November 2011: Tate’s Hell State Forest

Carrabelle, Florida

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. 

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.

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.