Florida Trail—Cathedral of Palms and Shepherd Spring

Posted By on January 30, 2018

Florida Trail—Cathedral of Palms and Shepherd Spring

6.8 miles; Carrabelle, FL

This was an awesome hike… for about 1/2 of the total distance. It was on the vast St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, and as I’ve mentioned before, Florida parks and state forests are all criss-crossed with old logging roads. About half of this hike was on said roads. Not bad walking, just boring, compared with the rest. But the rest…! Oh my.

Some Unlooked-for Foliage Color

Some Unlooked-for Foliage Color

The Florida Trail itself is a 1300-mile National Scenic Trail, one of only 11 long-distance hiking trails so designated by the Federal government. It runs from the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola on the panhandle to Big Cypress National Preserve between Miami and Naples. I’ve actually hiked a bit on it once before. This was a short section that included two really lovely spots: Cathedral of Palms and Shepherd Spring.

Orange Blaze of the FT

Orange Blaze of the FT

The Florida Trail itself is very well-blazed with bright orange blazes. The rest of this hike was ostensibly blue-blazed, but I saw exactly 2 blue blazes. Not to worry, it’s pretty easy to follow anyway.

It was a lollipop loop hike, and I chose to do the boring parts first, which included about 1-1/4 miles of “lollipop stick” and another about 1-1/4 miles of logging road. The road brushes right up against the wildlife refuge boundary, and right on the other side of the boundary I counted probably 3 or 4 deer stands. Despite that I managed to startle a deer. You’d figure they’d be wary of the road by now.

Cathedral of Palms

Cathedral of Palms

At the far end of this portion of the hike (walking the loop clockwise), you make a right-turn into the woods and onto the orange-blazed FT, and maybe about 1/4 to 1/2 mile from there you enter the Cathedral of Palms. This is a habitat known as a coastal palm hammock and the cabbage palms in here are massive and very dense. It’s a remarkable experience. Watch your footing, though. It’s pretty muddy through here.

Helpful Bench was Helpful

Helpful Bench was Helpful

The other attraction of this hike was Shepherd Spring. From my research, I knew the spring was not directly on the trail, and I was nervous about missing the spur trail. I needn’t have been—it turned out to be kind of hard to miss. I also had no idea what to expect. My experiences of springs involve pipes coming out of the sides of hills, or trickles down rocks.

Shepherd Spring

Shepherd Spring

Shepherd Spring

Shepherd Spring

Imagine my surprise when I ambled down a long boardwalk to see this. I am told by the good people at FloridaHikes that this is a third magnitude spring. I am told by Dr. Google that there are 8 magnitudes of springs, and that the magnitudes are so designated by the volume of water that comes out, with 1 being the highest magnitude to 8 being barely a trickle.

This 3rd magnitude spring-fed pond/lake was quite large and absolutely clear. It’s kind of hard to see in the photos, but trust me, you could see all the way to the bottom. It was also one of the most peaceful and enchanting spots I’ve ever hiked to. I hardly wanted to leave. There were benches. And butterflies. Sigh.

Wakulla Field Campsite

Wakulla Field Campsite

A minor attraction on this hike is a designated campsite for backpackers. When they said it was a field, I imagined what I think of as a field—you know, like, several acres. Nope, this was more a small clearing in the woods to my mind. Oh, and watch for the blue blaze that designates the spur trail that leads to this. Yes, another blue blaze. Just the one.

The remainder of this loop took me through what any New Englander would recognize as “The Woods.” Deciduous hardwoods, pines, broadleaf evergreens, and a dirt path. Then, just before rejoining the logging road, the environment changed again, and looked a lot like the hike I did at Wright Lake in Tate’s Hell State Forest—lots of longleaf pines with an understory of saw palmetto. So it was a kind of fascinating tour of various habitats in coastal Northern Florida.

Read about this section of the Florida Trail on the FloridaHikes website (although they start their hike from the other end of the logging road). As always, click the image above for details about this hike and to download the gps track.

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