Sunday, December 15, 2019

Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs via Florida Trail, Ocala Nat'l Forest, FL, December 7,2019

Distance: 10.6 miles (point-to-point)

Elevation gain: 249'

Location of trail heads:  This is a point-to-point hike in Ocala National Forest starting at Clearwater Lake Recreation Area, 24511 County Rd 42, Paisley and ending at Alexander Springs Recreation Area, 49525 County Rd 445, Altoona. Trail head parking at Clearwater Lake is just before the recreation area's gate on the right; you do not have to pay a fee as you don't enter the park. Parking for the end of the hike is within the Alexander Springs' gate; $6 to park (there are restrooms).

Note: Many roads within Florida's forests look passable on GPS devices and maps but may not be for two- and four- wheel drive vehicles.  Opt for main roads when driving to and from these trail heads.

A good portion of this hike is unshaded, particularly during the first five miles.  Bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.

The Florida National Scenic trail (Florida Trail) is a hiking path that runs from the Gulf Islands National Seashore to Big Cypress National Preserve. The orange-blazed trail's 1300 miles takes you through the heart of Florida, from the Panhandle to Big Cypress ending north of Everglades National Park. The Clearwater-Lake-to Alexander-Springs leg is picturesque and popular for FT thru-hikers and day hikers. 

Hiked with the "Florida Hiker Babes."  The group is comprised of 300+ women hikers who get together to explore Florida's rich landscape.  On this morning six of us were up for the adventure.

We'd camped at Alexander Springs campground the night before; a lovely, quiet place with a crystal clear spring and spacious campsites. It's also where our hike would end later that day.  It was a brisk 45° when we jumped in the van to drive to Clearwater Lake - our driver found a short-cut to our starting point.  

Those driving directions failed us however.  The short cut led us deep into the forest, past many hunters, on a road that dipped down to a very flooded low point.  We turned the van around and took the main road to the Clearwater Lake trail head where we quickly jumped out, tucked our pants into our socks* and headed toward the trail. 

Trail head parking (on right, before the gate).

This is also parking for the Paisley Woods off-road bicycle trail.

Sign indicates the building of the Florida Trail started here!

Tucking our pants in our socks to avoid ticks.

The trail immediately turns right and leads you onto some gentle rollers before becoming quite flat, running through several miles of pine flatwoods with saw palmettos and a pond or two (depending on what time of year you're here).

Trail turns right - onto rolly terrain.

This well-marked trail connects to the FT (all orange-blazed).

Ten miles to State Road 445; eleven to Alexander Springs.

Crossing Forest Road 69.

Temps started to climb out in the open but luckily clouds rolled in. We were never really in the heat and thankful for that.  

The trail crosses several forest and state roads (there are also equestrian and ATV trails that intersect these roads). An "FT" sign or an orange blaze is nearby but not always directly across the road - it may be to the right or left.

Miles of "more of the same" pine scrub are boring to me but I knew this trail would redeem itself.

We passed power lines and wound up on another forest road.  The path continues on the right, past the sign to honor a dear friend of someones they affectionately named "Hog Man."

When you reach the road here, look right for the sign.

At power lines, walk to the left of this sign.

At 5 miles we stopped to have lunch in a clearing just right of the path. This was a welcome break for me as one mile after another of open, sandy trail was wearing me down.  

Lunch spot.

When we started up again the scenery changed, seemed more lush, appealing.  We turned our heads up in wonder as we were led through tall spindly pines, situated in such unison it reminded me of sentries on watch.  

The picture doesn't capture the grandness of these pines.

Next, we were in a grove of awkward oaks. Then on mossy boardwalks, tilted and worn as if transported from an ancient forest. No boredom here!

We crossed Forest Road 539, closing in on our destination.

Throughout the trip we didn't see any wildlife (just one odd looking bug crossing the sand) though we passed several very large piles of bear scat.

Just a sweet walk in the woods!

Road crossing! (again).

Ancient boardwalks through the lushness.....

The Alexander Springs trail shown in the photo below is a blue-blazed path leading to the spring and campground. At the "Alexander Springs" sign we went left instead of right and wound up at State Road 445 so we had to backtrack, making our total hike over 11 miles.

Go here to get to Alexander Springs (going left will put you on SR 445).

Alexander Springs.

Though at our final destination, we still had to get the car back from the Clearwater Lake trail head parking lot. We all went - mostly to see Clearwater Lake, which we missed that morning.  The lake is accessible outside the park gate.  We were able to catch sunset here.

Clearwater Lake sunset.

I'll come back to Ocala National Forest to explore their trail system and springs, and would definitely do this hike again!

Taken from

*We'd heard about a healthy tick presence in the area - though not a single tick was found on us after this hike.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina, October 4, 2019.

Sassafras Mountain, SC (3,560') October 4, 2019.

Directions:  Route 178 (from I-85) to the town of Rocky Bottom to Road 199 (or F. Van Clayton Highway). Drive 5 miles up hill, park and follow a small path the rest of the way.  (This highpoint was much easier to find than anticipated.)

Visited Sassafras Mountain for the second time, this time with my friend Sandy.  

The transformation of this highpoint is remarkable - see my first report of 2009 to truly understand how far it has come.  

The broken sign has been replaced.

Nice new sign.
The wide path up is concrete, with a less steep path that is considered handicap access but it's gravel and I can't imagine a wheelchair using it.
Wide path up - I'd think wheelchairs would fare better here.

