporty 1.4-mile loop that travels above the vegetation-choked Beaver Pond. Your dog will be bounding up inclines and past steephead ravines as the path twists and turns. This is the best place in Northwest Florida for tree identification. In addition to an interpretive brochure the signposts continue for the entire trip and often repeat to reinforce the learning of the native species. More paw-friendly hiking is available on the orange-blazed Bear Creek Trailthat traverses hardwood forests and a longleaf pine-and-wiregrass community. All the hiking at Bear Creek is under a shaded canopy and guaranteed to give your dog a workout.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Foot traffic only - no horses, bikes or ATVs. You may spend your entire hike and not meet anyone for your dog to sniff
Workout For Your Dog – Absolutely
Swimming - Alligators are present in Beaver Pond
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are allowed on the trail but not permitted to stay in the primitive campground along the Bear Creek Trail
The Living Forest Trailis a half-mile paved path that switches down the west side of a ravine. If your dog has the patience you can stop and listen to “talking trees” describe the native trees and plants and animals by simply pushing a button.
Blackwater RiverState Forest
Phone - (850) 957-6140
Website - www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/blackwater_river.html
Admission Fee - Parking fee in recreation areas
Directions – (Bear Lake Recreation Area) - Munson; on SR 4, 2.5 miles east of CR 191. (Karick Lake Recreation Area) - Baker; 8 miles north on CR 189. .
Before European settlement it is believed that the slow-growing longleaf pine dominated 90 million acres of landscape from Virginia to Florida to Texas. Valued for its resin and timber, the tall, straight old growth trees - some over 300 years old - were aggressively harvested, particularly in the early 1900s. Today, less than 3% of those original longleaf pine forests remain and the greatest concentration in the world is in this part of Florida anchored by the Blackwater State Forest, Florida’s largest at nearly 190,000 acres. Reforestation of longleaf pines is an ongoing project, requiring regular burning of underbrush and aggressive hardwoods to encourage the maintenance of the fragile pine/wiregrass ecosystem.
The vast Blackwater State Forest is not a place to bring your dog for a casual stroll; serious canine hikers only need apply. The main foot trail through the forest is the 21-mile JacksonRed Ground Trail; other long-distance backpacking trails include the 9-mile Juniper Creek Trailand the 13-mile Wiregrass Trail. Many segments of these pathways are part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Canine day hikers have their pick of recreation areas featuring less rigorous fare. Bear Creek is the most centrally located of these, featuring a 3.5-mile circuit hike around the 107-acre man-made lake. This narrow footpath stays above the shoreline mostly but can still be a soggy go at times. Glimpses of the lake can be had just about the entire way around. Coming in from the west is the Sweetwater Trailthat leads to a smaller lake in Krul Recreation Area a bit over a mile away. You can also take your dog down a two-mile connector to the Jackson Trailfor a big day of canine hiking. A more remote spot for day hiking in Blackwater River State Forest is Karick Lake in northwestern Okaloosa County. The trip around this 65-acre impoundment covers almost four miles, about half of the journey on the Jackson Trailagain.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: The forest is a great place to come and be alone with your dog
Workout For Your Dog – Several hours to an entire weekendavailable for your dog
Swimming - The lakes tend to have swampy shores but your dog can get in for a swim; Blackwater River forest is laced with clear water streams
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are permitted on the trails and in the campgrounds
The saturated forest soils are a haven for carniverous plants that must rely on ingesting insects to survive in this nutrient-challenged environment.
The most obvious are the colorful, stalk-like hooded pitcher plants that poke up through the leaf litter. These ewer-shaped plants must lure insects into a deadly trap for consumption by a cocktail of digestive fluids in the pitcher. Tiny hairs pointing downward prevent the doomed victims from crawling to freedom.
Camp Helen State Park
Phone - (850) 233-5059
Website - www.floridastateparks.org/camphelen
Admission Fee - Yes, a parking fee
Directions - Panama City Beach; at the west terminus of the Lake Powell Bridge on US 98, 12 miles east of SR 331 or 7 miles west of SR 79.
Surrounded by water on three sides, the advantageous positioning of this peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico has long attracted human settlement. Shell middens found here have been traced back 4000 years. In 1928, Robert E. Hicks acquired 185 acres along Lake Powell to create a summer retreat for his wife Margret May who named the compound Loch Lomond. Following World War II, Avondale Mills of Sylacauaga, Alabama purchased the property as a resort for its vacationing textile workers. They operated Camp Helen, named for the founder’s daughter-in-law, for 39 years, building utilitarian cottages and an opulent log lodge that still stand in the park. The State of Florida acquired the land in 1994.
It is easy to blow past Camp Helen when traveling along US 98 and that would be a loss for your trail-loving dog. There is only one trail in the park, covering a bit over one mile, but it is sure to be one of your dog’s favorites. After exploring the lodge and cottages of Camp Helen the trail drops to the shores of Lake Powell, one of Florida’s largest examples of a rare coastal dune lake. At several spots your dog can slip into the water for a cooling dip. Moving on you soon traverse a salt marsh before bursting onto the wide, sugary sands of the Gulf of Mexico. Although your dog can’t continue all the way to the Inlet Beach proper, this is one of the few places he can trot the sands, see the waves and at least feel like it’s a day at the beach. Before your dog can get too giddy, however, the trail turns up into the dunes and shortly you reach a dense maritime hammock and the shade of moss-draped live oaks and tall pines. The wide, sandy path swings past Duck Pond before finishing back among the camp buildings of the old resort. All in all, quite a bit to pique your dog’s interest here.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Soft natural tails and sugar sand
Workout For Your Dog – An hour or mo of trail time re is possible
Swimming - Alligators are present in the park but there is access to Lake Powell
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are welcome on the trails but not on the beach
Camp Helen is believed to be haunted by tragedies that have occurred here over the centuries, including the massacre of a slave named Rose by Indians and the visitation of long-ago pirates. Boaters on Lake Powell claim to have seen the spirit of a young Hicks nephew who drowned in the lake. The young daughter of camp caretakers who drowned while swimming is said to be wandering around, looking for her long-dead parents. A member of the Comer family, owner of Avondale Mills, was ordered out of his bedroom by a ghostly visage of a ship’s captain the first night he visited Camp Helen and thereafter slept only in the guest house. So, if your dog seems restless on the trail for no apparent reason here, pay close attention.
Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park
Phone - (850) 539-5999
Website - None
Admission Fee - None
Directions – Tallahassee; take Exit 203 off I-10 onto Route 61 north. Make the first left on Maclay Avenue and follow to the end. Turn right on Meridian Road and the park entrances are on the left. Use the first entrance, the recreation/ballfields. Another trailhead can be reached by continuing north on Meridian and turning left on Miller Landing Road. This trailhead is recommended for longer outings on the trail.
The land for this 509-acre park was first cultivated in the 1800s as a medium-sized cotton plantation known as Mossview. In 1915 the property was developed by Arthur Lapsley as a quail hunting retreat and rechristened Meridian Plantation. In 1933, Meridian Plantation was purchased by Dwight F. Davis who had served as Secretary of War in President Herbert Hoover’s cabinet and was just finishing up a stint as Governor General of the Phillipines. Davis lived at Meridian until his death in 1945. The property was acquired by Griscom Bettle followed by John H. Phipps and in 1958 inherited by Colin Phipps. The City of Tallahassee purchased land here to preserve and protect the water quality of Lake Jackson.
The woodlands of Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park are laced with miles of trails - more than ten for bikes and horses and seven for foot traffic only. One of the delights in bringing your dog here is the dips and rolls in topography; nothing dramatic but enough elevation change for diverse ecosystems to flourish. Canine hikers have their choice of two trail loops, each around two miles in length. The Swamp Forest Loopbrings more of the Florida hills into play while the Coonbottom Loopfollows just about every twist and turn in the sand-bottom stream. The trails can be tight in spots and keep your dog high-stepping to avoid roots obscured by leaf litter on the soft dirt paths. If your dog is a fan of butterflies, head out to the Swamp Forest Loopand pick up an identification brochure. If your dog wants more here a connector trail (almost one mile) leads out to the 2.5-mile Oak Hammock Loopthat trips along the shores of Lake Jackson.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: This is the best marked park in Northwest Florida - the routes are energetically blazed, mapboards are posted at the trailheads and the mailboxes at the trailheads may even be stocked with brochures. Distance signs are also posted at trail junctions.
Workout For Your Dog – More than one hour of trail time here
Swimming - The streams that percolate across the property provide a refreshing break at best; dogs are not allowed to swim in Lake Jackson
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are allowed to hike these trails
While at Harvard University Dwight Davis was a left-handed tennis player with a big serve. He won both the NCAA singles and doubles titles in 1899. Davis conceived the idea for an international tennis match, designed the tournament format and even purchased the sterling silver trophy. Then in 1900 he led the United States team to victory over the British in the first competition. More than 100 years later countries from around the world still compete every year for the Davis Cup.
Falling Waters State Park
Phone - (850) 638-6130
Website - www.floridastateparks.org/fallingwaters
Admission Fee - Vehicle entrance fee
Directions – Chipley; three miles south of town. Take Exit 120 off I-10 and go south on SR 77 for one mile. Turn left on State Park Road and follow to the entrance.
At 73 feet, Falling Waters is home to Florida’s tallest waterfall. The potential of power generated from tumbling water disappearing into a cave at the bottom of a sinkhole attracted industry in the 19th century. A grist mill operated here, grinding corn into grits and cornmeal during the Civil War. After it was abandoned, timbers - some on display in the park - fell into Falling Waters Sink. In 1891, a whiskey distillery just above the waterfall provided legal hooch for nearby railway workers. When the still went away the Glen St. Mary Nursery operated here but it failed during the Depression of the 1930s, leaving behind exotic species such as mimosa, Japanese privet and date palm on the property.
At Falling Waters you take your dog into woods of towering Southern pines and Northern hardwoods but it doesn’t take long for this hike to cease to resemble a typical forest walk. In short order you are introduced to fern-draped sinkholes, the namesake waterfall, a wiregrass prairie, and a two-acre lake. The trail system essentially links the Sinks Trailto the Wiregrass Trailto the Terrace Trail. Starting from the parking lot your dog will be working up one of Flordia’s highest hills to an elevation of 324 feet in the campground. Probably not enough to set him to panting but midway the trail passes by the lake where your dog can slip in for a quick refresher. Detailed plant identification brochures accompany the trail to explain the rich biodiversity that exists along the Branch Creek. Your dog will be trotting on elaborate boardwalks and the remnants of old country roads.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Foot traffic only; the boardwalks can get crowded in season
Workout For Your Dog – About an hour trotting around one of Florida's highpoints
Swimming - Your dog can put a paw in the park lake away from the beach
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are allowed on the trail and in the campground but not on the beach at the lake
A crack in the earth and old Indian legends triggered dreams of black gold in the head of Jose Mantanza. In 1919 he parsed together a tall, wooden derrick and steam-driven rig and sunk one of Florida’s first oil wells at Falling Water. At 3.900 feet a blow of gas shook the ground and reports of a gusher raced through the community. But no oil followed. Drilling continued to a depth of almost one mile but no oil was ever found. The well was capped in 1921.
