Tuesday, June 12, 2012

St. Francis Trail

St. Francis Trail
This day hike runs north along the St. Francis dead river alongside the St. John's river in Lake County. Just follow the orange blazes from the trail head sign.  The town was a steamboat shipping community around the turn of the century and had one of the only roads in the area.  St. Francis had a hotel, a general store and a newspaper!  As the railroads took over the steamboat shipping business and transportation of people into the area, the town died off.  In 1939 it closed shop, people moved away and the Ocala National Forest took over.
Raised Trail with a neat use of screen wire
Today there isn't much to show St. Francis was ever there.  You can follow the trail from the trail head about 4 miles until you hit a dead end at a road crossing with a Wilderness area in front of you.  On the way you travel through a low-land area with raised hiking decks (to keep your feet dry!)  and lots of interesting palm hammocks and oak trees.  The dead river is to your right the entire way.  There is a turn-off to see a sulphur spring to the left, save it for the return trip!  Follow along the floodplain area until you get to a sign and follow it to the right to St. Francis.
After more forest, you come to a raised area and a single path bridge over some water. This place was cleared for growing rice many years ago and the dike you walk along was part of filling the area with water to grow the rice.
Single Lane Bridge
There is another road you cross after this, going right takes you to the dead river, very nice and peaceful.  I found two paint buckets upturned to sit on and enjoy the quiet.  This was an old shell mound and it provides the fill for the road back to the trail.  If you look close you can see another shell pile across the river from you.  This is a good location for camping!
You continue along in forest until you reach a road and the end of the trail.  Take the road to the right to see the river landing on the St. Johns.  Here there isn't much to see except some very nice views. I've watched a few boats go by here on Fridays and expect things would be busy on the river over the weekend.
St. Francis landing
Walking back from the river follow the road 1/3 mile past the trail you will find the return path, off to the left.  Following this takes you through pine scrub and pine forest areas to get back to the trail head.  At one point, you follow a tram path which goes perfectly straight for a long way.  Eventually you arrive at a sign pointing to the right to take to the sulphur spring.  It is a nice loop and you can really smell the spring water.  Follow from there to the trail head and your car.
I first hiked this in February this year (2012) and it was cool and dry that day.  The next time I went with my friend Walt and we hiked the same route but added the dead river side trip (that's Walt in the bridge photo).  It is about 8 miles total and makes for a nice half-day relaxing walk in the woods.  Enjoy!
Return trip along the tram way
To hike to St. Francis, take I-4 North from Orlando to Hwy 44 at Deland.  Go west on 44 through Deland to the St. Johns River.  Take the first right onto County Road 42 and the first right onto River Forest Road at the hiking trail sign.  Do check out this fine site if you would like to know more:  http://www.floridahikes.com/st-francis-trail/

Oh yes, if you are hungry, check out the first restaurant just south of the bridge on the east side of the river or drive on to Deland for a plethora of food places.
St. Johns River Bridge on Highway 44

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