Four days, 39 miles: that’s just part of the challenge of the Citrus Hiking Trail, the second-longest trail on a stretch of land in the state of Florida.
Add aggressive rolling sandhills, steep descents into canyons and rocky trails, and you’ll get one of Florida’s roughest hikes.
Due to Extreme contrasts in habitats, from deep shady deciduous forests to long-leaved Pine savans, rosemary bushes and open meadows, this path offers many opportunities to meet with wildlife.
Designed and developed by Fred Mulholland, the FTA’s trail manager in the late 1970s, it is a well-maintained, easy-to-follow trail with a clearly defined path and road signs at the crossings of the Trails.
The walk on the Citrus Trail requires some logistical planning. There are no surface waters, so you need to consider this as a dry path.
Volatile ponds can provide water, but you can’t rely on them. For the full 43-mile loop, the reliable water sources consist of two water tanks for horses, an Off-piste pitcher pump, a large pond and a long trip to Mutual Mine.
Remember to hide water jugs at level crossings on forest trails before you start the hike. The main north-south route through the forest, the tr-13, provides access to several passages where caches can be hidden along the way.
Designated Backpacker campsites are rare so your days can be long, but camping is also allowed where you can see white stripes painted around the trees. If you are camping at campsites, you must book now in advance.
It is an extraordinarily popular hunting ground, so pay attention to the planned hunting and wear blaze orange during each hunting season. We do not recommend that you Backpack here during deer hunting season.
If you have a directional challenge, make sure you have a map and compass or GPS, as a wrong turn at a crossroads can cause you to lose a day!
You don’t have to be a backpacker to enjoy this long walk. By using the forest paths you can divide this path into a series of very comfortable day hikes.
However, since it is the longest walking loop in Florida on a single public site, we describe it below from a backpacker’s point of view and follow the perimeter of the 39.1-mile loop counterclockwise.
You can also use marked forest paths to change this. When the trail passes through forest paths (referred to as tr on your maps), you will see signs with the route number that will help you understand where you are.
Today’s hike covers 11.1 miles. From the start of the Holder Mine Trail, follow a Blue connector for 0.8 km through the Scrub to the Orange main loop.
Turn right at the Loop a sign to start the outer loop, follow the eastern side of Loop A. It starts in the bush forest and leads to a sandy habitat with hills.
Here you will first discover the wonder of the habitat of the long-leaved Pine, where you can see a long way through an open basement under the Pines.
After crossing the tr-8 at 1.6 miles, continue through a grove of living sand Oaks with wizened branches, swept by the wind.
2.1 miles away, the intersection of the trail marks the spot where the orange flames of the Florida Trail leave the loop to continue its journey north to Inverness.
Follow the yellow flames to stay on loop A. after crossing a paved road, the trail climbs 3.9 miles to a ridge before turning around Bull Sink, a large meadow with a volatile pond.
Through the long-leaved pine forest, the trail crosses the tr-11 and passes another ephemeral Pond, The Five Mile Pond, which is located in a low Meadow Bowl.
At the intersection of the A-B loop in 5.3 miles, stay right to reach the B loop, and stay on the outer loop. Enjoy the rollercoaster effect through the sandhills.
Where the trail crosses the tr-13 at 6.8 miles, there is a cistern to water the horses directly behind it. It is a reliable, so unappetizing and important water source. Filter before filtering.
The trail leads for several kilometers into the privileged habitat of The Brushwood Jay, in a part of the forest that is relatively distant for access, but within reach of traffic along SR 44.
While the path leads south, it makes a long and slow descent through the long-leaved pine forest. Cross several little-used forest trails, including the tr-17, which is located in a deep ditch.
In a dense corridor under the live oaks Sand, watch out for a camping sign 10.9 miles away. Follow the Blue blaze west to Camp Jackson (marked on the Forest map PCZ-B).
A pitcher pump is located half a mile West of the campsite on the 28.812750, -82.475017 along the riding path, Dixie Land. It is painted orange so you can see it from afar. Use TR-8 or TR-10A for access.
