Panther Creek is so still and dark that it acts as a mirror. Water oak limbs stretch out from sandy banks, framing my reflection. I accidentally startle a doe and she bounds into the forest through a patch of purple, yellow, and white wildflowers, reminding me I’m not alone. I’m working my way across General Andrew Jackson’s Red Ground Trail on a 22-mile, three-day hike, and, despite the ideal 60°F March temps, I haven’t seen another hiker all day—just whitetail deer, rodents, snakes, and bug-eating carnivorous plants. I’d shout for joy, but I don’t want to disturb the locals. BY VICTORIA STOPP
From Karick Lake North Campground
(1) Follow the blue-blazed General Andrew Jackson’s Red Ground Trail 5 miles.
(2) At mile 5, merge with the Florida National Scenic Trail and continue 16.5 miles to Red Rock Road. (Break at miles 8.8 and 15.1 .)
Peaden Bridge shelter (mile 8.8)
Take refuge in the nicest backcountry shelter in Blackwater. A firepit and two picnic tables—plus flat ground for tenting—allow for groups of up to 10 (free; first-come, first-serve). Refill water at the river crossing at mile 8.2 en route.
Old Martin shelter (mile 15.1)
Four scorched post anchors are all that’s left of the shelter, but a picnic table and cleared ground big enough for four tents under the pines make this first-come, first-serve site worthy. Top up your water at the creek crossing at mile 13.1.
Scan the canopy for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, as well as fox squirrels and great horned owls. Look for burrows in the sand, too—they house gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes (both threatened).
DO IT Shuttle car 30.785203, -86.886492; 10 miles northwest of Holt on Red Rock Rd. (Option: Contact the Florida Trail’s local chapter expert and trail angel, Peggy Grantham, at 850-982-9490.)Trailhead 30.895744, -86.640415; 29 miles northeast of the shuttle car on Karick Lake Lower Rd. Gear up Hall’s Hardware in Milton; hallshardware.com Season Year-round, but the best temps are in early spring (wear blaze orange).Permits $2/person/dayCustom-centered map bit.do/BPmapJacksonTrl ($15) Contact westerngate-fta.org Trip data backpacker.com/JacksonTrl
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