Continuing on with my explorations in Florida, last week I had the pleasure to hike on a really nice trail in Ocala National Forest. The trail is called ‘The Yearling Trail’. It’s located in a place known as ‘Pat's Island'. The trail head is located across from the main entrance to Silver Glen Springs Recreation Park, so it is pretty easy to find.
A friend of mine recommended it to me. He also informed me about the history of the area there and that it, and it’s former inhabitants, led to a classic book, a Pulitzer Prize winning book no less, which was eventually made into a movie.
The book was called ‘The Yearling’ and was written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It is considered one of the great works of American literature. My friend had read it before he moved down to the Ocala area, and he actually said the novel influenced him when he was deciding to make the move to the Ocala area.
I haven’t read it myself but after having hiked the trail, I am definitely keen to read it. I of course would like to see the movie too which is also based, on the actual history of the area, some more on that next.
The brief factual history is that in and around the 1870’s, a former confederate soldier and his wife, Reuben and Sara Jane Long, moved to the area as pioneer farmers. They set up a homestead there and worked the land growing peas, corn, beans, etc. Their son Melvin found and adopted a fawn and named it ‘Flag'.
Half a century later, Rawlings spent time at the Long homestead and she learnt of the story about the fawn. This ultimately was the inspiration which lead to her writing the book.
What’s so neat about the trail, is that parts of the Homestead and remnants of the Long family having lived there are dotted throughout the trail. The one I found the most intriguing is the Long Cemetery where Reuben and Sarah Jane are buried as well as other family members.
There is something very intriguing as you look at the tombstones and crosses marking the graves, it sparks a sense of wonder at what life must have been like for them back in the day. I noticed that many of the family buried there died quite young, and it was fascinating to see some of the causes of death that were marked on the graves.
If I recall correctly, one grave indicated a young man who died from a hunting accident while another indicated a younger girl who died from her dress catching fire. In fact, most of the people buried there had quite short life spans, so it was clear that life was very tough in those days. There were only two people I think who lived to ripe old ages, one who seemed to live into their 70’s and one into their 80’s. Living to that age in those days I assumewas the exception and not the rule of course.
Anyway, as I stood in the graveyard, I really did feel a sense of wonder as I mentioned. Like I almost could see and hear the family going about their daily life. The daily fight for survival on Pat's Island in the Florida heat must have been tough, but they no doubt had their moments of joy, happiness and celebration of life there too. Perhaps for Reuben it was almost a respite after having lived through the horror of war.
The trail head is really well marked and can be accessed from SR 19, more directions here. Note, be careful with the trail map listed on that link to the official government website as I think the number markings, for areas of interest which are signposted along the trail, are slightly off.
I used the map from that and it didn’t seem to fully match what was on the ground. I noticed this as when I was trying to find the graveyard, the map on the website didn’t seem to match up to what was on the ground. However, as you walk a bit into the trail itself, there is a big map board on the left hand side, pictured below, which you can’t miss, and it is accurate relative to the ground.
The trail has two loops, the outer loop is about 5.5 miles and the inner loop is about 3.5 miles. I recommend the longer hike. The trail takes in beautiful forest and sandy loops with areas of peaceful forest canopy which is a treat to hike through.
There is also plenty of local wildlife around on the trail, I saw some beautiful butterflies and I even had a snake slither out across my path as I hiked along the trail. I also walked into a spiders web as I turned a tight corner on the trail and my attention had me looking backwards. I don’t think it was a banana spider, but it was big enough and thankfully went the other direction to my head lol :-). I don’t think a nip from a snake or a spider would be welcomed, so try and avoid that I think!
Also, as you hike around the trail you will come to various points of interest. You can follow the markers sequentially from 1, or you can the trail in reverse, whatever you prefer. If you follow sequentially, you will veer left of the trail to follow the loops, if you go in reverse order, you will continue straight.
Some of the main items on the trail are located at markers on the trail. Marker 8 is in front of the former Long Homestead, a cistern used to catch rain water is all that remains. Marker 9 is where you can veer off the trail to see the Long Cemetery, definitely worth taking a look at.
Marker 10 is noted as the site of Calvin Long’s homestead which was where Marjorie learned about the fawn. It’s worth noting as well that when the movie was made, with Gregory Peck playing Ezra ‘Penny’ Baxter, they filmed a lot of the scenes in the actual area. The video I took below will give you a feel for the hike itself and also shows some of the main points of interest along the trail.
Things to Think About
It’s an easy trail, flat with a clear path with easy to follow markers the whole way along. The only things I would mention are firstly to be careful of the sun, as it can be really hot. Ensure you have a good amount of water with you, and if you can keep the water cool, all the better!
The other thing to watch for is sand spurs. They really are a pain and if you’re not familiar with them, you can see them in the video below, they can give you a nasty thorny nip if you get one caught between your socks and your skin.
They hang off the grass and attach to your boots. I recommend to not let them build up on your boots, so to stop every so often to remove them. Be careful how you grab them though, as they will easily pierce your skin if you grab them too firmly.
Luckily, they only seemed to be present in sections of the trail, not for the whole hike. Hiking boots are a really good idea, light ones as it is usually quite hot there, but you can do the hike in sneakers no problem. I actually forgot to put my hiking boots in the car when I set out, so I didn’t have them with me when I go to the trail head, d’oh!
I met a gentleman and his wife in the car park, just before I started out in the trail, who had just finished the hike and they told me to be wary of the sand spurs as they sat picking them off their hiking boots, which were covered with them!
As I only had my tennis shoes, I was a little concerned but I just watched my steps when going through the grass that had the spurs and, as mentioned above, took time to remove them as I went, so it worked out fine.
If you’re in the Ocala area, a trip to the Yearling trail in Ocala National Forest, is definitely worth it. There are oodles more trails to check out, springs to swim in and so on so you could easily spend a few days exploring the area.
As in most of Florida, the land is pretty flat, so you aren’t hiking mountains as such. However, given the heat most of the year round, it’s probably not necessarily a bad thing that you don’t have to haul up any hills.
As with Leon Sinks Geological Area, The Yearling Trail has a lot of natural beauty and character, and these trails are a lot of fun to explore. I definitely recommend The Yearling Trail!