Apalachicola National Forest

The Apalachicola National Forest is the largest U.S. National Forest within the state of Florida. It encompasses 632,890 acres and is the only national forest located in the Florida Panhandle. The National Forest provides water and land-based outdoors activities such as swimming, hiking, hunting, fishing, horse-back riding, and off-road ATV usage.

The forest contains two Wilderness Areas: Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area and Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness. There are also several special purpose areas: Camel Lake Recreation Area, Fort Gadsden Historical Site, Leon Sinks Geological Area, Silver Lake Recreation Area, and Wright Lake Recreation Area.

Hunting and fishing are monitored and governed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The national forest itself is a wildlife management zone. The FWC splits up the management area into sections that allow for dog hunting, still hunting, and private property. Modern gun season for large game begins Thanksgiving weekend and ends in January.

The forest is in the southeastern conifer forests ecoregion. Areas of the national forest with dry and sandy soils support Florida longleaf pine sandhills and east Gulf coastal plain near-coast pine flatwoods. The sandhills are woodlands dominated by longleaf pine. Pine flatwoods are forests and woodlands on broad and sandy flatlands. Both of these pine communities are continued by frequent fires.

Near the floodplains of spring-fed rivers grow southern coastal plain hydric hammocks, dense forests of evergreen and deciduous hardwood trees. Blackwater rivers support the southern coastal plain blackwater river floodplain forests of baldcypress along their banks. Some major rivers support diverse east Gulf coastal plain large river floodplain forests.

It is also home to several wetland plant communities. Southern coastal plain nonriverine basin swamps are large, seasonally flooded depressions of baldcypress and swamp tupelo. East Gulf coastal plain savannas and wet prairies are low, flat plains covered in grasses and sedges which are seasonally flooded and maintained by frequent fires. Southern coastal plain nonriverine cypress domes are small wetlands of pond cypress that are notable for their dome-shaped appearance.

The forest contains thousands of acres of old growth Pond Cypress swamps. Additionally, Bradwell Bay Wilderness contains about 100 acres of old-growth Slash Pine – Swamp Tupelo swamps.

Image Caption: An artificial pond off of FH-111 in the Apalachicola National Forest in northern Florida. Credit: Sallicio/Wikipedia