Saturday, April 28, 2018

Croom C Loop Day Hike, Withlacoochee Forest, FL, April 26, 2018

Croom C Loop Day, via B, B-C, and C Loops, Brooksville, FL, 4/26/2018

Mileage:  7.4ish miles (lollipop loop)

Trailhead: This hike starts at the Tucker Hill Day Use area, 26414 Croom Road, Brooksville, FL. The parking area opens at 8:00 a.m. and there's a $2 fee to park.  To access the "C" Loop trail you must first hike a portion of the "B" loop trail (about .7 miles), which begins just past the kiosk - same side of the street as the fire tower (I've included a map at the end of this report). 

Croom Tract is one of three areas in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The tract has three hiking loops (A, B, and C) and connector trails. A portion of the orange blazed Florida National Scenic Trail runs within the Croom tract.  The area is also widely used for horseback riding and off-road cycling.

Hiked with the Sun Coast Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, led by Joe. The Croom area was mined years ago and the hills and dips we encountered are overgrown quarry pits. 

This area is the place to train if you live in Florida and plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail. Trails total just under 20 miles, divided into three loops: A, B and C, with optional A-B, and B-C Crosstrails.   I've hiked here several times (see previous reports on A Loop, and B Loop hikes) but this is my first time on "C" Loop.

Tucker Hill parking lot (there are bathrooms!).

Tucker Hill fire tower.

We met at the picnic area at the far end of the lot. "B" Loop trail is accessed here. 

Started here.

"B" is yellow blazed.

The trail is wide and predictably flat. It wasn't long before the trail crosses a clearing.

In a little less than a mile we arrived at a trail junction. The plan was to hike "C" Loop clockwise so we took the B-C Crosstrail.

Went left.

Blazes are now blue - we are on the B-C Crosstrail.

Pine flatwoods are as far as the eye can see, though small oak "treelets" cover the floor, scheming to eventually dominate (which is why this area receives regularly prescribed burns).

We crossed Forest Road 5,  heading into more of the same.

There are several road crossings on this hike.

Baby longleaf pines.

We arrived at the next trail junction - the second "C" Loop intersection, and took the "C" Loop trail.

Out of the pines for now.

Forest Road 7 intersects shortly after the junction.

And busy Forest Road 10 (they're constructing a paved bike trail here).

The trail takes a sharp right turn and after crossing Forest Road 7 (again) we arrived at Twin Ponds camping area, a large clearing with quite a few overnight spots. This place, I am told, fills with campers during hunting season (check it out here).

Campground is on FR 7.

The campground is a good place to stop for lunch.  At this point we're just under five miles into the hike, over half way there.

Back on the trail, the group soon arrived at the limestone pit/ridge.  Heavily mined for limestone, Croom's pits or quarries make for a few ups and downs. Half of us dropped into the pit, the others walked the ridge. Nothing too grand about doing either but it added a bit of variation.

Down in the pit.

Up on the ridge.

Back on the flat.

Big snake skin (coachwhip perhaps?).

We crossed FR 5, then FR 10 again and wound up back at the junction of "B" Loop trail.

FR 10 - bike trail under construction.

Back on "B" Loop trail.

Ten minutes later we were back at the picnic/parking area.  

At the parking lot we checked out the old cemetery, located in back of the pay station sign, about a tenth of a mile in.

Wide trail behind this sign goes to the cemetery.

Headstones date as early as mid 1800s and late as 1930s.  

Our route.