Florida CavernsState Park
Phone - (850) 482-9598
Website - www.floridastateparks.org/floridacaverns
Admission Fee - Entrance fee required
Directions – Marianna; 3 miles north of town on SR 166. Use Exit 136 or Exit 142 off I-10 to reach Marianna.
It has only been the blink of an eye, geologically speaking , that Florida has not been under water. During its time undersea, coral, shellfish, and fish skeletons piled up. This created a layer of limestone hundreds of feet thick. When the sea level fell, acidic groundwater gradually dissolved the porous limestone to form cracks and passages. In this part of the Florida panhandle the rock has been pushed up and there are some sizable hills. This area includes numerous caves. The highly decorated Florida Cavern is as ornate as many of the celebrated tourist caves around the country. Altogether, there are 10 acres of caves here. During the Seminole Wars, they were used as hideouts. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corp developed the cave for visitors, removing mud, widening passages, and excavating where necessary to provide headroom.
Has your Northwest Florida dog ever seen a rock? Well he certainly can here. The delightful Visitor Center Trail the only trail in the panhandle that winds through rocky terrain - a fairy garden of whimsical limestone formations. The towering hardwoods frame the trail as it visits twenty-foot vertical bluffs above the floodplain and descends down to swampland where tupelo gums are anchored in the soggy soil. Be careful of your footing where leaves have obscured the path. For longer, albeit more traditional Florida hiking fare, head up to the multi-use Upper Chipola Trailsthat explore the basin of the Chipola River. The waterway collects water from 63 springs, the largest number of any rivershed in Northwest Florida. There are more than six miles of shaded woodland trails across the rolling terrain here.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Foot traffic only around the Visitor Center but horses and bikes can use the expansive trail system in the northwest region of the park
Workout For Your Dog – A sporty trail system will challenge your dog in this park
Swimming - Your dog can find his way into the Chipola River but it is hardly a swimming dog’s paradise
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are not allowed in the cave or in the swimming facility at Blue Hole Spring but can hike the trails
Your dog is not allowed to tour Florida Cavern but he can find his own unique underground adventure on the trail in Tunnel Cave.
Fort Braden Trails
Phone - (850) 488-1871
Website - www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/lake_talquin.html
Admission Fee – Vehicle parking fee
Directions – Tallahassee; go west 8.7 miles on SR 20 from Capital Circle, SR 263. Entrance is on the right.
During the Second Seminole War a garrison was established on the Ochlockonee River on December 3, 1839. The fort was the site of some skirmishing but was otherwise abandoned on June 7, 1842 at war’s end without notoriety.
In its short existence, however, a small community sprouted to support the fort and it has carried the name into the 21st century. The Fort Braden Tract is a day-use area developed in the Lake Talquin State Forest on the lake’s south shore.
As you take your dog down the broad entrance road from the parking lot, the woods that spread before you seem to be one identical canvas. The Fort Braden Trails, in fact, consist of three separate loops, each about three miles in length, with their own distinct character. The East Loop has the most elevation changes of all the trails, dipping into small stream-cut ravines angling towards Lake Talquin. The Center Loop features the tract’s largest hardwood forest and is crisscrossed by seepage streams. There is enough slope on the property that these waterways can host tiny waterfalls.The West Loop mixes thick stands of pines into the hardwoods and the trail is at times blanketed in handfuls of pine needles rather than leaf cover on the other trails. While trotting your dog will often be picking her way along narrow ribbons through the light airy woods but will never feel hemmed in. The little rolls in terrain add character to the hike. Look for tree roots and cuppy going when you have to share the trail with horses.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: The routes are well-blazed but there are times when the hiking and equestrian trails merge or cross so pay attention and keep your dog’s nose pointed in the right direction. Take a moment to study the entrance to the woods - the trailhead signs are tucked back into the trees and not easily spotted.
Workout For Your Dog – A good half-day and more if your dog wants it
Swimming - The waters of Lake Talquin are not easily accessed from the shore that is situated a few feet above the waterline.
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are permitted across all trails
Lake Talquin Forest is home to the long-lived gopher tortoise, an officially threatened species. Gopher tortoises occur in upland habitats throughout the coastal plain of the southeastern United States, with most being found in north-central Florida. The tortoises live in underground burrows that can be as long as 40 feet. Look for the burrows in areas where plenty of sunlight reaches the ground. They are easy to spot because of the characteristic mound of loose sand at the burrow entrance, called an “apron.”
Grayton Beach State Park
Phone - (850) 231-4210
Website - www.floridastateparks.org/graytonbeach
Admission Fee - Vehicle entrance fee
Directions – Santa Rosa Beach; on CR 30A, south of US 98 and east of CR 283.
When Colonel Charles T. Gray built a small home here in 1885, the windswept dunes were a lonely place. There were no roads or bridges to get there and if you did come to settle you couldn’t grow anything in the sandy soil. There wasn’t another settlement around for another five miles until 1890 when more military men arrived and named one of Walton county’s beach communities after Gray. When US 98 was built in the 1930s Grayton Beach became less remote but electricity still didn’t arrive until the 1940s. The State of Florida began buying land at Grayton in 1964 through a lease from the Florida Board of Education and opened the state park in 1968. In 1985, after years of lobbying by residents, Florida bought the village’s beach front and the dunes and forest land to the west and north, virtually surrounding the village of Grayton Beach with more than 2,000 acres of parkland.
