Hiking the Florida Panhandle


It's not an adventure until somebody screws up...

Tate's Hell State Forest

Tate's Hell State Forest is located in Franklin County, west of Carrabelle. It is a mixture of pine flatwoods and swamps. Local legend states that the forest got its name from one Cebe Tate who was lost there for seven days back in the late 1800s. It is now criss-crossed by forest roads, but a person could still get lost there if not careful.

The Trail:

The numbers represent mile markers, which are marked with signs on the trail.

The forest has only one recreational hiking trail at this time, the High Bluff Coastal Trail. This is a linear trail a little over four miles long, but with three shorter spur trails. It has two trailheads. The eastern trailhead is about three miles west of Carrabelle on US 98, and is marked by a large brown sign by the side of the road. We did not make it to the western trailhead, but from the map it appears to be on a forest road off of US 98. There is a kiosk and a picnic table at the eastern trailhead, but no restrooms or other facilities.

Beginning at the eastern trailhead, the trail winds around through pine flatwoods and coastal scrub. The ground cover is thick just off the trail, but the trail itself is kept very clear. That's a good thing, because it is not well marked and it would be very easy to get lost otherwise. In the first half mile we found plenty of orange blazes to keep us on the right track. The spur trails are marked with blue blazes. The section that loops around to the right on the map is one such spur. Just beyond it, the orange blazes on the main trail disappear completely. We were very confused by this at first, but with the help of the map we were able to stay on the right path.

A little further on the trail joins a jeep trail next to a residential area and follows it a little ways before going back into the woods. It comes back out onto the jeep trail a little later near a powerline cut. Most of these sudden changes in direction are well marked by signs mounted on posts. The only one we didn't see a marker for was where the trail first came out onto the jeep trail. Someone coming from the western trailhead might miss the turn here if they are not keeping a close watch.

After leaving the jeep trail, the trail loops away from the powerline cut, going through pine flatwoods before climbing an old dune covered with sand scrub oaks. At one point, the hill overlooks a sandpit where a frontend loader was busy excavating. The trail then comes back down onto a broad flat with no trees. It travels through grass and palmetto before coming to a wet spot in the trail where the shrubs close in on either side of the trail. We had to get up on the edge of the trail to avoid the mud. In a wetter time of the year, we probably would have had to wade. In fact, there are a number of spots on the trail that would probably have standing water in them after a long rainy spell. This summer has been very dry, so we were spared that.

After crossing the little swampy area, we came up into another flat at the second mile marker. The birds seemed to like that spot, possibly because of the water close by. We saw a red cockaded woodpecker on an old pine stump, and a number of smaller birds that I couldn't identify. At this point we turned around and headed back to the car. It would have been nice to hike the whole trail, but the children were not doing well, so an 8-mile hike was out of the question. If we hike it again, we will take two cars so we won't have to double back.

It was a muggy day and the bugs were out in full force. I had forgotten both my hat and the bugspray. My wife was hiking in capris, and pulled several ticks off her socks. My daughter rolled up her breeches legs to cool down, and she also picked up a couple of ticks. Lots of water, bugspray and a hat are essential items for any Florida hike, but they were especially needed for this one. My daughter swears she will never hike the trail again. I think the lack of shade and the absence of dramatic scenery were the main drawbacks for her. I thought it was a beautiful area, though, and would love to go back. Besides the hat and bugspray, next time I will try to remember the camera too, so I can put some pictures up here.

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