I knew I had chosen the right place for a hike when the following scene greeted me through my windshield:
I had just driven into Hog Island Recreation Area, which is located in the northern reaches of the Croom Tract of
State Forest Hog Island
itself is created by the forking as it flows
north, with the two forks rejoining downstream. Withlacoochee
Because the Withlacoochee ain’t exactly the Mississippi when it comes to width – and Hog Island is long enough that you can not see either of its ends unless you are right next to one – it does not appear to be an island when you look at it from one of the river’s “mainland banks.” Instead it seems like you are simply looking across an ordinary
stream, as you can tell from this picture that was taken at the canoe launch:
There are two hiking trails, both of which traverse the forestlands east of the river. Marked by orange blazes, the River Trail is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail and parallels the
Withlacoochee for seven miles from north to south. The
Hog Island Nature Trail is a two-mile loop marked by yellow blazes. After
parking my car, I strapped my 20-month-old hiking partner in place before
hoisting him onto my back to start our little adventure:
I was soon reminded that walking parallel to a river does not automatically equate to walking beside a river, for at no point did the River Trail offer us a view of the
It did, however, take us beside a few wetlands:
At the outset, the trails share the same path that is buried beneath a carpet of leaves, making it especially important to pay attention to the blazes. Shortly after starting out, we came to a spot where the River Trail branches off to the right and the Hog Island Nature Trail branches off to the left. While I have no doubt that the latter is good, seeing as how it passes by large sinkholes and is part of the State Forest Trailwalker Program, I opted to save it for a later date since it was already afternoon.
Our hike took place last Saturday, and featured everything that makes Florida a wonderful place to be in late February: The temperature was a warm 82 degrees, but due to the lack of humidity I did not break a sweat even though I had a load on my back…Many of the trees, especially the maples, were erupting with new leaves bright and green...A hawk flew chest-high across the path no more than 15 feet in front me, followed moments later by a pileated woodpecker who did the same…If not for the calendar, you would have sworn it was Spring:
In a few places I had to navigate over or around fallen trees that presented barriers worthy of being mentioned. Here is the final and most cumbersome one we encountered:
Soon after clearing that barrier and following the trail past a boggy lowland, I discovered that this place comes by its name honestly. Spread out in front of us across a low hillside was a group of wild boars, including youths as well as adults and no doubt males as well as females. The young ones began running around, their hooves creating a noisy ruckus in the leaf carpet. The adults moved more slowly and warily, with the biggest of the bunch standing still and staring directly at me.
Deciding without a moment’s hesitation to cut our trip short, I took a few steps backward then turned on my heels and started moving swiftly in the direction whence we came. In the process, a hair trigger expletive escaped my mouth and I told Parker not to repeat it. Glancing back to make sure the boars were staying on the hill, I thought of how this was the second time in less than a year that a porcine presence hastened the end of one of my hikes. But oh well…there was plenty of woodland scenery to keep us happy on our return to the car, and that was an undoubtedly good thing:
Hog Island Recreation Area is located in the northernmost reaches of what can fairly be called the Tampa Bay Area. To get here, take I-75 to exit 309 (48 miles north of the I-4 junction) and turn west on County Road 476. When that road reaches a T intersection, turn left and continue 2.3 miles to County Road 635, where you will turn left and continue one mile before seeing the recreation area’s entrance on the right. After traveling a fairly short distance on the recreation area’s dirt road, you will see the trailhead’s parking area on the left, signed as the “Florida Trail.”
Interestingly enough, the seven-mile section of path on which we hiked last Saturday is not the only one in Croom that goes by the name River Trail. The other, which I have written about here and here, is in Croom’s far south where the preserve ends at the river instead of straddling it like it does up here.
The sprawling wilderness of this recreation area is not one you want to miss. Happy Trails!
Note: One paragraph has been removed from this post since it was originally published, because contrary to what I believed at the time, the Iron Bridge Day Use Area does not provide access to the Hog Island Nature Trail. - JDS, 3/5/13