The star hike for your dog at Grayton Beach is the nature trail that is squeezed in the wild dunesland between the Gulf of Mexico and Western Lake.You will find this double loop at the very end of the paved parking lot. Your dog will be ushered into the Barrier Dunes Trailthrough a tunnel of scrub oak twisted by the Gulf breezes and salt spray. Although separated from the sunbathers enjoying one of America’s perenially top-rated beaches by only a few yards, you are a world away. The sand trail emerges on the shores of Western Lake where it joins the Pine Woods Loopand a totally different natural community on the backside of the dunes. Sand gives way to a wooden boardwalk for part of the trip. The tall, slender pines afford a measure of shade on the shifting sands. For more conventional canine hiking, the Grayton Beach Hike/Bike Trailexplores more than 1000 undeveloped acres on the north side of Route 30A. There is only limited parking off the side of the road at the trailhead, however, so you may need to add a couple round-trip miles of hiking to reach this 4.5-mile trail system.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Most folks are coming for the sparkling beach but the trail users you find on the nature trails will only be on foot
Workout For Your Dog – Trotting through this sand will provide all the challenge your trail dog wants to bite off
Swimming - There is access to Western Lake on the trails
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are welcome on the trails, in the campground and at the picnic areas but not on the beach or in the cabins
Within the Coastal Lowlands region of South Walton are 17 coastal dune lakes, which are the only coastal dune lakes in the world, save for a few found in remote portions of Africa and Australia. Three are located in the park - Western Lake, Alligator Lake and Little Redfish Lake. These unique ecosystems support the highest occurrences of rare wildlife species in the state, some of which, like the Choctawhatchee beach mouse, are found only here.
Gulf Islands National Seashore -Naval Live Oaks
Phone - (850) 934-2600
Website - www.nps.gov/guis
Admission Fee - None
Directions – Gulf Breeze; on US 98, east of town.
Live oak trees, prized for their rot-resistant and incredibly dense wood, have long been the lumber of choice for building durable sailing ships. Sixth President John Quincy Adams considered the United States Navy, which he called “our wooden walls,” to be of critical importance in defending America from foreign invasion and in 1828 he started the country’s first tree farm here for the single purpose of growing live oaks for shipbuilding.
Now a unit of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the Naval Live Oaks area preserves 1,400 acres of forested terrain between Santa Rosa Sound and Pensacola Bay.
There are more than seven miles of hiking trails in these historic forests. The Brackenridge Nature Trailis a good place to start on the south side of US 98 where exhibits identify plants and describe how live oaks were used in shipbuilding. Laid out in a figure-eight, this lush, narrow pathway runs along a bluff above the Santa Rosa Sound. You can also leave behind the casual strollers and continue down the 1.2-mile Fishing Trailthrough the thin strip of live oak forest. Across the highway, your dog can stretch out on the sandy and wide Andrew Jackson Trail, a two-miler that runs the entire length of the Naval Live Oaks property. This time-worn path is a remnant of the Pensacola-St. Augustine Road, the first road connecting East Florida to West Florida. Congress ponied up $20,000 of 1824-money to build the road when Florida was still a territory. You can use the Jackson Trailas a jumping off point for a full day of canine hiking on numerous side trails. Detours lead to Brown Pond and an old borrow pit from the construction of US 98.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Foot traffic only and less of it on the north side of US 98
Workout For Your Dog – Several hours to a full dayfor your dog
Swimming – There are spots your dog can slip into Santa Rosa Sound for a swim
Restrictions On Dogs – Dogs are allowed on the trails but not on the beach
The USS Constitutionwas one of six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794 and was launched in 1797. It gained notoriety during the War of 1812 as “Old Ironsides” after British cannon balls deflected harmlessly off its flanks. But “Old Ironsides” was not built from iron - those trademark sides were constructed of live oak from 2000 trees. When the warship was restored in 1929 live oak timbers from Pensacola were used. Today the Constitution- considered the most famous vessel in American naval history - is the oldest fully commissioned vessel still afloat.
Phone - None
Website - www.leoncountyfl.gov/parks/greenways.asp
Admission Fee - None
Directions – Tallahassee; from I-10 take Exit 203 south on US 319. Turn left on US 90 and after a half-mile turn right on Buck Lake Road. Make a right on Pedrick Road to the parking area.
Lake Lafayette was originally considered a prairie lake since it took on the appearance of a grasslaand during periods of drought. A magnet for early settlement, almost 40 Indian mounds have been identified in the Lafayette Basin. The lake takes it name from the Marquis de Lafayette, who was granted a 36 square-mile tract in 1824 for his military service during the American Revolution a half-century earlier. Large tracts were soon sold off for cotton plantations. Here, on the north side of the lake, Francis Epps, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, and Green Chaires from Jacksonville became the dominant planters. During the 2nd Seminole War of 1835-1842, Chaires’ wife, two of his children and several slaves were murdered and the family mansion destroyed. In the late 1940s dikes were constructed that turned the central part of the lake into a farm pond and created the Alford Arm. This 874-acre swath of open space was acquired in 2001 as a Trust of Public Land Project.
