Sunday, March 19, 2023

F.D. Roosevelt State Park: Mountain Creek Trail (Blog Hike #930)

Trail: Mountain Creek Trail
Hike Location: F.D. Roosevelt State Park
Geographic Location: Pine Mountain, GA (32.84395, -84.82881)
Length: 3.1 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: February 2023
Overview: A loop hike through all of Pine Mountain's major habitats.
Park Information:
Hike Route Map:
Hike Video: (coming April 14)
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: In western Georgia, take I-185 to SR 18 (exit 34).  Exit and go east on SR 18.  Where SR 18 angles left, continue straight on SR 354.  Drive SR 354 east 2.5 miles to the park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and drive the main park road 0.5 miles to the campground's Trading Post.  Park in the lot in front of the Trading Post.

The hike: Weighing in at 9049 acres, F.D. Roosevelt State Park is the largest state park in Georgia.  The park was established in 1935 to protect a large part of the Pine Mountain Range, a low east-west ridge that accounts for this park's long and skinny east-west shape.  Geologically speaking the Pine Mountain Range is part of the Piedmont Plateau, not part of the Appalachian Mountains to the north.  The park is named for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose famous Little White House is located in the town of Warm Springs near the east end of the Pine Mountain Range and this park.
            Roosevelt's depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had a camp near the SR 354 park entrance you drove in to reach this trailhead, and they built several of the park's lakes and cabins.  The park also has a 115-site developed campground, primitive camping, 2 picnic shelters, 28 miles of bridle trails, and 43 miles of hiking trails including the 23 mile Pine Mountain Trail, which is probably Georgia's best backpacking trail south of the Appalachian Mountains.  The Mountain Creek Trail described here is one of the park's better dayhiking options, and it provides a nice sample of the Pine Mountain Range's habitats, both creekside and ridgetop, without pegging the difficulty meter.
Trailhead behind Trading Post
        The Mountain Creek Trail forms a true loop, so the trail exits the campground in two directions.  The easiest place to find the trail is behind the campground's Trading Post, where a brown park sign and red carsonite post mark the start of the Mountain Creek Trail.  Starting here will take you on a counterclockwise journey around the loop.
            Marked with red rectangular paint blazes, the Mountain Creek Trail descends to cross a tributary of Mountain Creek and reach a trail intersection.  The trail going right leads to a secondary campground, so you want to turn left to continue on the Mountain Creek Trail.  The forest is the usual Piedmont mix of pine and broadleaf trees as you go more down than up over gentle undulations.
Hiking through Piedmont forest
        The trail curves left to reach another trail intersection at 0.7 miles.  The trail continuing straight on the left (east) side of the creek leads to some picnic shelters and the dam of Delano Lake, so you want to turn right, cross the creek, and begin heading back downstream.  Watch for the plentiful red blazes at each of these intersections to stay on the right trail.
Hiking along Mountain Creek
        For the next 0.5 miles the trail stays close to Mountain Creek, which at times flows through a steep channel.  A light rain began falling as I hiked here, and I thought about how much I preferred hiking this trail in 60 degrees with a light rain versus 90 degrees with full sun.  At 1.2 miles, the trail curves left to begin a long and gradual climb away from Mountain Creek.  The difference between minimum and maximum elevations on this hike is less than 200 vertical feet, so all climbs are either very gradual or do not last long.
Hiking away from Mountain Creek
        1.9 miles into the hike, you reach a pair of abandoned reservoirs.  Constructed by the CCC, the excellent stonework at the reservoir dams looks out of place in the middle of the woods today.  A couple of benches invite you to sit, rest, and enjoy a trail snack near the midpoint of this hike.
Abandoned CCC Reservoir
        Just past the reservoirs, you reach a major trail intersection.  The option going right leads to the aforementioned Pine Mountain Trail, and the option going left leads to the park's cabin area.  Continue straight to remain on the Mountain Creek Trail.  Now the ravine narrows and the grade steepens as you begin the hardest climb of this hike.  Given the elevation information mentioned above, this climb barely works up a sweat.
Rocky area near ridgetop
        Near 2.4 miles, you cross first Lake Delanor Road, an extension of the road you drove in on, and then a power line corridor as you pass the highest elevation on this hike.  The rocky areas on top of this ridge contrast with the creekside areas you hiked through earlier.  Next comes the steepest descent as the trail plunges back into a creekside area.  This ravine is clogged with large amounts of mountain laurel.
Mountain laurel thicket
        Just shy of 2.9 miles, you cross the Cabin Trail and the Delano Trail as you enter the campground.  Avoid walking into occupied campsites, and soon the trail comes out at the campground road.  Walk along the campground road, cross the main park road, and reach your car in the parking lot in front of the campground's Trading Post to complete the hike.  While you are here, you can check out scenic Lake Delano or take a short drive to one of several scenic views from the Pine Mountain Range along nearby SR 190.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Florida Caverns State Park: Beech Magnolia and Bluff Trails (Blog Hike #929)

