Big Bend Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2009)
- Intrinsic QualitiesNatural
- Length220 miles
The Big Bend Scenic Byway will transport you to a different time and place through its Wildlife, Woods, Waterways and Way of Life. Come and take a drive on the ”Wild Side” along Florida’s Big Bend Scenic Byway where theme parks and bright lights give way to horizons of towering pines and blue-green Gulf waters. The “Bend” is where Florida’s Gulf Coast curves westward, sheltering vast seagrass beds, marshes, winding rivers, sugar-sand beaches, deep forests, and crystal-clear springs. The unparalleled natural bounty and beauty of the Bend have attracted visitors since 15,000 BC.
Story of the Byway
Come and take a drive on the ”Wild Side” along Florida’s Big Bend Scenic Byway where theme parks and bright lights give way to horizons of towering pines and blue-green Gulf waters. The “Bend” is where Florida’s Gulf Coast curves westward, sheltering vast seagrass beds, marshes, winding rivers, sugar-sand beaches, deep forests, and crystal-clear springs. The unparalleled natural bounty and beauty of the Bend have attracted visitors since 15,000 BC. While traveling on the Byway, visitors can explore the natural resources which have supported and sustained the lives and the livelihoods of generations past and present.
Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city, welcomes travelers to this 220-mile natural wonderland where wildlife outnumbers people. Over 300 species of birds, 2,500 plant species, and more carnivorous plants (30) than any similarly sized area in the world call the Bend home. The Forest and Coastal Trails, offering two distinct experiences, culminate in a two-day drive unlike any other.
Back in the 1800s life along the Forest Trail was truly the “Wild West”, with cracker cowboys, rustlers, Indians, trappers, and hand-scrabble farmers. Start the day walking through a north Florida pioneer farm and later stop at Fort Braden, a military outpost during the Second Seminole War. Keep this history in mind as rolling sand hills and hardwood forests give way to extensive stretches of pine forests, wetlands, and river floodplains. This route follows an ancient sea bed with an elevation drop from 230 feet (70 meters) to sea level, and Black Bear, Bobcat, Turkey, Fox, Deer, Coyote, or Wild Hog could appear at any moment.
The Coastal Trail, first discovered by Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528, was subsequently occupied by Spanish, English, American, and Confederate forces…and, for a brief interlude, declared the “Nation of Muskogee” by William Bowles on behalf of Creek and Seminole Indians. In the 1800s rivers were full of ships with cotton and timber bound for foreign markets. Later they were replaced by sponge, shrimp, crab, oyster, and fishing boats, which still ply these waters.
This trail is alive with maritime history. “Old Florida” fishing villages serve up fresh seafood and access to bountiful fishing grounds Three 18th century lighthouses stand sentinel along beaches where Generals Patton and Clark planned the Normandy Invasion and trained soldiers for the amphibious landing. Explore shipwrecks on windswept islands. Visit Fort San Marcos, a 16th century Spanish fort whose camouflage-- logs painted with lime to look like stone—didn’t fool the pirates.. Walk through once-famous ports where brick warehouses--which today house galleries and antique shops--were once filled with goods bound for New England and Europe. And take a step back in time while visiting two new maritime museums.
The centerpiece of the Byway is the Apalachicola National Forest, featuring the best remaining example of a native Longleaf Pine and Wiregrass ecosystem in the United States, as well as the largest population of the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. In addition, the Byway connects nine state parks and three state forests, including Lake Talquin, which is distinguished by its proximity to two Outstanding Florida Waters and Tate’s Hell, containing hundreds of acres of wet prairie, wet flatwoods, strand swamp, and bottomland forest, as well as the mysterious Dwarf Cypress Dome, where trees over 300 years are only 6 -15 feet tall. Travelers will marvel at the scenery along the Apalachicola River, one of the most productive estuaries in North America, supplying 90% of the oysters in Florida and 10% nationally. It is Florida’s largest river and the second largest entering the Gulf of Mexico, providing 35% of the freshwater input.
Other standouts include the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, a "Globally Important Bird Area" with over 300 species, as well as coastal marshes, islands, tidal creeks, and estuaries of seven north Florida rivers, and Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, one of the worlds largest and deepest fresh water springs. A National Natural Landmark, it preserves habitat for over a dozen rare and endangered species and is host to an abundance of wildlife, easily viewed on the River Boat cruise. If geology is of interest, the interpretive trail at Leon Sinks Geological Site is a must. Created over millions of years, its Karst Topography of mysterious underground caverns and magical subterranean lakes makes this site of global scientific interest.
Allow time to savor the red-sky sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico and rural countryside that is “Old Florida.” Stay longer and go hiking, kayaking, biking, horseback riding, or birding. Charter a fishing boat or dive for scallops. There are no crowds, high prices, or pressures. The Big Bend is slower-paced, relaxed, and full of great values. Smiles and friendly people are the norm. You won’t be disappointed…rain or shine. Come make memories!