This is the Godzilla of local area hiking with nearly 20 miles of trails available. Bounding from the car, your dog is greeted by a sloping grass field of 60 acres that begs to be romped across. This is the best open-air hiking in Northwest Florida. The main clay road-trail trips away from the parking lot to the wooded, primitive trails in the distance. There are four designated trail designations for bikes, horses and foot traffic so you can direct your dog to the routes where only feet and paws are permitted. Wherever you go, however, don’t come with a time constraint. This is a place for long, leisurely canine hikes. Or maybe just to sit out in the middle of the field with your dog on a sunny day.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Natural surface roads and footpaths
Workout For Your Dog – Almost mandatory – it's tough to find a short walk here
Swimming - Bring your dog’s water here
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are allowed to hike these trails and poop bags are provided
The human altering of Lake Lafayette no longer allows it to function naturally and must be continually managed. The surface of the lake is often covered with floating islands of decaying aquatic vegetation, called tussocks, that become colonized by grasses, sedges and even small trees. The tussocks then float around the lake, driven by the wind. They can trap or crush boats, docks and piers. Children have been rescued as they walked onto tussocks which then blew to the center of the lake.
Leon SinksGeological Area
Phone - ((850) 926-3561
Website - www.fs.fed.us/r8/florida/recreation/index_apa.shtml
Admission Fee - Parking fee required
Directions – Tallahassee; seven miles south of the city on the west side of US 319.
Leon Sinks is in the heart of the Woodville Karst Plain, a vast area of porous limestone bedrock that stetches for 450 square miles from Tallahassee south to the Gulf of Mexico. The terrain is shaped by rain and groundwater that dissolve the limestone to form sinkholes, swales and underground caverns. The limestone was formed millions of years ago from ancient coral reefs and shell deposits. Above ground Leon Sinks is administered by the Apalachicola National Forest. The karst plain is still evolving; acidic water continues to dissolve underlying limestone and when cavities become large enough, the surface layer collapses and new sinkholes can form at any time.
The trail system at Leon Sinks is a four-mile loop that links the Sinkhole Trail and the Gunswamp Trail (sinkholes are formed by the underwater aquifer, swamps are created by surface water). A Crossover Trail separates the two into a stacked-loop for canine hikers who don’t want to experience the entirety of this vibrant community. The Sinkhole Trail connects more than a dozen sinkholes, some dry and some filled with water. Boardwalk observation decks provide close-up views. The deepest is the Big Dismal Sink at 130 feet. Keep a close hold on your dog around these sinks - they have steep walls and dogs - and people - have drowned at Leon Sinks. Except for traffic noise you can’t ever quite shake, this is one of the best hikes you can take with your dog in Northwest Florida. From the tupelo gum swamps to the sandy ridges you cannot find a more diverse plant world along the trail. At Big Dismal Sink alone more than 75 different plants cascade down the sink’s conical walls.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: None of the underground limestone penetrates the ground so the trails are paw-friendly sand and a joy for your dog
Workout For Your Dog – More than hour of splendid canine hiking here
Swimming - No
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are welcome to hike at Leon Sinks and they keep a plastic water bowl at the trailhead water fountain for a hot, thirsty trail dog
In 1988 local volunteers undertook the extremely hazardous task of exploring and mapping the underwater cave system lying behind the opening at the front of Hammock Sink. When the divers were finished they had mapped over 41,000 feet of passages from Sullivan Sink to Cheryl Sink and
identified six spectacular limestone rooms spacious enough to hold a six-story building. Years later a link between Leon Sinks and Wakulla Springs to the southeast was also discovered. The mapping project confirmed that the Leon Sinks underwater cave system is the largest known in the United States.
Miccosukee CanopyRoad Greenway
Phone - (850) 488-0221
Website - www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/guide/regions/panhandleeast/trails/miccosukee_canopy_rd.htm
Admission Fee - None
Directions - Tallahassee; from I-10, take Exit 209 west. Turn right on Edenfield Road to Miccosukee Road; parking is on the north side of the road.
These rolling hills were originally cleared by cotton planters in the 1800s. As the soil tuckered out, the plantations failed and wealthy northerners seeking warm-weather retreats came around with checks in hand. Udo Fleischmann, heir to the fortune created by the development of America’s first commerical yeast and scion of New Jersey horse country, began purchasing property here in 1912, building a 7,000-acre quail hunting plantation he called Welaunee. After his death in 1952, Udo Fleischmann left the estate to his wife who raised prized Hereford cattle in this quiet corner of Northwest Florida. With development pressures, a large chunk of the Welaunee Plantation has been carefully preserved since 1998 in the Miccosukee Greenway by the Trust for Public Land, Leon County and private owners. In 2007 the trail was designated a National Recreation Trail.
lThe Miccosukee Canopy Road Greenway packs more than a dozen miles of trail into a 503-acre linear park stuffed between the roadway and a boundary fence. The main parking lot is roughly at the center of a six-mile stretch of Miccosukee Road. The primary trail, wide and paw-friendly, more or less loops in both directions. The greatest joy of hiking with your dog along the Miccosukee Greenway is the rolling hills and open vistas of pastureland that are rare in Northwest Florida. Your dog may even chance to see a cow or two. To emphasize the laid-back feel of an outing at Miccosukee benches are interspersed along the trails.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Runners and bikers favor Miccosukee Road - and be on the alert for a stray cross-country team
Workout For Your Dog – More than an hour on the trail here
Swimming – Not enough water to quench a swimming dog’s thirst.
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are welcome on the Greenway
Tallahassee is well-known for its “canopy roads” where moss-draped live oaks, sweet gums, hickory trees and stately pines cast their limbs across the passageway to meet in a towering embrace. The fervor to protect its trees dates back to May 25, 1843 when a fire erupted in Washington Hall and within three hours burned every structure in the downtown business district. When the fire was extinguished, Tallahasseans made two vows: to rebuild the buildings using brick and to plant more trees. Today, the capital has designated 78 miles of canopy roads with a tree protection area that includes all land within 100 feet of the centerline of the road. Miccosukee Road, that began life as an Indian footpath that led to the village of Mikosuki, is a crown jewel of the Tallahassee canopy road system.
