Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hiking St. Francis Trail–Bridges and Boardwalks

There's a path under there

< There’s a Trail Under those Ferns

The St. Francis Trail is on the southern edge of Ocala National Forest, and is about 8 1/2 miles long if the Yellow Loop trail is included in the hike.  I read that the trail can be flooded in spots (it was dry this day), but with 35 bridges and board walks along the way, I suspect that it would still be easy to travel without getting too wet.

The trail gets it’s name from a small town that used to be on the St. Johns River that was a shipping port for goods and services that would go to other settlements along the river.  Railroads eventually took over the transportation industry, and the town of St. Francis was gone by about 1935.

It had rained the morning before I started my hike, so the leaves on the ground were soft.  This made it easy to hike very quietly, and I was rewarded with several wild animal sightings.  In addition to turkeys and a family of raccoons, I had my first Florida Black Bear sighting.  It was a cub that was climbing a tree with Momma standing guard at the bottom.  They saw me at the same time that I saw them, so they moved along before I was able to get a picture.  Still, it was great to finally see them in the wild.

First end of yellow loopThe trail starts at a small parking area on Forest River Rd. and heads to the west for a mile, and along the way there are nine boardwalks to cross, before coming to the first end of the Yellow Loop trail.  Something I really appreciated about the boardwalks on this trail is that they all had a metal mesh secured to them to keep them from getting too slick to walk on.

Foot travel welcomeOther end of yellow loopI stuck with the St. Francis Trail heading west from this point, and little less than a half mile, I came to the other end of the Yellow Loop where there is also a bench / mosquito feeding station.  I guess I should mention that the mosquitos were out in force today, but they only bothered me when I stopped to take a photo.  It’s worthwhile to bring some of your favorite bug repellant on this trail.

From here the trail leads to the northwest for a little over a mile; a portion of the trail that runs in a very straight line marks the location of an old railroad bed.

Open fieldAt the end of the old railroad bed, the trail turns to the northeast where it leads to an open field of pines and scrub plants.  Evidence of a prescribed burn can be seen on the blackened shrub branches and pine trunks.  The burn appears to be a couple of years old and the land is recovering nicely.  (It was in this area that I had my Black Bear sighting.)  Sign at dirt road

After winding it’s way back into the forest, the trail leads to a dirt road that goes up to the river’s edge where the town of St. Francis used to be.  Other than the sign, there is no indication that there was ever anything here besides the swamp on the north side of the road.

Trail back into forestThe return trail enters the woods close to the river’s edge and leads to the southeast for about a mile and a half.  If you keep your eyes on the north side of the trail, you will notice a tree with two bright markers on it – this marks the location of a functioning artesian well.  I don’t know if the water is potable, but I suspect that it is.  It’s cool and clear, and has no sulfur smell that I could detect. 

After about a mile from starting the return trip, there is a log bridge that crosses a creek; it’s probably one of the most recognizable landmarks along the way.Small spring

About a mile beyond the bridge, the trail joins back up with the trail that I headed out on, right next to the mosquito feeding station.  I took the yellow loop trail from this spot.  At three quarters of the way along the Yellow Loop there is a small bridge with fresh spring water under it.  It’s not much of a spring, but the water was so clear it was very noticeable.

Less than a quarter of a mile beyond the screen, the yellow loop joins back to the main trail, and from there it is only about a mile to go to get back to the trailhead.  If you would like to see the locations of the 35 bridges and boardwalks on this trail, take a look at the map below. 

More photos are available in the Photo Gallery

Trail view 2
Clear trails the whole way
Artesian well
Fresh Artesian Well
Bridges & Boardwalks-25 - log bridge
Log Bridge over Creek
Mossy stump
Mossy Stump

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