Weekend Backpacker: Orlando
The World Wildlife Fund called it one of the"10 Coolest Places You've Never Been." With nearly 155,000 acres spread over nine distinct tracts, it's Florida's second largest state forest and arguably the most popular for outdoor recreation. Depending on the land use of a particular part of the forest, you can hike, ride horses, mountain bike, fish and hunt, climb into caves, or ride ATVs.
Hikers find these forests hog heaven, from Hog Island to Holder Mine. More than 92 miles of hiking trails crisscross Withlacoochee State Forest, including important segments of the westerly wilderness loop of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Ecosystems range from the "long green tunnel" of dense oaks and maples up in the northeasterly portions of the forest to swaying bald cypress along the tannic Withlacoochee River. Miles and miles of longleaf and slash pine scrub give way to thick forests of southern magnolia, sweet gum, and hickory trees.
From Orlando: Take the Florida Turnpike north to its junction with I-75 at Wildwood; stay in the right lane at the junction. Exit immediately on SR 44; turn left. Follow SR 44 into Inverness. Cross US 41, then turn left on SR 581. Watch for signs for Holder Mine Recreation Area. Driving time: two hours.
Take SR 50 east into the town of Christmas. Watch for signs; the turnoff is to the right. About an hour driving time from downtown.
Individuals do not need to obtain a permit to use the primitive campsites along the trails. Groups, however, should contact the recreation/visitors center to register and obtain their free permit.
Maps & Guidebooks
The recreation/visitors center along US 41 hands out free maps of the hiking trails in the forest. The visitors center on US 41, seven miles north of Brooksville, is open MondayFriday 8 a.m.5 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.noon, and 12:30 p.m.4:30 p.m.
Since this is such a popular hiking destination, virtually any guidebook covering Florida's trails will have basic maps and descriptions of the three major trail areas in the forest Â— Croom, Richloam, and Citrus. For a serious outing, however, you'll want the full set of detailed maps from the Florida Trail Association showing campsites and water sources.
Several access points reach the hiking trails in the Citrus Tract; the closest one to civilization is the Holder Mine Recreation Area, off SR 581 south of Inverness. Look for the trailhead at the far western end of the recreation area, conspicuous with its Florida Trail sign. You should sign the trail register before entering the forest.
The Citrus Tract is one of the drier sections of Withlacoochee State Forest (no swamp tromping on these trails), so water sources can be a problem in times of drought. Ponds and springs may run dry; be sure to plot out your water sources on this hike. Thanks to horse trails through the forest, there are several permanent horse troughs along the trail; be sure to filter the water. There's also good water available at the trailhead at Holder Mine.
Withlacoochee State Forest participates in the Florida Trailwalker program, which encourages participants to hike certain trails in Florida state forests to receive a Trailwalker patch and certificate from the state.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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