Over 87% of Franklin County's 545 square miles are preserved and managed by the state or federal government. These open lands provide endless opportunities to explore both uplands and coastal lowlands. From a dwarf cypress boardwalk and observation tower to primitive beaches, there are miles of trails available for hiking, bird watching, wildlife viewing, bicycling or horseback riding. The links below will help you find your way.
Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
Encompassing over 246,000 acres in Apalachicola Bay, it is the 2nd largest Estuarine Research Reserve system in the nation. Educational center located on Island Drive in Eastpoint. Exhibits on the flora and fauna of the area, an aviary and live giant fish tanks. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 670-7700.
Apalachicola Paddling Trail System
The Apalachicola Paddling Trail System is one of the country’s top twelve paddling destinations according to Paddler magazine and the American Canoe Association. Maps are available on website.
Paddle the length of the magnificant Apalachicola River for 106 miles from the Jim Woodruff Dam to the city of Apalachicola.
Florida Paddling Trail
Along the coast, vast tracts of unspoiled public lands and islands are featured in this segment, from the high dunes of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park to the wild palm-lined shores of St. Vincent Island to the old-growth coastal forests of Cape St. George State Reserve. Apalachicola Bay is a dominant natural feature, providing incredibly productive fishing and shellfish harvests. Not only will paddlers see numerous oyster boats and their crews scouring the waters of Apalachicola Bay. Just inland from the bay, paddlers can enjoy 10 mapped paddling trails through small bays and down remote cypress and tupelo lined creeks. These scenic streams bear intriguing names such as Whiskey George and Thank You Ma'am. They are part of the state-owned Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area. Some overnight trips are possible.
Cape St. George State Reserve
This 9-mile-long reserve is one of three barrier islands that separate Apalachicola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. The Reserve’s remoteness and wilderness provides an opportunity to explore and enjoy a remnant of Florida’s original natural landscape. It is also the former home to the Cape St. George Lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s quarters. Built in 1852, the 72 foot lighthouse now stands in the center of St George Island. Shell collecting is very good, accessible only by boat.
St. George Island State Park
Nine miles of undeveloped beach, pristine shoreline, majestic dunes and bay forest, sandy coves and salt marshes. A series of hiking trails, boardwalks and observation platforms great for hiking, camping or a leisurely stroll. (850) 927-2111
St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center
St. Vincent Island is an unspoiled barrier island at the west end of Apalachicola Bay. The refuge is open during daylight hours. It is only accessible by boat and there are no facilities available. Visitor’s Center is located on the north end of Market Street in Apalachicola. Open 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday (850) 653-8808
Apalachicola National Forest
At 564,000 acres the Apalachicola National Forest Florida's largest National Forest. It is home to thousands acres of virgin stands of pines and cypress, vast pitcher plant savannas, and extensive forests of longleaf pine crucial for survival of the red-cockaded woodpecker. Camping, picnicking, boating, hunting, fishing (850) 643-2282
Fort Gadsden Historic Site
Located on the east bank of the Apalachicola River approximately 45 minutes north of Eastpoint, accessed by Highway 65. The site interprets the role of Native and African Americans during the early 1800s. This site is managed as part of the Apalachicola National Forest. (850) 643-2282
St Joseph Bay Preserves
Over 5,000 acres on St. Joseph Bay form the State Buffer Preserve. Miles of trails are open for hiking and biking, and there is a kayak launch site at the Deal Tract on Cape San Blas Road. The Visitor Center has educational exhibits; programs on local sea life, flora, and fauna; and volunteer opportunities. The St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve is located at 3915 State Road 30-A. Call (850) 229-1787, weekdays 9:00 – 4:00, for program schedule and trail maps.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
Miles of white sand beaches, striking dunes, 2,516 acre park. Excellent snorkeling, swimming, birding, camping. Voted #2 beach in the nation by Dr. Beach. (850) 227-1327
Tate’s Hell State Forest
202,437 acres of forest for hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting and camping. Tate's Hell is best known for its large expanse of wetlands which act as a natural filter for water entering the Apalachicola River and Bay. Several stands of unique dwarf cypress trees are located here, some documented to be over 150 years old. Savannas covering hundreds of acres include rare pitcher plants, diverse grasses and wildflowers. (850) 697-3734.
Gulf Specimen Marine Lab
Information on public aquarium hours, field trips, scientific research call 850-984-5297
Big Bend Scenic Byway
Whether you visit the Forest Trail rich with pine forests, hardwood hammocks, grasslands, streams, and rivers, or the Coastal Trail of salt marshes, bays, sand dunes, and beaches, it’s the natural place to be. Approximately 220 miles in length, the Big Bend Scenic Byway can be accessed from Apalachicola in the west, Tallahassee Regional Airport in the north, or Newport in the east.
Links: The Epicurean Birder