Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bald Point State Park: Double Pond Trail (Blog Hike #409)

Trail: Double Pond Loop
Hike Location: Bald Point State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of Panacea, FL (29.93479, -84.33680)
Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2012
Overview: A loop hike on old woods roads featuring several small ponds.
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=146404
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Panacea, drive south on US 98 5 miles to CR 370.  Turn left on CR 370.  Drive CR 370 5 miles to Bald Point Road and turn left on Bald Point Road.  Drive Bald Point Rd.3 miles to the park entrance, then backtrack 0.2 miles to the beginning of the Double Pond Trail on the west side of the road.  A brown sign bearing the universal hiking symbol marks this point.  Park along the side of the road, taking care to avoid soft areas in the road’s sandy shoulder.

The hike: Forming a wide peninsula that juts east from the mainland, Bald Point is bordered on the north by Ocklockonee Bay, on the east by the much larger Apalachee Bay, and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico.  As you may have noticed on the drive in, most of Bald Point’s oceanfront property has succumbed to housing developments.  Fortunately, in 1999 the State of Florida saw fit to protect 4800 acres of beach and coastal marsh area by forming Bald Point State Park on the northeastern corner of Bald Point.
            Most park visitors see only one of the two beach areas protected within the park, but the vast majority of the state park protects woodland and marshland away from the beachfront.  The park is largely void of development except for the beach areas and trails, and the park’s trail system includes both canoe trails and hiking trails.  Among the four hiking trails, the most significant is the 5.5 mile Tucker Loop around Lake Tucker, a freshwater lake.  I arrived at the park late in the afternoon with only a couple of hours of daylight remaining, so I chose to hike the shorter Double Pond Loop described here.  The Double Pond Loop provides much the same rewards as the park’s longer trails but does so in a smaller package.
Trailhead: Double Pond Loop
            Begin by walking around a vehicle gate (visible from the road) and picking up a wide two-track sandy dirt road.  Most of the trails at Bald Point State Park are old logging roads, and this one is no exception.  Almost immediately the trail forks to form its loop.  This trail description will continue straight on the old logging road to hike the loop counterclockwise and use the trail heading left as the return route.
            The sandy double-track trail heads west with a sparse canopy of slash and loblolly pines on either side.  This trail makes for a hot and sunny hike in the summer, so sunscreen and drinking water are necessities in season.  Wooden posts bearing orange blazes mark the trail.
Intersection of old woods road
            At 0.25 miles, another old woods road exits right.  There is a large network of old roads in this section of the park, and all of the roads look just like trails.  Be sure to follow the orange blazes so that you do not make a wrong turn and get lost.
            The trail gradually curves left to begin heading south.  At 0.5 miles, you get your first glimpse of the ponds that give this trail its name.  Water is all around you along most of this trail, but the understory is so dense that you cannot see it most of the time.  Also, signs on wooden posts mark distances along this trail at 0.5 mile increments.
View of pond near Mullett Pond
            0.8 miles into the hike, you get your best view of an unnamed pond near Mullet Pond, the other pond that gives this trail its name.  Normally ponds such as this one make good places for wildlife viewing, but I could detect no activity on my late afternoon visit.  On the other hand, a little further up the trail I encountered a 6-point buck that let me get rather close for a photograph before it scampered into the woods.
Deer beside trail
            At 1.1 miles, the trail turns left to leave the old woods road.  This turn is marked by an orange arrow on a wooden post, but it is easy to miss if you are not looking for it.  If you reach a vehicle gate at the park entrance road, you need to retrace your steps about 250 feet to the turn.
Final leg of Double Pond Loop
            The final leg of trail is narrower and somewhat rougher than the old roads you have been walking on up to this point, but the firm sandy base still makes the going rather easy.  This segment gives the best “hiking trail” experience on this hike.  A wooden bench appears at the very end of the trail, right when you do not need it.  At 1.3 miles, you close the loop.  Turn right and walk the short distance around the vehicle gate to return to your car and complete the hike.

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