Friday, June 12, 2009

Fort Braden Trails (East Loop) Tallahassee, Florida

At just under five miles (4.94 miles), the East Loop of the Fort Braden Trails in longer than either the West Loop (3.37 miles) or the Central Loop (2.98 miles). However, about a mile and a half of the East Loop is trail that it shares with the Central Loop. There is some also some doubling back, as you hike in 0.61 miles, make a loop, and then return on the initial 0.61 mile approach.

The trailhead for the East Loop is north of the parking area. Follow the road beyond the gate at the north end of the parking area for about 200 feet, passing a chain across the road. The trailhead will be at a wooden gate on the right side of the road. This is also the terminus of the Central Loop, and for 0.81 miles you'll be doing the Central Loop "backwards" (i.e., counterclockwise rather than clockwise). Beyond the wooden gate the orange-blazed trail begins, flat and firm, in a woods of scrub oak and pine. Deer moss covers the ground below the trees.

At 0.15 miles the trail comes onto a very sandy road. Follow the orange blazes right and don't curse the sand too heartily--it lasts less than sixty yards, after which you turn right off of the road and into the woods. At 0.23 miles the trail intersects the pink-blazed horse trail, turn right and follow the trail down into a small ravine. The trees grow larger as you descend. At the bottom of the ravine (0.32) the trail crosses a small stream on a foot bridge. Climb away from the bridge over a tangle of roots, and then descend back into the ravine to cross another small bridge at 0.38 miles.

After the second bridge the trail climbs out of the small ravine, turning left to briefly follow an old road or firebreak at 0.45 miles. At 0.52 miles you cross the pink-blazed horse trail and then begin a descent into a second small ravine, reaching the bottom at 0.59 miles. Crossing a bridge at the ravine bottom, the trail climbs to an intersection at 0.61 miles, the start of the "loop" part of the East Loop. A sign here directs you to the "Trailhead" (pointing back toward where you came from), the "Central Loop" (pointing left), and the "East Loop" (pointing right). We'll be going clockwise around the East Loop, so take the trail to the left, even if the sign says "Central Loop."

Heading away from the sign, the ravine that you just climbed out of will be on the left and higher ground on the right. At 0.77 miles the trail crosses the pink-blazed horse trail, and at 0.81 miles you reach another signed intersection. Here you'll take the trail to the right, following the arrow pointing toward the "East Loop." The trail makes a short climb to circle a small steephead around 0.88 miles. For the most part, though, the trail will be making gentle descents as it heads toward Lake Talquin. Around 1.23 miles you cross a low, wet patch where you might find a stream but more probably will find mud; you won't find a bridge. In this flat area undergrowth may obscure the treadway, so look for the orange blazes--fortunately, there are plenty of blazes.

The trail crosses a road at 1.35 miles. If you glance to the left along the road you'll be able to see Lake Talquin. Continuing across the road, the trail makes a sharp left and then crosses a stream at 1.48 miles. There is no bridge here, but the stream is small enough to hop. Keep an eye out for Lake Talquin ahead of you. At 1.59 miles the trail right to follow the shore of the lake.

A bit further ahead (1.63 miles), the trail meets an old road. Turn left onto the old road, which is also the treadway for the pink-blazed horse trail. Crazed trail runners will hate this stretch, but I'm fond of it. The trail is wide, smooth, and shaded, with views of Lake Talquin through the trees on the left. Look for islands and boats on the water. Listen for ducks and other birds, outboard motors, the voices of sports fishers over the water, and mysterious splashes made by turtles, fish, or alligators. However, there is no unobstructed view of the lake on the East Loop as there is on the West Loop and the Central Loop. Furthermore, the banks of the lake are rather steep here, so shuffling off the trail to get a better look is not a good idea. Enjoy what you can see from the trail; it's better than falling into the lake.

At 1.94 miles trail turn left off of the road and away from the pink blazes but closer to the lake. The trail turns to the right at 2.01 miles to avoid an inlet of Lake Talquin, and then leaves the lake for good. By the time you cross an unbridged stream at 2.09 miles, you've seen the last of Lake Talquin on this hike. For better or worse, there are no spectacular inclines to emphasize the fact that the trail is climbing out of the lake basin.

For the next mile or so the trail runs alongside (but not very close to) Coe Landing Road, so you might occasionally hear a car through the trees on the left. The trail also winds quite a bit on this stretch, so watch the orange blazes. There is an unbridged stream crossing at 2.50 miles, and a bridged one at 2.67 miles. At 2.86 miles the trail crosses the pink-blazed horse trail. A 1000-foot detour to the left on the horse trail would take you to Coe Landing Road. I don't recommend it as a scenic side trip, but it could be useful.

A small brown wooden sign reading "MILE 7" is at 2.90 miles. This is the seven-mile mark for a hike that combines parts of the West Loop, the Central Loop, and the East Loop to make a single nine-mile long hiking loop. I can't say how many trail re-routes have been done since these posts were erected, or how accurately they were placed, but this one means that you have approximately two miles left in the loop.

Just past the "MILE 7" sign the trail crosses a small stream bed. There are bridged streams at 2.94 miles and 2.99 miles. About 3.11 miles the trail makes it's closest approach to Coe Landing Road as it skirts streams and steepheads on the right; you may even be able to see cars through the trees on the left. Further on, several large trees have fallen across the trail. On my visit, there were flags leading around the trees, making it appear as if re-routing rather than removal was going to be the solution. Once you do make it around the fallen trees, at 3.24 miles the trail crosses the pink-blazed horse trail. A 500-foot detour to the left on the horse trail takes you to a gate on Coe Landing Road, but we're pushing ahead. At 3.29 miles the trail crosses a wet area above a steephead then turns left to climb a bank.

At 3.43 miles the trail crosses a small stream on a foot bridge. (The bridge had become a dam on my most recent visit; I cleared the waterway underneath the bridge but anyone with a shovel could do a better job.) Once across the stream the trail climbs out of a small ravine and into a flat pine woods. Not being longleaf pines, these trees are probably doomed to removal.

The trail crosses the pink-blazed horse trail again at 3.66 miles. Afterwards, it begins winding through a flat, wet area while skirting a logged-out savannah. There is a foot bridge across some of the worst of the swampiness at 3.87 miles, and at 3.91 miles there is a series of almost 200 feet of plank bridges keeping the trail out of the mud. After this the trail is much better drained. A "MILE 8" sign has been placed for your amusement at 3.95 miles, and the trail crosses Beech Road at four miles.

After hopping a small stream at 4.13 miles, the trail passes a group of metal artifacts, some quite large. Were these auto parts? Logging machinery? Is it left over from when this was private timber land, or was it dumped out here when the area was more accessible? Is this a cultural resource, or is it trash? While you ponder these riddles, at 4.18 miles the trail comes out into a stand of young longleaf pines, too small to cast shade and too skinny to hold a blaze. Blazes on this stretch are on posts.

The sunny stretch doesn't last long enough to be oppressive and ends at 4.27 miles when the trail crosses a firebreak and heads into the woods. Going down a short incline, at 4.31 miles the trail arrives at an intersection marked by a sign--the first signed intersection you came to on the loop. This time go left, following the arrow marked "TRAILHEAD." From here you backtrack the first 0.61 miles of the hike, and arrive back at the trailhead at 4.94 miles. Including the distance from the parking lot to the trailhead and back, you can call it five miles.


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