|Pond view from the Florida Trail, Pine Log State Forest|
The main Alabama segment comes later. Here the Fifty Trail traverses southern Alabama, passing through the heart of the city of Mobile, then joins the Alabama Trail, mostly a work in progress, to proceed southward to the beach strand on the Gulf Coast. The 4-mile Perdido River section is open and included in the current Fifty Trail. The rest of the route to the coast is on roads.
From Gulf Shores to the Florida border it’s a beach walk on the famous Gulf Coast sugar sand, except for the bridge crossing over Perdido Pass. In Florida the beach walk continues on Perdido Key to the town of Gulf Beach. Just before the start of Gulf Islands National Seashore the trail leaves the beach and crosses the Intracoastal Waterway then treks through trails of Big Lagoon State Park then continuing east to Pensacola Lighthouse and on through Downtown Pensacola.
Leaving the city of Pensacola the Fifty Trail returns to the beach via the Gulf Breeze Parkway and the Bob Sikes Bridge.
At Pensacola Beach the Fifty Trail joins the statewide Florida National Scenic Trail and follows it east to just beyond the State Capitol of Tallahassee.
Leaving the Beach at Navarre, the Florida Trail passes through Eglin Airforce Base. Trails in the base are excellent, but the hiker must obtain permission in advance from the base. The trails are subject to closure for operations, so even with the permits, their web site must be checked in advance.
The trail continues through diverse forest and wetland environments, punctuated by road walks. AT the town of St. Marks the Florida Trail is discontinuous. The Florida Trail Association advises the hiker to flag down a passing or moored boat to get across. The Fifty Trail mandate is for its route to be continuous. Every part of it can be reached on foot from every other. So the official Fifty Trail route is a road walk of a couple miles from the town of St. Marks to the Wildlife Refuge visitor center.
The trail in St. Marks Wildlife Refuge itself comes within ‘sniffing distance’ of the Gulf of Mexico, passing through a vast tidal grassland marsh on a beautiful palm-studded levee with nothing but a sea of salt marsh grass separating the hiker from the Gulf of Mexico. From there the route current route turns inland to follow the Aucilla River, although the Florida Trail Association has approved a major reroute that may change this. remains close to the coast through Big Bend Wildlife Management Area. The Aucilla River may or may not be included in the route of the new trail, but it will remain part of the Fifty Trail regardless. The hike along the Aucilla includes a memorable geologic marvel, Aucilla Sinks. The trail passes a sinkhole where the river disappears and runs through caves underground for several miles with only occasional further sinkholes marking the course.
Leaving the Aucilla River the Fifty Trail turns back north and west, crossing into Georgia.
MAPS and TRAIL GUIDES:
Eglin Airforce Base hiker registration and information: https://eglin.isportsman.net/FloridaTrail.aspx
Excellent Florida Trail Guide book, with on-line updates available: https://floridahikes.com/the-florida-trail-guide
Florida Trail Association: http://www.floridatrail.org/
Planned (approved proposal) reroute in Big Bend area, which might remove Aucilla Sinks from the trail. Big file, lots of detailed maps: http://www.floridatrail.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Twin-Rivers-SF-to-Aucilla-River-Gap-Corridor-Location-Review.pdf
HEART OF THE TRAIL:
Florida Trail through Bradwell Bay Wilderness in Apalachicola National Forest (a knee-deep swamp walk for several miles among huge old trees), St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (including the road walk to bridge the Gap in the Florida Trail across the St. Marks River, and Aucilla Sinks, where the trail bridges the river naturally as it flows beneath the ground.