I needed to test my new hiking socks so I was looking for a long and challenging hike. What better location than hiking the pine covered sand hills of the Withlacoochee State Forest. The Citrus C Loop is a 13 mile trek located in the heart of the karst cartography of the Brooksville Ridge boasting large sinks and at least one known cave entrance. There is parking available at the Mine Holder Campground, just a 1.5 mile hike off the loop. I chose to save a few steps and park where Forest Road 17 intersects the B Loop and hike down to the connector. The west side of the trail has challenging pine ridges that gave my legs a good workout as I ascended and descended the hills numerous times. I made my way past the B-C connector loop and entered an area that had been recently burned. There was not a pine needle left on the ground! As scorched as the Forest looked, Fire is a necessity for the survival of the protected gopher tortoise, endangered Red Cockaded Wood Pecker, and reproduction of the Long Leaf Pine trees. Fire clears the understorey of invasive plants and forces the pine cones to open and spread seedlings for the next generation. Here the hills became more gently sloped. I pass a group of youths with their leader toting overstuffed backpacks making their way from Mine Holder Camp to the primitive Youngblood Camp off the western leg. I pause to exchange hellos and briefly listen to their chatter. They are excited about this little adventure and what the night holds for them at camp. I continue on my trek in the opposite direction observing the results of the planned forest fire but ready to immerse myself in green foliage again. I was relieved to see a log bench where the Mind Holder spur trail meets the Loop C. I am at mile 8 and my new socks are still holding up well. I cut my rest short because GPS tells me I have 7 miles left of trail and only 3 hours of Daylight. I continue on following the trail south until it connects with the Lower D Loop, then east along the connector trail. After I reach the C-D Loop intersection along the West leg, my tired legs tighten with each step as the slopes becomes steeper. I was delighted to notice a large sink and stopped to enter this geological wonder and take a few photos. Another mile past the sink, the trail leads me past a small cave opening framed with limestone rocks. I inspect the cave for critters with a flashlight, but do not enter. This would be a fun adventure if I had a hiking buddy to watch over in case I got into trouble. The hole was plenty big enough to fit an average sized person easily.
After spending a few moments inspecting the cave, I step up my pace. The sun is starting to set and I have 4 more miles to go. Soon I hear the noisy party as I near the Youngblood camp of the youths I passed earlier in the day. I enjoy the noise as it sounds like they are all relieved to be at their destination and are having fun. What a great experience in self reliance for these youths and fond memories to take with them. The sun falls below the horizon just as I completed the C loop, but I had one more mile retracing my steps back to me truck. The call of the hawk and hoot of an owl can be heard in the tree tops. My last mile takes 45 minutes, as hike cautiously with only a dim flashlight to help find the orange blazes. Relieved to be back at my truck, I am overcome with a sense of calming satisfaction as I sit and hoist my tired legs over to the foot board. I drive off with a smile picturing the day I had with hills of evergreen pine trees against the deep blue sky.
The trail is maintained by the Florida Trail Association and is well marked and well maintained. The C Loop is one of four stacked loops totaling 43 miles of hiking in the Withlcacoochee State Forest- Citrus Tract. This trail offers primitive back country camping at the Youngblood Campsite or designated primitive campsites at the Mine Holder and Mutual Mine Recreational Campsites located just of 581 south of Inverness. Permits for back country camping can be obtained from the Division of Forestry.