Take a Hike… you’ll love it
Author: Jim Gibson
Posted: Friday, March 02, 2012
When it comes to hiking, there may be no better place in the State of Florida than right here in Citrus and Hernando counties.
From paved paths to wilderness trails there is an abundance of flora, fauna and educational adventure for the avid naturist and weekend explorer alike. Home to some of the finest sections of the Great Florida Birding Trail, the area is a birder’s paradise. Both counties share the Withlacoochee State Forest and the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge, two of the states finest nature enclaves. No doubt about it when it comes to nature — we have it all!

The beginning hiker might want to check out the Florida Forest Service website at floridaforestservice.com. The agency’s Trailwalker Program encourages health and nature appreciation through hiking. They provide tips on hiking and a list and maps of the hiking trails in both counties. Here is a sampling of the various hiking possibilities in our area.

The Withlacoochee State Forest

Some of the best hiking trails, not only locally but statewide, are found in the dense woodlands and open pastureland of the Withlacoochee State Forest. Here, an extensive section of the 1,400-mile long Florida Trail can be found paralleling the tranquil Withlacoochee River.

The forest has tracts in both Citrus and Hernando counties that offer the possibility not only of a peaceful hike, but also of seeing an abundance of wildlife — some of which are found on the endangered species list. You might want to take a camera, as it is possible to see black bear, bald eagles, wildcats, fox squirrels, marsh hawks, sandhill cranes, armadillos, turkey and deer.

The Citrus Tract, located southwest of Inverness, comprises more than 40,000 acres and contains three separate recreation areas. Approximately 20 trails wind over 45 miles that are shared with bicyclists and horseback riders. The tract accommodates either day-hikes or overnight backpacking excursions.

“I’ve hiked the Withlacoochee Trail and it’s fantastic,” says Rafael Del Valle, Citrus County Parks and Recreation Manager. “The trails are marked and easy to follow, there is an abundance of wildlife and there is a lot of natural coverage on the trails that makes the hike comfortable.”

The Richloam Tract, located in eastern Hernando County, consists of more than 56,000 acres and has almost 30 miles of trails through pine flatwoods, cypress swamps and oak hammocks. This tract features an abundance of wildlife — including wild pigs and alligators — and boasts an amazing view of a stunning section of the Withlacoochee River. This pristine tract is connected to the Croom Tract, located just east of Brooksville, by the Florida Trail.

The Croom Tract has well-maintained campsites at either end of its primary hiking trail. It is known for undulating pathways through stands of longleaf pines and turkey oaks as it skirts the edge of the Withlacoochee River. Hiking in this tract can be a real challenge, so come prepared with plenty of fresh water. Beginning at Tucker Hill Trailhead, it’s possible to hike over 22 miles along the trail’s three loops.

“When it comes to natural beauty Hernando County is one of the nicest places in the state,” says Roy Link Hernando County Parks Maintenance Supervisor. “Our coastline is unspoiled, undeveloped and has some great trails. We have rolling hills and some of the most beautiful inland hiking trails you will find anywhere.”

Crystal River Archaeological State Park

For a tamer hike try the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. The 61-acre park is a tribute to the Native Americans who inhabited the area and includes a plaza and burial mounds. The park is open from 8a.m. until sundown, includes a section of the Great Florida Birding Trail and is accessible to the disabled. You can bring your dog on a leash and there is a fee for park use.

Fort Cooper State Park

Fort Cooper State Park offers hikers more than 500 acres of wildlife mixed in with a bit of Florida history. Located south of Inverness, the park is the site of a fort erected during the Second Seminole War. The park surrounds tranquil Lake Holathlikaha where you can fish or catch a glimpse of a sunning alligator. Bobcats and turkeys can also be seen along with a variety of birds, as there are also sections of the Great Florida Birding Trail within the park’s boundaries. In addition to the five miles of hiking trails, the park has picnic facilities and a recreation hall. There is an admittance fee and park hours are 8a.m. until sundown.

Crystal River Preserve State Park

When it comes to natural beauty, the Crystal River Preserve State Park is a hiker’s paradise. Seven miles of trails meander through the 20-mile long park that stretches from Yankeetown south to Homosassa.

The Preserve’s trails include a 2-mile eco-walk offering 11 different discovery zones. Each zone offers tips on hiking and getting the most out of your “great outdoors” experience. You can also hike the Dixie Shores, Ft. Island, Lake Loop and Hammock Island Trails, which wind through coastal scrub and salt marsh offering an up-close-and-personal view of an abundance of wildlife.

One of the highlights of the Preserve is the Churchhouse Hammock Boardwalk and its adjoining trail, Path to the Past. Churchhouse Hammock Boardwalk is designed to accommodate the disabled and Path to the Past highlights the unique geographical features of a Florida freshwater spring.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

The Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park means just that, an abundance of wildlife. Located in Homosassa, the park has an underwater observatory for up-close-and-personal manatee viewing and a wildlife encounter program. This is the perfect venue for the casual hiker, as the 1-mile hiking trail is paved and includes benches and rain shelters. Possible wildlife encounters include otters, alligators, and American crocodiles. Birders will enjoy the Pepper Creek Birding Trail. An admission fee is charged and the park is open from 9a.m.–5:30p.m.

Chassahowitza National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge is comprised of more than 35,000 pristine acres that include the Chassahowitzka and Homosassa River estuaries. It is a hiker’s dream-come-true with the possibility of coming across Florida black bear and the elusive, endangered whooping crane. There are marked trails, Indigo Road and 3 Bridge Road, and for the avid backpacker there are miles of hardwood, scrub and swamp areas to be explored at your leisure.

Whatever your hiking style — Citrus and Hernando has the trail for you!



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