Going that extra mile: Hiking the Churchhouse Hammock Trail in Crystal River Preserve State Park
Sometimes you need to go that extra mile. I remember once reading that if you visit the Grand Canyon, you should hike a mile in order to get away from the touristy crowds and enjoy the beauty and solitude. My sister once gave me a great beach location on our trip to Amelia Island. The trail to it was over a 1/2 mile- but with rocks and tide pools and no other people, the long trek to the beach was worth it. When I dragged the kids out for a hike in the Crystal River Preserve State Park, I kept that mantra in mind: going that extra mile, as I had read there was a scenic lookout at the end of this particular mile long trail.
We finally caught a sunny day, and it seemed a shame to waste it, so we headed to the Churchhouse Hammock Boardwalk & Primitive Trail in Crystal River. This trail is part of the Crystal River Preserve State Park. There are several marked trails in the Crystal River Area that are part of this state park, and all are free. Some only have a little pull off on the side of the road- like that one on the Fort Island Trail Road (Dixie Shores Trail). But the Churchhouse Hammock Trail entrance is directly across from the Crystal River Mall and Rural King, so I had seen the park more than once and have always been curious what lay behind the picnic tables and parking area. Being so close to the mall, I also wondered if it were an impromptu party/camp site. I wandered across one of those years ago on a hike with my dad at Scott Springs, where we saw people sleeping in bushes…so, needless to say, I’ve been wary of this particular park.
The day was sunny, but chilly enough for jackets, meaning no mosquitoes, and the trail was only a mile long – one way-, so off we trudged into the Florida wilderness- taking the boardwalk leading off from the strangely odorless compost toilets in the parking area. There were no woodland campers in the swampy area, so my earlier fears were unfounded, however, we did come across two sets of middle-aged couples hiking back. I asked the first pair: “Was it worth it?” The man said yes, but his wife kept shaking her head. “Don’t do it- turn back!” We trudged on, the path led off the boardwalk and into some muddy sections. We ran into the second couple just as daylight broke above our heads- we were emerging from the woods. Again I asked: “Was it worth it?” They were more positive. “Definitely,” the woman answered. We had 50/50 reviews of the trail ahead. Funny how beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
“Let’s turn back.” My daughter said. “I’m tired.”
“I can see a marsh ahead,” I answered. My son wanted to push onward as well.
A final boardwalk lifted us from the muddy ground and out of the trees, across a wide swath of marsh. We had reached the end of the trail. We were the only ones on the boardwalk and the view was amazing. We sat on the benches on the boardwalk, basking in the winter sun and drinking the view, and the bottles of water we had wisely carried. Wetlands stretched for miles and the Gulf of Mexico was just beyond.
Sometimes it’s worth going that extra mile, just for a view.
Much to my surprise, a week later, my daughter recreated our Florida marshland walk in 3-D for a school project! And here I thought we had just gone for a simple walk in the woods!
Churchhouse Hammock Boardwalk and Primate Trail, a part of the Crystal River Preserve State Park is located across from the Crystal River Mall on Highway 19 in Crystal River, Florida.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- There are no fees.
- The trail entrance has parking and compost toilets and picnic tables.
- The ground can get muddy in places.
- If the weather is warm, bring mosquito spray. It is a swampy area.
- The boardwalks are in need of TLC, so watch your step and your kids’ steps. There were rotten boards on the overlook.
- Bring water.
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