This is Hike #18 in the book 50 Hikes in Central Florida, completed on December 18, 2021.
St. Francis Trail is in the far eastern side of the Ocala National Forest, just outside of DeLand, Florida.
Nearly all of my previous hikes from the book had been solo. My companion on this hike was my friend Olga. We started the hike around 10:30 am on an unseasonably warm December day. Olga was actually overdressed in jeans.
Although the book said to follow the orange blazes, most of them were painted white as we headed into the woods. About ten minutes into the hike, with me walking in front, we were startled by an Eastern Ratsnake in the middle of the trail. It moved slowly off to our right, but Olga was able to catch a great photo of it.
After photos and a laugh over our reaction to seeing the snake, we continued our hike. Walking a little more than a mile, we came to our first junction. From here the hike was a giant loop that we would hike counterclockwise and return to this spot.
Soon after, the St. Francis Trail nearly rejoins the Yellow Loop. But again, we continued straight, heading towards the lost settlement of St. Francis.
Around 2.5 miles we came up on a fun pole bridge called Dolan’s Bridge and speculated what Dolan might have done to have a bridge named for him. It was an easy crossing.
Soon we came to a double blaze which told us we were near our first observation spot, down a side trail to the right. The side trail ended at the bank of the St. Francis Dead River. Here we took a short break to enjoy the view.
The book indicated that the second river observation area was better, so we continued northwest along the river. Again, at a double blaze, a double-track side road on the right took us to the junction of the St. Johns River. Here we found a shady spot by the water to have a small lunch.
This spot was very peaceful and scenic so we spent some time appreciating the views and also taking lots of photos and panoramic videos.
Rested and refreshed, we walked back down the road that used to be the main street of the town of St. Francis. Unfortunately, nothing is left of the once-thriving port town. After a little more than four miles into our hike, we turned left back onto the single-track St. Francis Tail. We entered a hammock that looked like it was still recovering from a fire several years ago.
The day was partly cloudy but beginning to warm up. Olga wished she had worn shorts at this point. The trail in this section meandered south, and in a few places we had to search for the trail. I nearly walked into a spiderweb with large spider (a Golden Silk Orb-Weaver, I think) which Olga spotted after I had passed beside it. She took a great photo of it.
We did miss the suggested junction of the Yellow Loop and took a slightly different parallel route before finally coming upon it at a bench and signpost. We hiked a short while on the Yellow Loop until we arrived at the end of the loop at the first junction from the morning. From that point we had to walk about a mile back to the trailhead.
We finished our 8.3-mile hike at exactly 3:00 pm. We were both a little hot and tired from the last few miles, but thoroughly enjoyed the day. Olga was very pleased with her “walk in the woods” and I enjoyed having a companion for this longer hike.
Our drive home took us through downtown DeLand which means one thing: a stop for beers at Persimmon Hollow. Olga had never been there, but I had stopped there after my Hidden Waters Preserve, Lyonia Preserve, and De Leon Springs State Park hikes. We got tacos and a few cold pints. (As a bonus, we also walked down the block for a final beer at Hyderhead Brewery.)