They make a long and difficult hike with 13.9 miles through the terrain with steep hills, deep sinkholes and caves.
Long-leaved Pines and grasses make up most of the habitat for the first few kilometers. Reach the B-C loop junction at 2.7 miles.
The landscape descends abruptly into Mansfield Pond, a drying flatwoods pond. A huge split oak stands along the path in view of the pond.
After the TR-14, a trail leads to the Youngblood Campsite (PCZ-C) after 4.5 miles. It’s a dry warehouse.
When rocks appear under your feet, you hit the famous karst of Withlacoochee State Forest. Expect not only boulders, but also fern-filled slump holes at the edge of the trail.
Cross the TR-13 and reach the C-D Loop junction 7 miles away. Several wells pour water after a rain, but the karst is a sponge—it absorbs all the precipitation it can get in the underlying Floridan aquifers.
The trail descends from a karst shell and rolls through the sand hills before crossing the TR-13 again. After crossing the TR-20 at 9.1 miles, the Trail intersects different riding tracks of different colors.
Passing through TR-22, the trail passes through bluff forest to the Rocky lip of Lizzie Hart Sink, a large sinkhole depression with numerous caves.
Through this area, the trail is rocky and fragile. Step carefully and pay attention to the holes in the karst. Pass a colossal swamp of chestnut oak and the dark mouth of a cave.
Cross the tarmac slopes at 12.5 miles. To the south, the trail encounters an unusual stream bed – it only flows after a large rain-that pours into a large hole.
In an oak and hickory forest, the junction with Taylor Campsite (PCZ-D) is 13.8 miles. Follow it to a dry open space in the forest and choose your place.
At 7.8 miles, today’s hike is shorter to enjoy a developed campsite (for a fee). You can also skip this stop and return to the beginning of the loop by traveling a 14.1-mile day.
When you leave the denser forest, the landscape opens up around Stage Pond, a sustainable and reliable water source at 0.9 mile. It is so named after the stagecoach that once stopped here.
The trail again intersects CR 480 1.6 miles on the way north. North of the tarmac road, join the orange flames for the rest of the hike.
Passing through TR-11, the trail passes through a sand and Oak Forest on its undulating road through the sand hills. After 4.9 miles, you will meet the sign for the C-D Loop cross trail. Turn right and stay on the orange flames.
At TR-18A there is a historic railway bed dating back to the phosphate mining era, complete with ballast, but without track. Cross several other forest trails through the sand hills.
A bank and sign mark the connection path to the Mine 6.4 miles away. There is a 1.7 mile (each way) Blue Flame in this cozy campsite. You must book a website here in advance. Otherwise, you can not enter the campsite.
The Mine sits on the lip of an old phosphate mine in the shade of tall pines.
Drinking water, picnic tables – and toilets — plus a tent pitching on pine needles — make it an attractive night. It is also an important place to load water for tomorrow’s hike.
FOUR DAYS OF
Leave the Mutual Mine campground and return to the main trail along the long blue flame. Heading north, today you have a 9.5 mile hike.
The trail crosses open meadows created nearly a century ago by logging. After TR-7, the trail goes down a steep, sandy hill that you almost have to slide down, then going up to the other side is a trick.
At 4.3 miles, a square concrete block water cistern flickers along the side of the trail, just behind TR-14A.use it if you have to. It will be the last water you see today, and it is often covered with algae.
Reach the intersection with the B-C Loop cross trail at 6.2 miles. Continue straight along the orange flames. When the vegetation becomes greener, the karst belt is reached again.
At the foot of a hill is the largest cave in Florida, accessible by the Florida Trail. Drop your backpack and take a moment to explore it as sunlight passes through a crevice at the top of the cave.
The trail descends from the Ferns-rich karst shell and crosses TR – 13 one last time at 7 miles and reaches scrub habitat at 8 miles.
Pay attention to the sign with the inscription loop A that signals the end of your circuit of this forest. Turn right and follow the Blue Flame to the holder mine to finish the hike.