Apalachicola National Forest
Pines in Apalachicola National Forest
At 571,088 acres, Apalachicola National Forest is the largest National Forest in Florida. It's also the only National Forest located in the Florida panhandle (east of the Apalachicola River and west of the Suwannee River).
The Forest offers activities like hiking, backpacking, hunting, horse-back riding, mountain biking, ATV riding, motorcycle riding, swimming, boating and fishing. Fishing and hunting are regulated and monitored by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission as the Forest is officially a wildlife management area with sections specifically devoted to still hunting and dog hunting, with some access to private property.
There's only one natural spring on the Forest but the six watersheds of Lost Creek and the New, Apalachicola, Sopchoppy, Ochlockonee and Wakulla Rivers feed fresh waters into the ponds and lakes (there are officially 2,735 acres of water surface on the Forest) and then to Ochlockonee and Apalachicola Bays, areas where the production of shellfish and other commercial seafood are excellent.
The Bradwell Bay and Mud Swamp/New River Wildernesses are contained within Apalachicola National Forest. There's about 100 acres of old growth Slash Pine/Swamp Black Gum swamps protected in the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.
Thousands of acres in other parts of the Forest contain old growth Pond Cypress swamps. There are also some large open prairies filled with wildflowers (especially pitcher plants) near the Apalachicola River.
Among the Special Purpose Areas on the Forest you'll find Silver Lake Recreation Area, Wright Lake Recreation Area, Camel Lake Recreation Area, Leon Sinks Geological Area (filled with sinkholes and limestone caves) and the Fort Gadsden National Historical Site (an outpost from the War of 1812).
Forest headquarters are in Tallahassee with local ranger district offices in Crawfordville and Bristol.
Supposedly, most of the former Choctawatchee National Forest is to eventually be returned to the Forest Service for inclusion in Apalachicola National Forest but it seems either the US Air Force, Homeland Security or the Federal Bureau of Prisons hasn't relinquished most of that property yet. The few acres that have been released are in small tracts, non-contiguous and are being held for sale (or trade) to land developers in the area. Because of the uses that land has been put to over the years, it's not particularly conducive to Forest Service management any more anyway.
Silver Lake Recreation Area
Small photos courtesy of the US Forest Service
Bottom photo courtesy of Tim Ross