Friday, May 25, 2018

Citrus Tract - D Loop, Withlacoochee State Forest, Inverness, Florida, May 22, 2018

Withlacoochee State Forest, Citrus Tract D Loop, Inverness, Florida, 5/22/2018

Mileage:  13.7 miles (loop)

Elevation gain: 525' (it's Florida after all)

Trailhead: This hike starts at Stage Pond Cemetery, 1280 East Stage Coach Trail (Route 480), Inverness (corner of E. Stage Coach Road and Trail 11B). Both Google Maps and my car gps show the address to be off about a mile.  There's a sign at the cemetery so if you stay on E. State Coach Trail and look for Trail 11B, you'll find it. Coordinates: 28.702309, -82.411230. Parking is in front of the fence.

Citrus Tract is one of three areas in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The tract has four hiking loops (A, B, C and D) and connector trails. A portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail (referred to here as the Florida Trail), orange blazed, runs within the Citrus tract. Today's hike is on D loop, counter-clockwise (see map below).

Hiked with the Sun Coast Chapter of the Florida Trail Association.

To hike mid-May in Florida is a gift.  Hiking season typically runs October through April, and as summer approaches hikers held hostage by the heat opt for shorter, earlier treks or simply wait until fall to venture back into the woods and onto prairies.  

But we were in the middle of a moderate albeit rainy week with temps in the mid eighties, so we went for it.

Our plan was to start early and hike at a good pace so as to avoid the thunderstorms.  (Just one rumble of thunder was heard on this trip. The rain came early though, around 12:30, making the final two hours of the hike wet...and then not....then wet again, as the storm system worked its way through the region.)

Just before 8:30 we started down Forest Road 11B (dirt road to the left of the cemetery) and followed it until it intersected with the D Loop trail. We went right, onto the trail.

We parked by the sign. 

Forest Road 11B.

Heading down the road to the trail intersection.

Stage Pond's nothing special - hard to see, overwhelmed with grass and other vegetation. I missed it at first.

Stage pond (on our right)

Trail intersects the road. We went right and followed yellow blazes.

All loop trails are marked with yellow blazes, connector trails with blue.  We'll stay on the yellow trail, then take the connector trail.  The connector trail ends at the Florida Trail - blazed with orange - which will bring us back to Route 480, just east of our parked cars.

A few minutes on the trail brought us to Taylor Campsite, now officially "PCZ-D," or Primitive Campsite Zone-D, renamed by the Florida Forest Service. 

It's not far from this sign.

Lots of "tent-worthy" area surrounds the camp's firepit.

Brittle Road was our first intersection; we'll cross about a dozen roads on this loop.

Road name is written on back of the sign.

The stream is usually dry; nice to see some water in it.

We crossed Route 480 (aka East Stage Coach Road), and headed toward Lizzie Hart Sink hole.

Our surroundings changed. No longer dominated by pine flatwoods, there's a velvety greenness all about. After months of very little rain and hiking dry dusty scrub, it was a treat to get out into the lush. Raindrops sparkled on leaves and branches.  We saw butterflies, heard crows and cicadas.

Trail narrows.

Sinkholes can be any size and often the sink is nothing but a small "meh" depression.  Not Lizzie Hart.  Part of the Brooksville Ridge, an area higher in elevation, the drop is significant.  It's deep.

Jamie (orange shirt) standing at the bottom of the Sink.

Next up: the caves. Not long after we left the sink we reached a cave and a peace sign painted on a tree.  This isn't the only cave in the area. The spot's popular with locals, easily reached by one of the forest roads.

Two small caves. 

Peace sign is a little faded.

From here we traveled several more miles of trail, crossing roads and horse trails.  Clouds came in, temps were rising and it was warm and humid. The majority of this hike is under cover of woods. Still, we enjoyed the cloud cover and the occasional breeze.

The junction of the connector trail was a good place for us to stop for a quick lunch.  The bugs were out and we were watching the clock and the skies. 

If we continued on the yellow blazes here, we'd be beginning the west side of "C Loop" (we'll save that for another day).  Instead we turned right on the blue blazed trail (for 1.8 miles in length), headed for the Florida Trail intersection.

Junction of the connector trail.

Very little of the loop is out in the open.

A wooden bench marks the end of the connector trail. We turned right onto the Florida trail and followed the orange blazes back to Route 480.

Bench for a brief rest!

Left is the east side of C Loop (we went right).

The wind picked up and big drops of rain fell -  intermittently at first.  Within five minutes a heavy shower doused us, then tapered off to a sprinkle.  It wasn't the last of the rain, though.

Orange blazed Florida Trail.

Umbrellas are handy for Florida hiking: rain and shine!

Its peaceful in the woods during a rain; the group walked quietly toward the end. The roar of wind (and oncoming rain) got the ponchos and umbrellas out. 

Eventually we heard vehicles on the highway and found ourselves back on Route 480. We could see our parked cars off to the right but continued across the street and back into the woods on the yellow trail until we reached the pond. 

Rather than go around the pond (we were tired and wet) we went right, onto Forest Road 11B and back to the cemetery and our cars.

Aware of the forecast we'd hoped to avoid rain but the showers cooled us down and we were able to enjoy hiking this beautiful part of the Citrus Tract.  

Our route.