Monday, December 22, 2008

Ellaville Loop, Twin Rivers State Forest

One of my favorite walks in north Florida is the Ellaville loop in the Twin Rivers State Forest. It's not an obscure trail--it's a listed trail in the Florida Division of Forestry's Trailwalker program, and a good bit of the loop is actually part of the Florida Trail. But I've never been there when I had to share the five-mile loop with more than a couple of other groups of hikers, the scenery never disappoints, and there are no strenuous climbs or descents.

The trail head is at the end of a dirt road south of US 90 just west of the Suwannee River. Parking is under some serious-looking power lines. Most often I've done the loop clockwise; to do this you'll toward the river on a small road. At the river, you'll pick up the orange blazes of the Florida Trail. Follow these downstream. You'll soon pass under the serious-looking power lines for the second time; you'll see different sets of these eight times during the loop. You should also be able to see the source of the power lines on the far bank of the Suwanee--Progress Energy's Suwannee River Power Plant. Depending on the water level, you should also soon be able to see and hear some "rapids" as the Suwannee passes over some limerock shoals. At times the river level has been low enough that the Suwannee is nothing but rapids flowing over shoals. I suspect that at other times the river is deep enough that the shoals aren't evident, but the trail might be underwater then. As you head southerly on the trail there are nothing but great views of the Suwannee.

Shortly after you pass under power lines for the fifth time, you'll come to Interstate 10 and the southernmost portion of the loop. The intersection is clearly marked, but make sure that you follow the blue blazes of the trailwalker trail to the north rather than continuing east along the orange-blazed Florida Trail. Most of the northbound trek is along dirt roads through wooded areas. You don't get the views of the river that you do on the journey south, but I have never failed to see groups of feral pigs on this part of the loop. There are also several places where you can see the remains of old farming enclosures back in the trees--shabby wire-and-sheet-metal structures of indeterminate use. Count three sets of power lines on your walk north; the fourth will be the trail head and the end of the loop.

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