I've hiked in a lot of areas in Central Florida, but one of my favorites is the section of the Florida Trail located in the Seminole State Forest. The forest includes an 8 mile section of the Florida trail as well as 2 other smaller trails. I've visited the forest a few times over the last weeks; once on my own and the other with Justin from The Weekend Warrior. It's a great spot to get in a day hike or camp at one of the campsites along the way.
Starting off - South to North
If you're planning on hiking South to North, you'll want to park at the Bear Pond trailhead. There is a $2 parking fee, so keep that in mind before you go. You'll start off heading down the orange-blazed, Florida trail. The trail is clear and well maintained.
After traveling .9 miles from the trailhead you'll reach the Shelter camp. This camp offers a large covered area that would come in handy if you're stuck in the rain. It has two sleeping platforms that you can use with your sleeping bag. When I first walked by there was a group of people camping there. They had driven to it, which was a little surprising. I'm not sure if that's really allowed, but you can get there after only a few minutes of hiking. Also, a random stroller was in the shelter the first time I walked by which seemed weird.
Past the Shelter campsite you'll come across one of the two trail registers. The state forest uses old mailboxes for the registers. It makes for an interesting sight when you come around the corner. Once you've signed in you'll walk through my favorite part of the trail. A recent controlled burn has left the trees that line this part of the trail slightly charred. Between the look of the pine needles on the ground and the trees at your sides I think it gives it a cool, almost eerie, look.
Once you're through that area, the trail will start to open up. The next 2 miles or so will take you through a large pine scrub area. Each time I've been out there I keep thinking I will see a bear, but it hasn't happened yet. The trail is usually dry, but if there has been a lot of rain leading up to your hike you may hit some large puddles.
Blackwater Creek and Camp
Once you're through the open area you'll reach Sand road and then follow it for about a mile. The road isn't very exciting, but it will take you past the Blackwater Camp as well as the kayak/canoe ramp. The boat ramp can be accessed by driving in on Sand road. It seems to be a popular spot for people to get onto Blackwater Creek. There is a picnic table and enough open area for a few people to park. Blackwater Camp, as the name would suggest, is right along Blackwater Creek. It has a picnic table and fire ring for you to use. The campsite seemed like a good place to stay, but I would be a little worried about insects coming off the water in the summer months. Since it's right off the road you can get to it with a car if you don't want to hike in.
Continuing past the campsite you'll walk .8 miles until you reach the intersection of Pine road. You can either stay to your right and continue on the Florida Trail or you can go left and take the blue-blazed North Sulphur Island Loop. If you're staying on the Florida Trail be careful that you don't walk past the turn off on the right hand side. The turn is just before the intersection at the road and is easy to overlook. The first time I hiked this section of the trail I went right by it. Like an idiot I ended up climbing through the bushes on the side of the road to get back to the trail. If you find yourself missing the turn there are a few paths further down Pine road which lead you back onto the trail.
If you chose to stay to the right you'll follow Pine road for a little while and pass by an observation blind for viewing wildlife. If you get to this spot early in the morning it would be a good place to sit quietly and hopefully see something. Obviously this spot isn't meant for hunting as the sign on the blind reminds you.
After you've hiked .9 miles from the Pine road intersection you'll hit the Sulphur Camp. The campsite has enough room for a ton of people and includes a picnic table and fire ring. It's a great location with access to the Florida Trail as well as the North Sulphur Island Loop. It also is a great resting spot for a day hike.
The trail between the observation blind and Sulphur Camp can get very overgrown. When I was there with Justin, the plants covering the trail were taller than us. We literally had to climb through them and even then we could barely see where the next trail blaze was.
This is a good time to mention how bad the ticks can be in this area. I have found a number of HUGE ticks while hiking here. I'm fairly confident that I picked up those ticks in this particular area. With the tall plants it's easy for them to get on you as you brush past. Make sure you wear long pants and use a lot of bug spray before you head out. Also, be sure to bring your trekking poles for knocking down spider webs. I normally bring mine, but forgot them on my second hike here. Luckily, Justin had his and was able to lead the way.
North Sulphur Island Loop
If you're interested in hiking the North Sulphur Island Loop you can pick it up to the left of Sulphur Camp. The North Sulphur Island Loop is 3.5 miles total if you include the .9 mile section of the Florida Trail. The loop is takes you around the center of the forest. When I was there they had cleared the trees out of one spot. I'm not sure if they have plans to build something, but it was a little depressing to see.
Sharks Tooth Spring
Continuing on the Florida Trail just past Sulphur Camp you'll come across a small side trail on your left. This trail will bring you to a small spring called "Sharks Tooth Spring." I had never heard of it until Justin pointed it out. The spring flows about 800 ft to Sulphur Run. Apparently people occasionally find shark teeth in the water. We spent some time looking, but didn't have any luck. During a Florida hike, I'm used to seeing water that resembles iced tea, so the spring came as a surprise. The water was ice cold and very clear. This was one of the few spots where I would drink the water - after filtering it of course.
After the spring you'll have about a 2.5 mile hike left to get to the Cassia trailhead. The remaining few miles of the hike alternate between wooded areas and open, sandy paths. If you look at the trail map you'll notice this part of the forest starts to narrow. Because of this you'll start seeing a few fences and buildings.
I have really enjoyed my hikes at Seminole State Forest. It's definitely one of my favorite local spots. If you're interested in hiking part of the Florida Trail this is a section that you should definitely check out.