As we rounded the corner we were greeted with a black line, indicating the border of South and North Carolinas, which led to the overlook.
The black line halves the overlook structure.

Very nice overlook.

Top of the overlook with the black border.

Most impressive to me was the transformation of the cell tower area.  Below was what we found in '09.  Note the small block center of the photo next to the resting cell tower.  That's the USGS marker.

In 2009. this appeared to be an abandoned site.

Today, that USGS marker is still there, as is the small building on the right. Everything else has changed.....

Same view in 2019.

In 2010 the land was transferred and is under the care of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.   Thanks to Duke Energy, the Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund, Pickens County, the Felburn Foundation, the SC Heritage Trust and private donors, this highpoint received the honor it deserves.

Randy works for DNR as steward here - and snake catcher!

AT Approach/Len Foote Hike Inn Loop, Georgia, September 21, 2019

Appalachian Trail (AT) Approach/Len Foote Hike Inn Loop, Dawsonville, Georgia, 9/21/19

Mileage: 10.3 miles (loop)

Elevation gain: 2195'

Directions to trailhead: Hike begins at Amicalola Falls State Park, 418 Amicalola Falls State Park Rd, Dawsonville. From Ellijay, take GA 52 East approximately 20 miles.  Entrance is on the left. There is a $5 fee to park.  

To access the trailhead via car take a left at the Visitor Center (onto Top of the Falls Road) and then take the second right to a group of parking lots.  Park in the third (and highest) lot.  Trailhead is well signed.

The Appalachian Trail Approach is a 7.3 mile trail that begins at beautiful Amicalola Falls State Park and ends at the summit of Springer Mountain - the Springer Mountain summit marks the start of the AT, a south-to-north 2,192 mile long-distance path. AT hikers can choose to reach Springer via this trail, though not required as it's not part of the AT.

Hiked with Rich today.  I'd been wanting to check out the Len Foote Hike Inn (only accessible on foot) but read that the trail to it is a just a 5-mile-500-feet-gain hike and was looking for a bit more of a workout.  The AT Approach trail runs somewhat parallel to the Len Foote Hike Inn Trail allowing us to combine the trails for a more substantial loop hike. 

We planned to walk the loop clockwise, up the AT Approach Trail first thinking it would be a more rugged ascent.

We signed in at the Visitors Center and paid the $5 to park. Some choose to first climb the stairs up the falls before starting up the AT Approach trail. We asked at the info desk and were told by park staff that adding the 604 steps that led from the bottom to the top of the falls before beginning the loop makes for 14 mile mile hike; without the stairs it would be 12. This is incorrect (it's best to do your own research before heading out). We decided against the stairs and headed right to the trailhead.  (If this is your first time to Amicalola Falls, take the stairs - the falls are beautiful!)

Several other hikers were at the trailhead when we arrived.  The beginning of the hike didn't go well for me. Right out the gate I tripped, fell and banged up my knee.  Then a few miles in I lost my sunglasses, the third expensive pair lost in as many years.  

Still, it was a good day in the woods!

Upper parking lot (there are bathrooms).

After tripping, I brushed myself off, wiped my bleeding knee and continued on (after all, I still could walk!).  The AT Approach and Len Foote Hike Inn Trails start together for the first five minutes or so, then split off.

Trails run concurrent.

Who trips and falls on this?!

We crossed a road (we'd be crossing several on this loop).

Road crossing.

Two years ago we took the short route up to Springer Mountain to see the beginning of the AT - see previous report. (We've also hiked the northern end of the AT, Mt. Katahdin - see previous report. Guess now we have to start working on the in-between!)

Springer would've been too long a hike today.

The ascent is so gradual, with many small "ups."  According to the map, we'd been on Amicalola Mountain and the trail appears to visit the summit of Frost Mountain.  

Another road.


Another road.....

We passed at least eight campsites the first ten minutes into the hike.  My first thought was "if I was starting the AT no way would I be camping the first mile on the Approach Trail." But not everyone wishing to camp is hiking the AT, and southbound AT thru-hikers use these sites for overnight stays after finishing their journeys.

Many campsites on either side of the trail.

We enjoyed the rooty trail, all of it in the woods (no views). The long stretch of PUDs (pointless ups and downs) continues just over four miles before reaching the Len Foote Hike Inn trail junction.

Finally!  The trail junction.

I expected the junction to be very well marked and truly, it would be hard to miss this sign but if you do, you're headed up to Springer!  We turned right and swung east, through lush greenery.

The day was heating up and so was the Galax, a flowering plant whose thick skunk smell permeated the air.  A mile after the junction we reached the Len Foote Hike Inn.  The Inn offers bunks (max is 3 people to a room), dinner, breakfast and lunch.  And showers.  We stopped to eat in the dining hall then headed down the "five-mile-500'-gain" path.  

Mile markers along the way.

The Inn path wasn't that wimpy. It too had a number of ups and downs.  By the end we were ready to be done and headed for a beer!

A place to rest. The path considers all fitness levels.

After the boots came off we drove back to the Visitor Center to sign out and see if someone turned in my sunglasses.  Behind the visitor Center is the famous arch.

The AT Approach Trail isn't memorable for it's challenge or views, but it was exciting to be walking the path so many travel in anxious anticipation of their first miles, days, weeks and months of such an extraordinary long-distance trail. 

We had a beer at Cartecay River Brewing Company afterward. 

Someone found and turned in my glasses!  Love hikers....

Alltrails map.