This Florida Hike Takes You Through an Abandoned Village

Florida’s allure extends beyond its famed beaches and theme parks; it holds a captivating history waiting to be uncovered through exploration, particularly via hiking trails. Among these, the St. Francis Trail stands out as an enticing journey leading to the remnants of a once-vibrant town abandoned in the mid-20th century. Combining scenic vistas, historical intrigue, and a dash of mystery, the St. Francis Trail promises an unforgettable adventure.


Nestled in the heart of the Ocala National Forest, just an hour’s drive north of Orlando, the St. Francis Trail begins at the end of River Forest Road, off SR 42, near the St. Johns River bridge. This 7.9-mile loop, marked by the white blazes of the Florida National Scenic Trail, offers a well-maintained path with boardwalks and bridges, making navigation a breeze. While open year-round, it’s wise to steer clear during the November to January hunting season. Leashed dogs are welcome, though camping along the trail is prohibited.

Scenery and Wildlife:

Traversing diverse ecosystems—from lush upland hammocks of oaks and palms to expansive pine flatwoods and sandhills, and meandering through floodplain forests and swamps—the trail treats hikers to a tapestry of natural wonders. Along the way, vibrant wildflowers, varied wildlife, and babbling streams create a symphony of sights and sounds. However, the true highlight awaits at the halfway mark: the ghost town of St. Francis, steeped in history and mystery.

Historical Significance:

Established in 1877 by Francis A. Hendry, an influential pioneer and politician, St. Francis flourished as a hub of agriculture and commerce, boasting a bustling populace of approximately 200 residents. Named after Hendry’s daughter, Francis E. Hendry, who later made history as Florida’s first female legislator, the town boasted essential amenities like a post office, school, church, hotel, general store, and a steamboat landing. Renowned for its citrus, watermelon, and cabbage, St. Francis thrived until a series of setbacks in the 1920s and 1930s led to its gradual decline.

The Ghost Town Experience:

Today, St. Francis stands as a haunting reminder of its past glory. Hikers encounter poignant ruins—the hotel, store, school foundations—marked by interpretive signs along the trail. Echoes of its bustling days linger amidst remnants like the wharf and cemetery, offering glimpses into its bygone era. Nature has begun to reclaim the town, shrouding it in a veil of greenery, yet the whispers of its history still resonate, inviting visitors to wander through its silent streets and listen to tales of yesteryears.


The St. Francis Trail beckons adventurers seeking a blend of nature’s beauty and historical enigma. Its winding paths through the Ocala National Forest not only showcase Florida’s ecological diversity but also unravel the captivating saga of St. Francis. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or a history buff, this trail promises an enriching journey—one that unveils the hidden treasures of Florida’s past.

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