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Biking Point Washington State Forest

March 30, 2015 by Manny Chavez

Let’s face it…there’s lots to do in South Walton. But if a little solitude and a break from the hustle and bustle of the Scenic 30A strip is what you need, a bike ride into the woods is the ticket. You may not even see another person all day. If you prefer boots to wheels, the hiking is just as good.

Biking Point Washington State Forest can be as challenging as you want it to be. The eastern end of the 15,181 acres designated as state forest begins at the Scenic Highway 395 trailhead north of Seagrove Beach, where you'll find ample parking, picnic tables and a bathroom.
 

To park at this trailhead, deposit $2 per person into the payment drop box. Children under six are admitted free. Here at the Eastern Lake Trailhead, the trail system consists of a series of loops that measure from three and a half miles to ten miles.

Be sure to take along water and an energy bar or two. In the summer, early morning or late afternoon rides are more comfortable, and you're more likely to come across local wildlife during these hours - deer, coyotes, bears, snakes, owls, opossum, and all kinds of birds inhabit our forests.
 

The Eastern Lake Trail loops crisscross additional off-trail trails and dirt roads that can lead to further adventures. Taking these off-trails will get you into places that most folks don’t wander into and can be the most rewarding.
 

A word of caution here..you are likely to encounter much deeper sand and wetlands that seems to come from nowhere. You’ll be hitting that low gear or perhaps choose to walk your bike in some instances. These off-beat rides can quickly turn into hikes through the forest that will increase your chance of seeing the a coyote or pygmy rattler sunning itself off-road.
 

Prescribed burns are a common occurrence within our forest and can make for a really surreal ride….traversing the trail following a burn, though a little on the stinky side, is nothing short of fantastic, bringing the landscape to dreamy proportions.

Anyone living in this area knows that rain can sometimes stick around for days…this too can be turned into a fun ride through the forest with water challenges to contend with. Sure you’ll get muddy and your bike will need a total cleansing afterward, but hey, no pain, no gain…right?
 

During the summer months, following several days of rain, another unusual phenomenon sometimes occurs…the forming of mud-cracks which appear when water-rich mud dries out. These formations are mostly found in desert areas and are rarely seen in our area.

Whimsical riders or hikers have created “rock trees” along some of the trail…trees that have been adorned with rocks picked up along the ride or hike. Nice to see that folks have turned their inner artist loose within the forest.
 

Following the Eastern Lake Trail to the far southeastern point will bring you to the edge of Eastern Lake where a picnic table sits invitingly. A quick water break here will prepare you for the most fun part of this ride (in my opinion) as the elevation of the bike trail takes on the steepest of the hill challenges that will culminate at the Cassine Trail…. replete with a large cypress swamp that is fun to walk around during dry months.

Mosquito spray a must here. Continuing through the swamp will eventually pop you out across the street from Clay Nursery (formerly Gourd Garden) on Scenic 30A. This cypress swamp is a must see. Recent storms have rendered one of the main wooden bridges along this portion impassable by bike, but riders can carry their bike around  to continue the ride.
 

On the western end of Point Washington State Forest, Longleaf Pine Greenway Trail will take you from Hwy 395 westward through eight miles of trails culminating at the trailhead located at the end of Satinwood (across the street from Goatfeathers) off Scenic 30A.

Biking the west end of Point Washington State Forest (from Hwy 395 westward) is a totally different experience when compared to the Eastern Lake Trail. Like its Eastern Lake trailhead counterpart, a compost bathroom, picnic tables, and ample parking are provided with the same fees applied.

The Longleaf Trail itself consists of an eight mile stretch of mostly continuous switchbacks through thick pines, thick native vegetation, and assorted creeks and streams that will challenge your ride/walk.
 

Wooden bridges have been erected to cross the watery areas, but the swampy parts will need to be crossed and best to be prepared for muddy crossings. Most of the Longleaf Trail is TIGHT…if you are riding with a buddy, you will be riding single-file for sure and best not let your mind wander too far as attention must be had to focus on the trail ahead. 

The tight, winding, pine needle-covered ground will often times hide the exposed pine roots that will take you down in a second, especially in wet conditions. A big plus to all the tall pines is the ample amount of shade found on most of the trail…this is a real blessing, especially during the summer months.
 

Although the Longleaf Trail consists mostly of pines, there are really cool stretches along the way where scrub oak canopies cover the trail. These parts feel a bit spooky and apparently someone had found it the perfect place to display a small cabbage patch-like family within the bushes with the wording “The family was lost, but they found each other again. This is art, treat it with respect” written in French.

As of this writing, one of the wooden bridges on this trail has suffered storm damage and is currently compromised. Take caution when walking your bike across this partially-collapsed bridge just just east of Hwy 83. The water underneath the bridge is the farthest north portion of Big Red Fish Lake. Repairs on this bridge are scheduled to begin soon.

Point Washington State Forest has something for just about everyone….both of the described trails offer the opportunity to ride or hike as little or as much as you please and to make the ride a “whistler”  - a real workout.

Each have resting places along the way with “you are here” kiosks providing detailed maps with directions to and from your destination. Both of the two main trailheads offer parking and a bathroom with a fee, but there are several no-fee entrances all along Hwy 98, Scenic 30A, Hwy 83, and Hwy 283. Just look for the brown signage with the yellow writing (Point Washington State Park Public Entrance).

Also part of Point Washington State Forest, the McQuage Bayou Horse Trail system can be accessed off of the Hwy 283 trailhead, north of Hwy 98.  As indicated by the name, the trail is open to equestrians, but bikers and hikers alike can enjoy the three or five mile trail.

A large parking area and several picnic tables are available here with the standard $2 per person fee in place. Again, children under age six are free. Though some of this trail is temporarily closed (storms have caused damage to the main bridge leading westward from the main trailhead), there is enough open road to offer a mostly sandy, often shaded ride. There are several water crossings without bridges to cross.

For more information, see South Walton Parks Guide | Point Washington State Forest.

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Manny Chavez

Manny and his wife Kris moved to the Emerald Coast in 1992. After 16 years as staff photographer for The Houston Post, Manny has successfully transitioned to creative weddings and beach portraits.

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