B16. Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest
SiteID: E16 (E13 old)
Nearest City: Hilliard
Phone Number: 904-845-7751
Amenities: Seasonal hunting, Birding by foot/hiking, Best time of day: Morning, Recommended length of visit: all day, Camping br>
Habitats: Freshwater Swamp, Pines, River/Stream/Spring/Canal, Hardwoods/Mixed Forest
Along the Florida-Georgia border, the scenic St. Marys River twists and turns for 7 miles around the northern boundary of this secluded and wild state forest. Nearly 10 miles of rustic hiking, biking and equestrian trails provide great birding opportunities. Sandhill and slope forest habitats lead down to the river; other habitats include cypress swamp, pine flatwoods, bogs and ponds. Three trail systems lead through the forest; explore as little or as much as you like. To access the 6.5-mile white trail, stop at the check station trailhead on Penny Haddock Rd. to pick up a map. The trail loops lead west and north to two primitive campsites (first come, first served) on the river. Another trailhead/parking area on Lake Hampton Rd. at the powerline right-of-way provides hiking access (no bikes) to the 3.2-mile yellow and red loop trails. Throughout the forest, songbirds like Eastern Towhee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, vireos and warblers are common; Northern Bobwhite, Bachman’s Sparrow, Wild Turkey, White-tailed Deer and Gopher Tortoise also are likely. Look for American Robin in winter and early spring; Dark-eyed Junco is an occasional winter visitor. Butterfly enthusiasts will want to search here for Frosted Elfin and Sleepy Duskywing from late February to early April. Birding the river by canoe or kayak is another possibility (local concesionaires offer rentals). From the river (or riverbank on the trails) in springtime, you may see Anhinga, Mottled Duck, Spotted Sandpiper, Mississippi Kite and Prothonotary Warbler. Note: the river is a popular boating and water-skiing spot in warm months; paddle the river early in the mornings or on weekdays for the most solitude. A boat launch is located at the end of Scott’s Landing Rd. near US 1. Seasonal hunting occurs at this site, during which the trails are closed; please see page 127 for dates, regulations and more information. Maps are available at the websites below.
Directions: From Hilliard in western Nassau County, take US 1/SR 301 north for 6 mi. to Boulogne. Turn right (east) on Lake Hampton Rd. and go 2 mi. Turn left (north) on Penny Haddock Rd. The entrance to the state forest is 0.8 mi. ahead on the left (west) side of the road. Additional parking and the trailhead at the powerline right-of-way are located on the north side of Lake Hampton Rd., 1.5 mi. east of US 1.
Open all year, sunrise to sunset. Area closed to other visitors during hunting season.