Pine LogState Forest
Phone - (850) 535-2888
Website - www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/pine_log.html
Admission Fee - Parking fee for day use
Directions - Ebro; from US 20 the trailheads are south of town along SR 79
Pine Log is Florida’s first state forest, purchased in 1936. The nearly 7,000 acres are managed for a variety of uses including timber production (over $1 million worth of lumber has been harvested in the past 20 years), wildlife preservation and outdoor recreation.
For a pure get-out-in-the-woods-and-hike-with-your-dog outing, it is hard to top Pine Log State Forest. The Division of Forestry has carved three trail systems through the slash and longleaf pine forests. The Old Sawmill Trail was developed for horses and the Crooked Creek Trail built for off-road bikes and while these long distance trails are open to your dog as well, most canine hikers will want to head to the Sand Pond Recreation Area first. The marquis loop at Sand Pond is the 5.5-mile, blue-blazed Dutch & Faye Trail, named for Edgar “Dutch” Tiemann and his wife. Tiemann was the first park ranger assigned to Pine Log State Forest in 1978 and he laid out most of the routes down to Pine Log Creek and back. The trail, sometimes narrow as it picks through the pines, benefits from a rolling terrain and plenty of twists that will keep you dog wondering what’s around the next bend. If you don’t want to sign on for the entire two-hour tour you can detour onto the orange-blazed Florida National Scenic Trail. The Florida Trail is developed for eight miles across the forest. Also available at Sand Pond is the easy-going Campground Boardwalk Trail that can be completed by even an inexperienced trail dog in less than one hour.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: The Tiemann trail is open to bikes as well as foot traffic. Foot traffic only on the Boardwalk Trail but you can go for hours and never see another trail user on any of the Pine Log State Forest systems
Workout For Your Dog – Several hours of woods walking on tap here
Swimming - Sand Pond at the campground is an ideal doggie swimming hole
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are allowed on the trails and in the campground
Although it is the “Pine Log” State Forest, your dog will get her most intimate brush with a cypress tree swamp here. An enormous 550-foot boardwalk crosses the large cypress pond in the Sand Pond Recreation Area.
Point WashingtonState Forest
Phone - (850) 231-5800
Website - www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/point_washington.html
Admission Fee - Entrance fee required
Directions – Freeport; 9 miles south of US 98 on CR 395.
Point Washington State Forest was purchased under Florida’s Conservation and Recreation Lands Program in 1992. The area had been extensively logged and under the stewardship of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Division of Forestry has planted more than one million longleaf pines. While juggling timber management, wildlife management and ecological restoration across 15,000 acres the state has developed the Eastern Lake Trail System for outdoor enthusiasts.
The primary hiking through Point Washington State Forest is a ten-mile, orange blazed loop with two cut-off road/trails that give you options of three-mile and five-mile trips with your dog. Most of the trail is laid across wide double-track and jeep roads. The surface under paw ranges from thick sugar sand to easier going on packed sand jeep roads. As you mosey along you’ll visit coastal pine scrub and cypress swamps and duck under leafy canopies but most of your canine hiking in the forest will be through regenerating pine flatwoods. The trees are still only 20 to 30 feet tall in most places so there is plenty of sunlight that warms the trail under the open sky. This is almost universally flat going for your dog.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Motorized vehicles are not allowed but bikes will share the trails. Still, do not expect much competition for these trails
Workout For Your Dog – Loops of one, two or three hours are available
Swimming - Come to trot, not to swim
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are allowed across the Eastern Lake Trail System
Point Washington State Forest is home to the world’s largest population of Curtiss Sandgrass, an endangered grass native to Florida. Also known as Florida Sandreed, the wispy plants grow best in moist depressions. The grass is named for Allen Hiram Curtiss (1845-1907), perhaps Florida’s first
St. MarksNational Wildlife Refuge
Phone - (850) 925-6121
Website - www.fws.gov/saintmarks
Admission Fee - Vehicle parking fee
Directions - St. Marks; at the end of SR 59, three miles south of US 98, east of Newport.
St. Marks NWR was established in 1931 for wintering migratory birds, and over 300 species of birds have been recorded on the refuge, with 98 species nesting on-site. There are 14 active bald eagle nests spread across the park’s 68,000 acres. St. Marks includes coastal marshes, islands, tidal creeks and the estuaries of seven Florida rivers.
Dogs are not allowed on most national park trails and one of the reasons given is that they might harass wildlife. Yet dog are often permitted on the trails in national wildlife refuges - and that is the happy case at St. Marks. The star walk for canine day hikers is the Mounds Pool Interpretive Trail dips in and out of woods around freshwater and salt marshes. Highlights include close-up looks at Cabbage Palms, the Florida state tree. At the lighthouse the Levee Trailand Cedar Point Trailintroduce more hardy plants adapting to the whipping winds and salt spray. Your dog will only have to deal with the potentially harsh conditions for about one mile. There are several other short trails to sample on the St. Marks Unit or you can pull the car off to side and create your own routes on the open levees and old logging roads. You can wander for hours on these primitive walking trails and not see another trail user. Nearly 50 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trailsnakes through the wildlife refuge, traversing a greater variety of forest types and wildlife communities than any other North Florida stretch of the cross-state trail. In addition to several miles in the St. Marks Unit, you can travel west on US 98 to the Wakulla Unit and the Panacea Unit, each of which also have several miles of the Florida Trail.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: There are maps, signs, brochures and trail markings to help you navigate the 75 miles of trail here
Workout For Your Dog – A full day of trotting here
Swimming - Alligators thrive in the ponds and pools around the refuge levees; the area is marshy but there is access to the Gulf of Mexico near the lighthouse.