The Big Bend Scenic Byway follow US 98 along the Gulf Coast from the historic fishing village of Apalachicola to Newport, then heads north to Florida's Capital City of Tallahassee. The Byway then heads west along SR 20 into the Apalachicola National Forest, heading south to the town of Sopchoppy, and then reconnecting to US 98. There are two distinct trails: The Coastal Trail, and The Forest Trail.
Points of Interest
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
Home to migratory birds & an old lighthouse, this wildlife refuge offers hiking & fishing.
St. George Island State Park
On a barrier island fronting historic Apalachicola Bay, this park offers visitors a little strip of paradise. St. George is a favorite destination for beachgoers, bird-watchers and anglers, offering spectacular Gulf of Mexico sunsets and the best stargazing in the Panhandle.
Prospect Bluff/Fort Gadsden
The site of two successive forts, the first built during the War of 1812 by the British, and of the tragic massacre of more than 300 African-Americans who held the fort under the British flag in 1816, Prospect Bluff played an important role in Florida history. Located along the Apalachicola River, this interpretive area offers detailed information about the site and its history along with trails, river access and a picnic area.
A 52-acre lakeside site featuring wildife, nature trail, period exhibits, events & zipline tours.
Wakulla Springs State Park
Riverboat tours, swimming & snorkeling draw visitors to these deep springs of "Tarzan" fame.
Apalachicola Florida is a warm, welcoming port town bursting with hometown charm, friendly folks and rich maritime history. Nestled on the mouth of the Apalachicola River, this small coastal city is home to bustling seafood houses, weather-worn shrimp boats and stately historical buildings. The name "Apalachicola" is a combination of the Hitchoti Indian words "apalahchi," meaning "on the other side," and "okli," meaning "people.”
Sopchoppy is a small yet unique town located near the gulf coast; 45 minutes southwest of Tallahassee. Nestled in the heart of the Apalachicola National Forest, the community is a haven for the outdoor enthusiast, from hiking, fishing, canoeing, hunting and camping.
Nature lovers might see a majestic bald eagle swoop to catch his breakfast, watch a multitude of varied seashore and wading birds, or perhaps even glimpse a vivid pink Roseate Spoonbill on the leisurely shores of Mashes Sands. This laid-back beach offers a perfect view: it is where freshwater meets the salt water of Apalachee Bay, which is one of the healthiest and most productive bays in the United States. Picnic or beachcomb along this natural area, and walk the sandbars at low tide. Spot dolphins as they navigate the inshore waters, crisscrossing the pristine bay in search of their next meal.
Crooked River Lighthouse
Unique 103-ft. lighthouse tower built in 1895, with a museum & gift shop, in scenic surrounding.
Dwarf Cypress Stand
This one-of-a-kind oddity is a bowl-shaped depression in the forest covering dozens of acres. For no known reason, the cypresses here have never grown more than about 20’ tall. (Normal cypress growth can be more than 100’) Also known as Bonsai or Hat-Rack Cypress – these trees are found throughout Tate's Hell, but nowhere more pronounced than in the area of this boardwalk.
Forests and Mighty Rivers on the Big Bend
Start your day in the city of Tallahassee. There is much to do and see here, but be sure to make a stop at the Tallahassee Museum. Head west on Florida Route 20 to the Silver Lake Recreation Area, where you will find longleaf pines and moss draped Cypress surrounding this spring-fed lake. Continue along the byway for about 17 miles before turning towards the Luther Hall Landing County Park, which overlooks Lake Talquin.
Take a scenic drive through the Apalachicola National Forest. This section of the drive borders the Ochlockonee River. You will soon come to the Three Rivers Bridge and Porter Lake, which offer beautiful scenic views. Continue south for about 12 minutes and stop for lunch in Sopchoppy.
Drive about 8 miles to the Ochlockonee River State Park, where the Ochlockonee and Dead Rivers intersect, and explore one of the trails. Take a scenic drive for 34 miles through Tate’s Hell State Forest, which is full of rare plant species and wildlife. Make sure to stop at the Kendrick Dwarf Cypress Dome to see one of the most unique features of the byway. Continue for about 10 miles to see the Sand Beach Recreation Area, the floodplain forest of the lower Apalachicola River. Then, follow the Blackwater Creeks for about 9 miles.
This day’s drive ends with an overnight stay in the Waterfronts Florida Community of Apalachicola, where you can choose from a variety of accommodations, including historic B & B’s, and sample some of the best fare on the Byway. The town has a rich history and its maritime culture reflects the area’s bountiful natural resources. You can watch shrimp boats ply the area waters, sample the famous Apalachicola oysters, visit a museum, or browse through unique galleries and antique shops.
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