Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
If you’ve never visited a Northwest Florida state forest, you’re in for a nature lover’s treat. The region has nearly 1.5 million acres of land under state and federal protection and offers recreational opportunities for humans and environmental conservation for endangered plants and animals.
The Florida National Scenic Trail passes through many of these natural areas as well as through state parks the national forests and wildlife management areas. You can find out more about trail sections and see trail maps at the Florida Trail Association. There are also several hiking guidebooks that offer information about the Florida Trail as well as local trails within parks and preserves. Keep in mind that some of these areas also allow hunting, so if you’re hiking during hunting season be sure to wear bright colors and don’t try to blend into the surroundings.
The following is a list of the state forest and wildlife preserve areas that are open to the public. Please be “green” and leave only your footprints in these pristine and fragile places.
This 86,140-acre preserve in Franklin and Gulf Counties contains the largest expanse of floodplain forest in Florida. The floodplain forest of the lower Apalachicola River protects, feeds, and nurtures Apalachicola Bay. Activities include fishing, hunting, canoeing and kayaking. For more information about the preserve, contact the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, 850-670-7700.
This is the largest state forest in Florida, with 209,571 acres spreading across Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties. There are numerous campsites and hiking trails that can be accessed from the county roads, and tubing this shallow, clear river is a favorite activity. The Blackwater River State Park is also located here. Elevations within the forest range from 10 feet to 290 feet above sea level. Call for more information 850-957-6140
Formerly the Box-R Ranch, this WMA is located off U. S. Highway 98 in Franklin County and encompasses 11,216 acres, with nearly 7 miles of frontage along the Jackson and Apalachicola rivers. The preserve’s tidal marshes, creeks, floodplain swamps, hammocks and pine uplands are essential components of its complex ecological system and help contribute to the productivity of Apalachicola Bay and its delicious oysters. Activities include hunting, paddling, hiking, off-road cycling and horseback riding. Resident wildlife includes white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, ospreys, red-shouldered hawks and other.
Purchased in 1936, Pine Log is Florida’s first state forest. Its 7,003 acres are located off Highway 79, 14 miles north of Panama City Beach. The forest features camping, hiking, bicycling, wildlife viewing, picnicking, swimming, fishing, and hunting. It is also home to such threatened or endangered species as flatwoods salamander, gopher tortoise, southern milkweed, white-top pitcher-plant and Chapman's crownbeard. Call for more information 850-535-2888
Located between U. S. Highway 98 and Scenic 30A in South Walton, the forest comprises 15,399 acres and is a great place to escape the heat and the crowds even though it is within walking distance of the beach. Recreation includes hiking, horseback riding, hunting, but no camping. It is home to ten natural communities including sandhill, basin swamps/Titi drains, wet flatwoods, wet prairie and cypress swamps with some excellent examples of intact sandhill ecosystems. Call for more information 850-231-5800
The forest gets its usual name from the tale of man named Tate who was lost in its 202,437 acres for several days back in the 1800s.Today the forest still contains approximately 107,300 acres of hydric communities such as wet prairie, wet flatwoods, strand swamp, bottomland forest, baygall, and floodplain swamp. There are 35 miles of rivers, streams and creeks available for paddling, boating, and fishing and hiking, picnicking, and primitive camping are also available. Wildlife includes bald eagle, Florida black bear, gopher tortoise, and red-cockaded woodpecker. For more information, call 850-697-3734
Located on the mainland off St. Joseph Peninsula, this preserve is an area of pine flatwood, freshwater marshes and forested wetlands that serves as a vital water recharge area and buffer to St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve.
Located between the mainland and St. Joseph Peninsula, the preserve encompasses 55,674 acres and is the only bay in the eastern Gulf of Mexico not influenced by the inflow of fresh water. It’s a popular scalloping location and has one of the richest and most abundant concentrations of marine grasses along the north Florida coast. Other recreation includes, fishing, paddling, boating, diving, and snorkeling.