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are allowed to use the refuge trails
The St. Marks Lighthouse got off to an inauspicious start in 1830 when its walls were discovered to be hollow instead of solid and the builders were charged with deliberate fraud against the United States. Calvin Knowlton rebuilt the tower (with the only wooden staircase in any Florida lighthouse) and the light was properly commissioned in January 1831. In 1842, with its base threatened by erosion, the original brick tower was dismantled and rebuilt further inland - just in time for the Great Hurricane of 1843 with its 10-foot storm surges. Every building in the area was destroyed except the lighthouse. The 82-foot tower has remained stout ever since, even withstanding a Confederate attempt to blow it up during the Civil War. The last keeper retired in 1960 and now an automated St. Marks Light guides mariners across 15 miles of Apalachee Bay.
Tate’s HellState Forest
Phone - (850) 697-3734
Website - www.fl-dof.com/
Admission Fee - None
Directions - Carrabelle; there are two parking lots on the north side of US 98 at each terminus of the High Bluff Coastal Hiking Trail, one just west of Carrabelle and the other east of Eastpoint.
Cebe Tate’s “hell” was a week he spent lost in a swamp in 1875 tracking a panther that was killing his livestock. He was bitten by a snake and forced to drink rancid water. Finally he burst into a clearing near Carrabelle, living only long enough to murmur the words, “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell!” At least he had his hunting dogs with him at the end. No one much bothered with Tate’s Hell for 100 years after that until the timber industry drastically altered the hydrology of the swamp to establish pine plantations in the 1960s. In the 1990s, with the Apalachicola Bay being threatened with severe freshwater run-off, the state of Florida began purchasing land here and now has over 100,000 acres under protection and natural restoration.
Your dog is likely to figure he is closer to heaven than hell when hiking here. Tate’s Hell State Forest has only one dedicated hiking trail but it is a beauty. The High Bluff Coastal Hiking Trailis a linear 4-mile, natural surface pathway through a coastal scrub habitat. The ancient sand dunes have been colonized by small oaks, saw palmetto and isolated groups of sand pines that let plenty of sunlight in along the trail. When the route drops off the ridge, the scrub gives way to shady pines. Under paw your dog will enjoy a soft sand and pine straw surface along the roomy path. Up above, eagles and osprey soar and a Florida black bear may even stray this far down to the coast.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Trailmaps are available at the trailhead and there are blazes and mile markers to keep you from heading down a stray jeep road
Workout For Your Dog – A good solid romp in store here
Swimming - None, but down the road in Carrabelle Beach is one of the few places you can take your dog to the beach along the Gulf of Mexico. Pull off the road at a rest stop on the ocean side of US 98
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are permitted on the High Bluff Coastal Hiking Trail
Among the signature trees in Tate’s Hell State Forest are several stands of the distinctive “dwarf cypress.” These trees have been growing since the Civil War 150 years ago but are still only 15 feet tall. “Hat-rack cypress” are a puzzle to biologists - if seeds from these cypress trees are planted in another location they grow to their normal height. A boardwalk in one of the most vibrant sanctuaries leads up over the treetops to a viewing tower.
It is reached from US 98, north on US 65 for six miles, and right onto North Road for 3.4 miles.
Topsail Hill PreserveState Park
Phone - (850) 267-0299
Website - www.floridastateparks.org/topsailhill/default.cfm
Admission Fee - Vehicle entrance fee
Directions – Santa Rosa Beach; the main entrance is on CR 30A, one mile east of US 98, but the entrance of choice for most dog owners will be via Topsail Road from US 98, west of the junction with CR 30A.
Topsail Hill is the most intact coastal ecosystem in all of Florida. The state moved to protect this unique natural area by purchasing 1,637 acres here in 1992. There are 14 identifiable ecosystems, including freshwater coastal dune lakes, wet prairies, scrub, pine flatwoods, marshes, cypress domes, seepage slopes and 3.2 miles white sand beaches - the remnants of quartz washed down from the Appalachian Mountains. Topsail Hill gets its name from the landmark 25-foot high dune that resembles a ship’s topsail.
Topsail Hill is the best place that you can take your dog for an extended hike along the Gulf of Mexico. The trail of choice is the Morris Lake Nature Trail, a 2.5-mile balloon route laid out through ancient coastal dunes. The dunes trail is wide open and exposed to the elements so bring plenty of water for your dog on a hot day and since every step of the way is across glistening white soft sugar sand, your dog will get a workout any time of the year. In fact, look for iron tracks laid down during World War II that allowed heavy trucks to travel across the thick sand when these dunes were used as a bombing range. Morris Lake is one of three freshwater coastal dune lakes on the property. These rare oases are found only along the Gulf Coast in America and while tempting to visit for your dog, are inhabited by alligators. The trail climbs briefly into a Florida shrub community where your dog can find some shade among the sand pines and shrubby oaks before finishing along the Gulf of Mexico beach. If your dog isn’t spent from an hour on the Morris Lake dunes there is more hiking available in the other direction to Campbell Lake. This trail can also be accessed from the main entrance and campground and your dog won’t be allowed to finish the entire 5.2-mile loop (it tracks along the beach) but she can reach the broad, flat lakeside.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Sand as far as the eye can see
Workout For Your Dog – Your dog will find the best dunesland hiking on the Gulf Coast at Topsail Hill Preserve
Swimming - Alligators live in the lake but your dog can step in to cool off.
