Apalachicola National Forest

Apalachicola National Forest is the forest of Florida’s Panhandle (Northwest Florida), 4 miles southwest of Tallahassee. These woods are 632,890 acres of pine sandhillsflatwoodsmarshes, and floodplains. All of these rich ecosystems support a diverse variety of native Florida species, such as woodpeckers, bobcats, foxes, snakes, coyotes, black bears, turkeys, fox squirrels, and alligators.

A swimming alligator viewed from above
Florida is a land of alligators and Appalachicola National Forest is a great place to see them! -Photo by Shelly Collins on Unsplash

In the hottest month of August, the average high is only 87 degrees, however, this can feel much warmer due to the humidity. The lowest average temperature is 48 degrees in January (sorry snowboarders, this is a subtropical forest!)

About Apalachicola National Forest 

The dominant coniferous tree species is the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, but there are deciduous species present as well. There are even deciduous conifers here (yes, they exist!) called bald cypress.  Apalachicola contains many delicate habitats that house animals who are specialized to live there, such as the birds and insects of the wetlands. 

One of the best maps of the forest is right here on the USDA’s website for Apalachicola. This interactive map can help you pinpoint amenities and recreational opportunities. To print a copy, just click on the settings icon. 

Background 

Apalachicola once contained trees hundreds of years old, some of which exceeded 100 feet tall. Unfortunately, the entire virgin forest was cut down for lumber both before the forest reservation system was enacted and after. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that Apalachicola became a national forest. Even then, protection of the woods themselves didn’t start right away as World War II put great demands on the timber industry. 

The namesake of the forest is the Apalachee Native Americans who once inhabited the land. Their territory stretched east of the Apalachicola River to Aucilla River as well as up to southern Georgia. They spoke a dialect of Muskogee called Apalachee, which is now extinct. Their capital was Anhaica, now Tallahassee. The capital had around 250 buildings before the Apalachee people were forced out by Hernando de Soto in 1539. The tribe encountered their first Spanish explorers in 1528. 

Recreation in Apalachicola National Forest

Aside from the intense biodiversity and beauty, Apalachicola offers abundant recreation. You can hunt, fish, ride horses, hike, bike, camp at a site, or do some dispersed camping in the woods if you like. On the water you’ll find boating and swimming opportunities. If you go for a dip, just remember that a lot of Florida’s wildlife lives in the water. Snakes and alligators are present, so exercise caution. You should also never take in any water and remember to stay away from algae blooms, as they can cause skin irritation. 

The largest recreational area in the forest is at Silver Lake. This spring-fed lake mirrors the beautiful, mossy canopy of pine and cypress trees that surround its sandy shores. The white beaches of Silver Lake make for a perfect swimming and lounging site. 

There are 45 picnic tables to choose from at the site, and a mile-long interpretive trail. Pretty much all of Apalachicola is flat, so you don’t have to worry about any elevation gain on these hikes, although mosquitos can be a problem, so be sure to bring your bug repellant!

Non-motorized boats are allowed on Silver Lake, as is fishing. In all of its 15 acres, you’re liable to catch largemouth bass, brim, and sizeable catfish! Besides the fishes, you’re also likely to encounter turtles, alligators, bears, turkeys, and armadillos along the shore. 

There is no camping at Silver Lake. If you’re looking for water to bed down next to, we suggest Wright Lake. One section of the lovely lakeshore offers 18 developed campgrounds complete with amenities, including a bathhouse where swimmers can rinse off in hot water. Fishing and boating are common here. A 4.6-mile interpretive trail encircles the lake. 

Wright Lake campsites are available from October through May and may be reserved here

An armadillo in high grass-armadillos are surprisingly common in Apalachicola 
National Forest
Did you know you might spot armadillos in Appalachicola National Forest? -Photo by Joe Lemm on Unsplash

Scenic Byways

The Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway is a breathtaking drive through one of the most botanically rich areas in America. These subtropical grasslands are mostly open with some longleaf pines and undergrowth. 

Big Bend Scenic Byway is a favorite of many for its incredible views of both Florida’s forests and coasts. The byway measures 220 miles in total and would take a full two days to traverse, so there is definitely plenty to see! In fact, this byway connects nine state parks and three state forests. 

Wildlife in Apalachicola National Forest

A number of endangered species inhabit this forest, including the gray bat, red-cockaded woodpecker, wood stork, and four separate mollusk species. One endangered plant that calls the forest home is harper’s beauty (Harperocallis fava). This sweet little sunshine-yellow flower is endemic to Florida and is listed as “imperiled” on the conservation scale.  

Word of the Day:

Endemic: Native to only one specific place in the world; not occurring anywhere else. 

The flower has been faced with the threat of extinction since 1979 when it was first placed on the endangered species list with fewer than 100 individuals left alive. The last surviving flowers are mostly found in the Apalachicola forest where they remain under the USDA’s surveillance and protection. 

Wilderness Areas

Apalachicola has two designated wilderness areas perfect for seeking out glimpses of rare wildlife. Bradwell Bay Wilderness is a subtropical swampland absolutely teeming with life. The wildflowers, such as orchids and pitcher plants, are a particularly attractive feature for photographers, as are the songbirds. Fair warning: even if you stay on the trail, you may still find yourself wading through some water. 

Mud Swamp Wilderness is even wetter than Bradwell bay. This mostly aquatic and highly isolated wilderness has no roads or marked trails, but it does have many small islands. Biting insects tend to be particularly bad in this area of standing water, so while it is an important conservation site, it is not the most popular hiking destination. In fact, the USDA warns that the area is fraught with bears and alligators and would be “perilous” to hike. 

A black bear standing in wildflowers — bears are common in the more remote parts of Apalachicola National Forest
If you choose to hike the more remote places in Appalachicola National Forest, keep your head up for wildlife! -Photo by Pete Nuij on Unsplash

Visit Apalachicola National Forest

This page of Alerts and Notices can be quite a time saver as it is frequently updated with the latest news on forest conditions and short notice closures. You may also choose to follow the forest’s Facebook and Twitter accounts from the alerts and notices page. 

Looking to get involved with Florida wildlife conservation? This page from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission may be the best place to start. 

And, If you want to keep a quick link to America’s national forests, save  The National Forests.com to your reading list! 

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-by Heaven Morrow

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