Trails: Beech Magnolia and Bluff Trails
Hike Location: Florida Caverns State Park
Geographic Location: north of Marianna, FL (30.81171, -85.22643)
Length: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: February 2023
Overview: A loop hike along a rocky bluff overlooking a wetland.
Park Information:
Hike Route Map:
Hike Video: (coming January 5, 2024)
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Marianna in the Florida panhandle, take SR 166 north 2.7 miles to the signed entrance for Florida Caverns State Park on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and then turn right on the second road that exits right.  This road quickly ends at the large blacktop parking lot for the Visitor Center; park here.

The hike: When you drive I-10 across the western part of Florida's panhandle, the gently rolling sandy dirt hills look like anything but cave country.  Yet the area's large number of springs and sinkholes provide above-ground testimony to a vast network of underground caverns.  One of the few places those caverns meet the air is at Florida Caverns north of Marianna.
            Opening in 1942, Florida Caverns State Park protects 1300 acres atop its namesake caverns, which are among the few air-filled (as opposed to water-filled) underground caverns in Florida.  The park and the adjacent golf course were built by the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the CCC also enlarged the caverns' passageways by hand to allow visitors to walk through them while standing up.  The park offers guided cave tours for a moderate fee, and the tours feature fantastic underground stalagmite and stalactite scenery.
            In addition to the cave, the park offers a 38-site developed campground, paddling and fishing on the Chipola River, an interesting museum that features both natural and human history, and 5 hiking trails totaling over 8 miles.  The park's river area and cave area both offer compelling hiking options, but the short loop described here explores the land that forms the roof of the cave.  Because this hike starts and ends at the Visitor Center, it makes a nice way to exhaust 45 minutes while you are waiting for your cave tour to begin or a nice add-on after you tour the cave.
Trailhead behind Visitor Center
        From the back of the Visitor Center, head uphill on the concrete path that leads to the cave tour's exit, then bear right to begin the gravel Beech Magnolia Trail.  A brown park sign marks the start of the Beech Magnolia Trail.  True to its name, the Beech Magnolia Trail makes a short loop through a forest dominated by beech and magnolia trees with a dense understory of palmetto.  A couple of small cave entrances exist in this area, but you will have to look hard to find them.
Rocky area near cave exit
        After a pair of left curves, the terrain gets more rocky, perhaps surprisingly so.  The rocks are uneven, so take care where you step.  At 0.5 miles, you reach the end of the Beech Magnolia Trail where it intersects the other end of the concrete path you started on.  The cave tour exit sits just to the left, and the oblong hole in the hillside makes a nice photo opportunity even if you do not take a cave tour.  To continue this hike, angle right on the concrete path, then angle right again to begin the dirt Bluff Trail.  Another brown sign marks the start of the Bluff Trail.
Cave tour exit

Wetland near Chipola River
       The Bluff Trail is another appropriately named trail: it traces the top of the rocky bluff that overlooks the wetland formed by the Chipola River.  The trail undulates with the bluff, and again you need to watch your footing in the rocky areas.  Ignore the Shortcut Trail, which exits left at 0.8 miles; it provides a shortcut back to the parking lot.
Tunnel Cave
        Just past 1 mile, you reach Tunnel Cave.  Tunnel Cave is only about 100 feet long with openings on either end, but some crawling will be required if you wish to pass through Tunnel Cave.  Past Tunnel Cave, a few hundred feet of level walking returns you to the parking lot to complete this hike.