Garden of Eden Trail: A Hard but Heavenly Hike

    By Andrew J. Skerritt

    The 3.75-mile hike begins in unremarkable shrub, wiregrass and longleaf pine. Don’t be deceived. The Garden of Eden Trail quickly takes you on an adventure into a rollercoaster landscape exotic for much of Florida.

    flowers along the Garden of Eden trail

    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    Garden of Eden trail

    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    Before long, the trail begins its stair-case descent. You enter a natural tunnel, with trees on either side merging overhead, blocking out enough sunlight to create a cool shaded walkway.

    The air is filled with the sounds of cicadas, birds and, as the descent continues, the chirp of Kelley Branch, a restored stream whose clear waters seep from the sand and flow to the Apalachicola River.

    hiking the Garden of Eden trail

    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    After you cross a wooden bridge, the terrain climbs to just short of the crest of the hill. Then the trail straddles the land before it curves downward to the brook covered by another wooden bridge.

    Located not far from Bristol in Liberty County, the Garden of Eden Trail -- a name credited to local resident E.E. Calloway -- is part of the 6,295-acre Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. The Nature Conservancy built the trail with the help of an army of volunteers over a number of years.

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    “It’s a rigorous trail but very family friendly. Wear good, secure footwear and bring plenty of water and snacks,” said David Printiss, North Florida Conservation director for the Nature Conservancy.

    The visitor’s log suggests the trail attracts hikers from near and far: Tallahassee, Fla., Colquitt, Ga., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Columbus, Ohio, Munich, Germany.

    “We get hundreds of visitors,” Printiss said. “Most countries, Western countries, every state in the United States.”

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    It is not uncommon to encounter hikers on the trail. On a recent Saturday, halfway up, the sound of men’s voices mingled amid the trees. Two hikers, Michael Franzen and his 15-year-old son, Niklas, knelt alongside the trail. Franzen, a biologist from Munich, Germany, photographed a baby copperhead snake.

     “It’s really great,” Franzen said. “The Nature Conservancy -- they do good work.”

     Later as father and son lingered at the brook, more voices floated down through the trees. Minutes later, the voices became flesh, and John Streaker and 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, appeared.

     “I love the beauty of the trail -- the flora and the fauna. It’s comfortable. It has a canopy,” said Streaker of Tallahassee. “It’s very nice exercise.”

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    If the canopied trail and the brook are the dessert, then Alum Bluff is the main course of the Garden of Eden Trail. After about two hours of ascending and descending, stopping to hear the birds and the cicadas and to marvel at the way the landscape drops sheer into gullies, the land crests at Alum Bluff, almost 200 feet above the Apalachicola River.

    The trees stand aside and the river opens below, like a brownish-greenish lake hedged between a sliver of shore topped by a wall of pines trees stretching westward as far as the eye could see.

    Boats sail inland and head for the bay. Looking northward, the river swerves and bends, disappearing behind tree-covered bluffs sandwiched beneath a cloud-speckled sky -- the ultimate payoff.

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

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    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    If you go… 

     

    Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve
    Nature Conservancy
    10394 NW Longleaf Dr.
    Bristol, FL 32321

     

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