Hiking the Florida Panhandle
It's not an adventure until somebody screws up...
Torreya State Park is located on the east bank of the Apalachicola River between SR 20 and I-10. To reach it from Tallahassee, go west on SR 20 past Hosford and turn right on CR 271. Cross SR 12 and take the left fork when you come to the tiny community of Rock Bluff. The road will take you straight into the entrance of the park.
Torreya is by far my favorite state park of all the ones I've visited. I love the varied terrain: wooded hills cut through by fast flowing streams; high bluffs overlooking the Apalachicola; red sandstone cliffs unlike anything I've seen in Florida; and swampy flood plain along the river's banks.
There are three developed areas in the park: The Gregory House, the picnic area and the Weeping Ridge campground. The campground is about halfway down the main entrance road. It has developed campsites with electricity and water hook-ups. They also have fire rings, picnic tables and a clothes line. There are restrooms with showers, and a ranger office that sells a few emergency items, like matches, tent stakes, etc. Firewood can be purchased there also. The building has a large open area with chairs and couches where campers can take refuge, if necessary, during really bad weather.
The picnic area is on the right side of the main road about three quarters of the way in. Besides the picnic shelters, there is a parking lot, playground and restrooms. There's a group camping site behind the picnic area.
The Gregory House is at the end of the paved entrance road. It's an old plantation home situated on a bluff that overlooks the Apalachicola River. It was built in 1849 on the other side of the river at Ocheesee landing. It was moved to its present location on the bluff in 1935 when the park was built. During the Civil War the Confederates placed guns on the bluff below the house to command the river. Remains of the gun pits can still be seen. Inside the house is a small gift shop. Those looking to pay for a campsite can do so here, if the ranger isn't at the campground.
There's an area behind the house with a great view of the river and the valley to the west.
The park is divided into two sections. The developed areas are all in the older part of the park. A 'new' section was added in 1989. It has been kept in a more primitive state, although the creek crossings have now been supplied with footbridges. Previously, there were three that could only be crossed over fallen trees.
Beginning at the parking area near the entrance to the park and going in a clockwise direction, the trail passes first through a sand hill area of pines, wiregrass and turkey oak. The most interesting this part of the trail are the red sandstone canyons about a quarter mile into the trail. I've never seen this kind of stone in Florida anywhere else. Red clay hills, yes, but not red sandstone. It is an old remnant of hills that used to be here when the rest of Florida was under water.
One first comes to a cliff overlooking a dry ravine. The trail skirts the edges of these cliffs before cutting across and going down through a cut into the ravine. On the right are cliff faces going straight up. The formations look like something one would expect to see in Arizona, but not Florida. The cliffs are pockmarked with little holes. Whether these are natural, or the result of people boring into the soft rock with sticks, I don't know.
After a short ways, the trail comes back up out of the ravine and hits a service road used to maintain the Rock Bluff primitive campsite. It follows the road down towards the campsite and then veers off to the right. There's a blue-blazed spur trail going over to the campsite. A stack of firewood and a blue port-o-let mark the junction.
The spur trail goes down a little gully and then up onto a bluff overlooking the river. There are four camping areas spread out along the bluff. As one follows the trail, it descends towards the mouth of a little creek. The camping areas all have narrow wooden benches surrounding a fire ring. It's almost a sheer drop down the side of the bluff to the river. At river level there's a limestone shelf. At the end of the bluff where the creek flows into the river, it forms a rocky point.
Beyond the camping area, Rock Bluff loop goes into a narrow cut through the hillside and then descends down to a marshy creek bed. It winds through a little swampy area before climbing to the top of Logan Hill. This is the highest point in the park, and it's a good climb to the top. It's especially steep coming from the other direction. There's a bench at the top to sit on and take a breather when you make it.
At this point the river has makes a wide loop towards the northwest. Instead of looking down at water from the hill, you're looking into a swampy flood plain. Giant sweet gum trees grow thickly in the boggy ground.
The trail descends the other side of Logan's Hill and follows the bluff above the flood plain north to where the river loops back in. This section of the trail is not very strenuous. There's some up and down, but it's not too bad. Three spur trails come into the loop along this stretch. There's a trail that connects the Weeping Ridge spur trail to the loop, but the intersection is not well marked. You'll have to look sharp to find it. There are signs that mark where the Indian Relic and the Gregory House trails intersect, so they're easy to spot.
The trail passes below the Gregory House and intersects the spur that comes down from the east side of the house. It begins to slope downward towards the mouth of Rock Creek, then turns south to cross the spur trail that comes down from the picnic area to the Rock Creek primitive campsite. From the picnic area down to the loop, the spur trail is a service road used to maintain the camping areas and supply them with firewood. There's supposed to be a port-o-let here, but it was gone the last time I was there. If you're in need of a restroom, it's only .7 miles up to the picnic area, but it's uphill all the way.
The road ends at the loop, and a smaller blue-blazed trail crosses a little creek and goes up a small hill to the campsite. There are four camping areas spread out along the hill. It overlooks Rock Creek on the east side. The creek is pretty wide here and winds back and forth along a sizeable little floodplain. I've been here when the water was high and the creek was over its banks. It's better to get water from the little creek under those circumstances, even if you have a filter.
From its intersection with the spur trail, the loop continues south. It follows a creek bed for maybe a quarter mile and is fairly level along that stretch. Then it begins to climb, and after a couple of steep hills it joins a service road that comes down from the south side of the picnic area. The road crosses a creek over a stone bridge that was built back in the 1930s by the CCC. It's a nice place to stop and rest.
The loop continues to follow the road uphill. The spur trail that connects to Rock Creek loop branches off to the east, and then Rock Bluff loop goes back into the woods. There's one pretty good size hill between the service road and the parking lot. At least, it seemed pretty high the one time I climbed it coming from the other direction. There are also a couple of creek crossings over footbridges. The trail climbs out of a ravine to cross the main road, and arrives back at the parking lot.
Rock Creek Loop, also known as the Challenge Loop, is reached via the access road that goes from the picnic area down to the Stone Bridge. There is a half-mile, blue-blazed connector trail that goes from the road just north of the Stone Bridge out to the Rock Creek Loop.
This hike is considered strenuous, and by Florida standards it has a good bit of elevation gain. From the picnic area out to the loop, around the loop, and back, it's over a seven mile hike. The park service recommends allowing oneself seven hours to complete it. A hiker in good condition, though, can make it in half that time or less. Be sure to bring plenty of water, or be prepared to filter water from one of the many creeks that cross the trail. There are no faucets until you get back to the picnic area.
The connector trail starts out going uphill. It climbs a ridge, and then heads down a long slope on an old, washed-out access road. At the bottom it becomes a footpath again, and climbs over a couple more ridges before arriving at the loop.
I am of the opinion that going clockwise is the easiest way to hike the loop. It's an impression, not a scientific fact. Of course there's the same amount of elevation gain and loss either way, but I think some of the uphills are less steep going clockwise, for what it's worth.
Taking the loop clockwise, the trail goes up a long shallow grade. It twists around, dips down and then makes a short steep climb up onto a red sandstone ridge. To the right is a steep slope down into a wide valley. The trail parallels the edge of this valley, and then turns right and dips down to go along the upper edge of it.
Rock Creek Loop description still under construction.