One of the most challenging trail systems in Florida is Torreya State Park. It is located just one hour south of Bainbridge, or one hour west of Tallahassee, Fla. The park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. It consists of 12,000 acres and is a U.S. National Natural Landmark and historic site. Traces of the Indians who lived here still remain. There are two trails as long as 7 miles and some short spur trails as well. If you are an experienced hiker, you will definitely enjoy the two 7-mile loops. If you are a beginning hiker, or just want to bring your children on a short hike; there are trails available for you.
Torreya State Park resembles trails in the Appalachian Mountains. There are deep ravines, streams, red sandstone cliffs and bluffs that overlook the Apalachicola river, Florida’s largest river. The park is named for the extremely rare species of Torreya tree that only grows on the bluffs along the Apalachicola River. You will also see the Florida yew tree, the queen Magnolia, dogwood, yellow jasmine and azaleas. The hardwood trees provide a beautiful display of colors in the fall. Wildlife that you may encounter include deer, beaver, grey fox, squirrel, raccoon, opossum, fox, skunk, rabbit, bobcat, black bear and more than 100 species of birds.
My favorite trail is the River Bluff Loop Trail, which is approximately 7 miles long, if you follow the orange blazes. There are some blue blazed trails along the way that will shorten your hike if you choose to do so. The orange blazes are part of the Florida Trail. The Florida Trail Association publishes a detailed hiking guide and segment-by-segment map of the trails. For more information, visit their website at www.florida-trails.org.
There are also maps of all the trails available at the gift shop next to the Gregory house. After going through the entrance to the park, follow the road all the way to the end where there is a parking lot. The Gregory house is a fully furnished plantation home built in 1849. It was originally located at Ocheesee Landing, across the river. It was disassembled piece by piece, numbered and reassembled at its present site overlooking the Apalachicola River. There are picnic benches overlooking the river where you can rest and have a snack. There are restrooms available at this location, also.
Starting at the Gregory House, you can go east or west to start the loop. To the east, you will follow the river for a short while and you will hike past six Confederate civil war cannon batteries used to prevent the passage of Union gunboats. From here, the trail descends towards Rock Creek. The trail follows the creek for a while along a floodplain, then joins a service road that crosses a creek over a stone bridge built in the 1930’s. It is a pretty place to stop and take a rest. At the stone bridge, you could take the blue blaze trail up to the picnic area if you don’t want to do the whole 7-mile loop.
To continue on the loop, follow the service road uphill. It goes back into the woods and up a steep hill, over a couple of creek crossings and up to the main road. Cross over the road and continue traveling clockwise following the orange blazes. This part of the trail passes through some beautiful red sandstone canyons. Not far from here, you will notice a limestone shelf near the river which is another nice spot to take a rest. Beyond this, the trail cuts through the hillside and climbs Logan Hill, the highest point in the park. Then the trail descends to a floodplain with giant sweet gum trees. Three blue blazed spur trails connect with the trail along this section. The Weeping Ridge Trail leads down to a small, beautiful waterfall. If you continue on the main trail, you will end up back at the Gregory House.
There is another seven mile loop called the Torreya Challenge, or Rock Creek Loop Trail. I have not personally hiked this loop. I have been told that it is definitely more of a challenge with lots of hills and valleys. Also, once you begin this trail, you will have to either complete the loop or turn around — there are no cut-off trails on this loop.
There is a public campground and several primitive campsites in the park. In the public campground, two tents and two vehicles are allowed per site or one RV. There are restrooms and showers. Pets are allowed except in the Yurt and primitive campsites. The Yurt is a 20-foot domed tent available for camping. It includes many amenities including flooring, electricity, air-conditioning, heater, a lockable wooden door, futon, bunk twin bed, queen bed, table, chairs, and a deck. Reservations may be made 11 months in advance through www.reserveamerica.com, or by calling 1-800-326-3521. Deer often wander near the campground. We came across a doe feeding close to the parking area. She stayed long enough for us to take some photographs.
Three primitive camping areas are also available. Each primitive site accommodates up to 16 people. Each site includes four fire rings, benches, firewood and either a portable toilet or restroom nearby. Campers must register at least one hour before sunset. Camping fees are $17.12 per night. The Yurt fee is $42 per night. Primitive camping is $5.35 per person. There are also two youth camping sites. One site will accommodate up to 20 people, the other up to 40. The sites include fire rings, water and a toilet. Pets are not allowed overnight in youth camps. Call the park at (850) 643-2674 for reservations. The cost is $5.35 for those 18 and over and $1.07 each for those under 18 years of age. Daily admission to the park is $3 per vehicle and is open daily from 8 a.m.
Torreya State Park is located on the east bank of the Apalachicola River between State Route 20 and Interstate 10. To reach it from Tallahassee, go west on State Route 20 past Hosford and turn right on County Road 271. Cross State Route 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. Coming from the north, take Rt. 267 to Rt. 271 and follow the signs into the park.
The telephone for the park office is (850) 643-2674. Both the Apalachee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association and the Tallahassee Outdoors Meetup Group have outings at Torreya. For more information on these groups see their websites: apalachee.floridatrail.org and www.meetup.com/tallahassee-outdoors. For more photographs of Torreya State Park, visit my website at joyscreations.photium.com.