Withlacoochee State Forest is the third largest forest in the state of Florida and consists of seven different tracts of land: Two-Mile Prairie, Homosassa, Citrus, Headquarters, Jumper Creek, Croom, and Richloam. These tracts lie within four different counties located on the west-central side of Florida: Citrus, Hernando, Sumter, and Pasco.
Map of the forest provided by The Florida Forest Service
In Florida we have some weird names for our rivers, forests, towns, etc. and Withlacoochee is one of them. This is partly because the state was first inhabited by Native Americans. The word Withlacoochee is probably a Muskhogean word meaning “crooked river.” This refers to the way the 70-mile river zigzags its way through several counties. This river is one of the main features of the forest and draws many nature lovers to boat, canoe, kayak, swim, and fish in its waters.
The Withlacoochee River at the Croom Tract
Florida has a lot more to offer than just its beaches, rivers, and lakes–just look at the variety of trees and plants in the Withlacoochee. The most prominent species are pine, oak, cypress, maple, and southern magnolia. My favorite part of hiking, no matter where I go, is admiring all the different flowers and bushes. Some attractive ones I’ve seen on hikes here are goldenrod, purple passionflower, Florida air plant, thistle, American beautyberry, and sparkleberry. Another exciting aspect of being out in the woods is that there are animals all around. Some local inhabitants that I’ve had the pleasure of spotting are bald eagles, woodpeckers, fox squirrels, armadillos, gopher tortoises, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, rabbits and gray squirrels.
Close-up shot of the native beautyberry bush
Florida air plants at the Homosassa Tract
White-tailed deer crossing the road at Croom
The most popular activities in Withlacoochee are hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, bicycling, camping, riding motorcycles and ATVs, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and hunting. It’s also part of the Florida National Scenic Trail, the Great Florida Birding Trail, and The Florida Trailwalker Program.
Trailhead at the Citrus Tract
With the sheer amount of open space in Withlacoochee State Forest, hiking is a prime activity. The trails will take you through natural environments including sandhills, scrub, basin marsh, flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, oak thickets, and cypress ponds. The Two-Mile Prairie tract has three designated trails, Homosassa has two trails, and Citrus has four loop trails, one of which has a few caves right next to the trail. The Headquarters tract and Jumper Creek are the smallest and have two trails each. At the Croom tract there is a motorcycle riding area, the Withlacoochee State Trail, access to the river, and four loop trails. Richloam is the largest tract and has several trails available.
Longleaf Pine stands which can be found all throughout the forest
With so much to do here, camping is an ideal activity. Since Florida has such mild winters you can pretty much camp year-round. There’s everything from full-facility to primitive campsites within the forest. The Citrus tract has two full-facility campgrounds with electricity, water, fire rings, restrooms, and showers. There’s another campsite nearby with everything but electricity. Two more primitive sites can be accessed from the trails: the Two-Mile Prairie tract has primitive sites at two of the trailheads while the Croom tract has two primitive sites to the west of the Withlacoochee River. On the east side of the river is the Silver Lake Recreation Area where you will find two full-facility sites with all amenities. Another campground here has non-electric sites with nearby water, restrooms and showers.
I’ve been exploring this forest for the past year and it’s my favorite place to visit when I want to go somewhere free and secluded. A couple of the tracts are close to where I live so I can get there pretty quickly without having to plan that far in advance. It’s a good place to go when you just want to be away from everything and experience nature. With all of the different tracts and trails there is so much to discover–this forest has everything that is characteristic of the real Florida.