Kayaking Lake Talquin State Forest

Florida often conjures thoughts of palm trees, warm breezes and flat terrain.

However, since moving to southwest Georgia, I have discovered the beautiful forests and varied terrain of north Florida. In particular, I have found some of the great hiking trails in the Lake Talquin State Forest. Besides the lake itself, which beckons canoes, kayaks and fishing boats, the forest offers trails for hiking, horseback riding and off-road biking.

Lake Talquin is a reservoir created in 1927 by the construction of the Jackson Bluff Dam for generation of hydroelectric power. The name Talquin was formed from the two cities it lies between—Tallahassee and Quincy.

My first experience with hiking in the forest was at the Bear Creek Tract with the Tallahassee Outdoors Meetup Group. This tract is located about 5 miles south of Route 10 on Route 267, just below Quincy. There are 492 acres that include wetlands, sandhills and dramatic ravines. There is also an air-conditioned classroom that seats 60 students and is used for public and private school groups and scouting programs. Some programs include lessons, games, hands-on activities, crafts and interpretive hikes.

There are four trails that total approximately 6 miles.

The 0.66-mile Living Forest Trail is a paved trail and has audio stations that tell the stories of the trees and leads to an observation deck.

The Ravine Trail is 1.8 miles and loops around the pond. It includes some steep inclines. The Bear Creek Trail crosses a beaver dam and follows Bear Creek. It also has some steep inclines. This trail is 3 miles. There is a half-mile spur trail that is definitely worth taking to the top of the ravine.

My favorite tract in the forest is the Fort Braden Tract. There are 1,242 acres and three hiking trails that are approximately three miles each, so you can choose to do a 3-, 6- or 9-mile hike. Each is considered moderately strenuous. There are some short steep inclines where the trails cross creeks and ravines. Each follows Lake Talquin at some point and the middle loop has a large picnic area on the lake with a covered pavilion.

There are also two equestrian trail loops that are 5 to 6 miles each.

Horseback riding is not permitted on designated hiking or biking trails or on the Bear Creek Tract.

There are also primitive campsites for individual and group camping. You must obtain a State Forest Use Authorization for overnight camping from the Lake Talquin headquarters on Geddie Rodd.

The Fort Braden Tract is located on the south shore of Lake Talquin on State Road 20 approximately 9.2 miles west of State Road 263 (Capital Circle West) in Tallahassee.

Hunting is not permitted on the Fort Braden Tract so you can enjoy these trails during hunting season. I have often seen deer on the hikes at Lake Talquin. Bicycles are not permitted on the Fort Braden trails.

The Lines Tract has a designated 9-mile off-road bicycle trail for beginners and intermediate level cyclists; however, there are also designated hiking trails in this tract. It is located just past the Bear Creek Tract 7 miles south of Route 10 on Route 267. Turn left on Cook’s Landing Road. The entrance is on the right 1.5 miles. The mail hiking trail is 6.5 miles; however, there are some spur trails that add up to an additional 3.5 miles. I hiked the 6.5 mile trail with the Florida Trail Association. There were some areas that follow the shore of Lake Talquin. However, the trail is not as well marked as Bear Creek and Fort Braden. You really have to watch for the trail blazes.

The Bloxham Tract is on the southwest side of the lake and is available for group picnics. It can accommodate up to 300 people. There is a large pavilion, grill and restroom facilities. There is a rental fee. There is also a small boat ramp and dock for fishing boats, canoes and kayaks; it is situated on a high bluff.

The High Bluff Camping Area is a primitive camp on the north side of Lake Talquin. There are 34 campsites, a fishing pier and boat ramp. No reservations are required. There is an honor fee box charging $5 per night, first come, first served. Maximum stay is two weeks. RV’s are welcome.

There are three Wildlife Management Areas in the forest that are managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They can be contacted at (850) 627-9674 for more information on hunting or fishing. Be sure to check on hunting seasons before using specific tracts for hiking, biking or horseback riding.

Fishing is allowed in all waterways of Lake Talquin State Forest except on the Bear Creek Tract. A valid fishing license is required. If you take Coe Landing Road, off Route 20, and go all the way to the end, there is a nice boat ramp with access to Lake Talquin for boats, canoes and kayaks.

I had the pleasure of kayaking from there with the Tallahassee Outdoors Meetup Group in April. We launched from the boat ramp and paddled up the Ochlocknee River a short way. We enjoyed watching the nesting osprey, egrets, herons and various other birds. When the reservoir was created, many of the tree stumps remained, so boaters must be extremely careful of these submerged stumps.

Day use fees for hiking trails in the forest are $2 per person. There are honor fee boxes at each tract.

For more information on the Lake Talquin State Forest, contact their headquarters at (850) 488-1871. The Florida Trail Association-Apalachee Chapter often hikes the Lake Talquin State Forest. For more information on this group, check out their website: http://apalachee.floridatrail.org/.

Another group that hikes and kayaks this area is the Tallahassee Outdoor Meetup Group: http://www.meetup.com/Tallahassee-Outdoors/. You can also find more information and maps to this area at the following site: http://www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/lake_talquin.html.

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