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are allowed on the trails and in the campground but not on the beach
In the days of sailing ships, turpentine was critical to the upkeep and preservation of wooden boats. The word turpentine derives from the terebinth tree, from whose sap the spirit was originally distilled. In early America, the tree of choice for turpentine was the old growth longleaf pines found across the South. To get the sap to flow, a deep V or “cat face” is cut into the side of a tree and gathered in a clay pot hung from a nail in the tree. The sap is then boiled and the turpentine residue collected. You can see cat face scars on trees still living in the preserve.
Torreya State Park
Phone - (850) 643-2674
Website - floridastateparks.org/torreya
Admission Fee - Vehicle parking fee
Directions – Rock Bluff; from Exit 174 off I-10, head south on SR 12. Turn right on CR 1641 and continue to the park entrance at the end.
Hardy Bryan Croom, a planter and naturalist of some renown, began amassing land in northern Florida in the 1820s and in 1833 purchased 640 acres of the Lafayette Land Grant for what would become Goodwood Plantation. While exploring from his cotton plantation, Croom discovered one of the rarest conifers in the world along the banks of the Apalachicola River. He named the small evergreen “torreya” after the botanist Dr. John Torrey. It would turn out the torreya was native to only five other spots in the world - one in California, four in Japan and China, and on the bluffs of the Apalachicola. Croom’s own botanical career would be cut short in 1837 when he perished with 89 others aboard the S.S. Home off the coast of Cape Hatteras in the Racer’s Storm, one of the most destructive hurricanes of the 19th century. During the Great Depression, workers in President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Tree Army,” the Civilian Conservation Corps, developed the park.
On the way to nowhere, your dog will thank you for making the special trip to Torreya State Park. This is the best one-hour workout your dog can get in Northwest Florida, hiking across terrain more familiar in Appalachian foothills. Indeed, the mix of hardwoods thriving at the various elevations in the park conspire to whip up Florida’s best display of autumn colors. There are two hiking loops at Torreya, each about seven miles around. Along the Apalachicola River the Rock Bluff Traildips and rolls through ravines with some climbs that may set your dog to panting. Several park roads and connecting trails can be used to dissect this loop into manageable chunks. That is not the case with the Torreya Challengein the eastern section of the park. Once you cross the stone bridge with your dog you won’t see the trailhead again for several hours. Your dog will think she has left Florida on this scenic ramble.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Natural wooded trails
Workout For Your Dog – Several hours of trail time
Swimming - Streams you encounter are best suited for splashing
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are permitted on the trails and allowed in the campground where poop bags are provided, but can not go in the Yurt area
The Apalachicola River, Florida’s largest, was a vital transportation link throughout the 1800s. During the Civil War, this critical passage was guarded by a six smoothbore cannon located on Rock Bluff. You can still see remains of the gun pits as you work across the Rock Bluff Trail. The Gregory House that now dominates the bluff once stood across the river at Ocheesee. It was built in 1849 by Jason Gregory, the dominant planter in Calhoun County and a popular rendevous spot for Confederate troops. After the war the plantation fell into disrepair and when the park was being developed it was disassembled, carried across the Apalachicola on barges and restored.
Wakulla SpringsState Park
Phone - (850) 224-5950
Website - http://www.floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings
Admission Fee - Yes
Directions – Wakulla Springs; from Tallahassee go 16 miles south on SR 61. Turn left on SR 267 and the entrance is immediately on the right
Legend has it that when Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon claimed to have discovered his “fountain of youth” in 1513, it was Wakulla Springs that he was sampling. One of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs, the bowl of the main spring spreads across three acres and pumps thousands of gallons of steady 68-degree water per second. On April 11, 1973 peak flow was measured at the rate of 1.2 billion gallons per day! So crystal clear are the waters that your dog can spot a meatbone 185 feet down on the bottom. The source of Wakulla Springs remains a mystery. An extensive underwater cave system has been explored to a depth of 300 feet and mapped for more than a mile without revealing the tap of the great flow. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1966, Wakulla Springs became a state park 20 years later and today is a 6,000-acre wildlife sanctuary.
Your dog won’t be able to experience the mystical Wakulla waters - dogs are not allowed beyond a chain link fence that lines the shore. The fence was actually erected by landowner Edward Ball more than fifty years ago to keep boaters away from the springs. He was sued for fencing a navigable waterway but Ball won and the fence survives, as does the opulent Mediterrean Revival style Wakulla Lodge. Still, there is plenty of interest for the canine hiker in Wakulla Springs State Park. Two trails - the Short Trail and Long Trail - combine for a total of almost three canopied miles through pine and hardwood forests, cypress swamps, and floodplain basins. Surrounded by indigenous Florida plants, the trails are wide and soft under paw and universally flat.
Where The Paw Meets The Earth: Natural dirt footpaths
Workout For Your Dog – An hour or more of easy trotting
Swimming - None, there are alligators in the Wakulla River
Restrictions On Dogs - Dogs are not allowed in the springs area
Hollywood came to Wakulla Springs early with several of the early Tarzan movies of the 1930s starring Johnny Weismuller being filmed here. Most famously the South American jungle was recreated in 1953 for the B-movie classic Creature From The Black Lagoon. All three “Creature” movies were filmed on location along the Wakulla River. In 1976 an elaborate 70-foot mockup of a 747 jetliner was built into the spring basin for the star-studded disaster flick Airport 77.