Hiking Inglis Island
The last rays of golden light stretched through the lower canopy, the sunlight illuminating the pointy tops of palmetto bushes that made up the underbrush.
“It’s getting late,” I told my son, a nervous worried twang edged my voice.
We were somewhere deep in the woods following a sand track on Inglis Island at the Inglis Dam & Island Recreation Area. We hadn’t seen the paved trail for a while now and my thoughts were turning dark. Bears. Wild hogs. Hunters. Getting stuck with only the light of our service-less phones to lead the way.
Inglis Dam & Island Recreation Area
My son and I had headed out in the late afternoon. A quick stroll to work off our lunch, we told the rest of the family. We parked the jeep by the boat ramp to Lake Rousseau. A family picnicked at one of three green roofed pavilions over the water, enjoy their lunch and the lake views.
My son recalled his grandma’s birthday party at that pavilion. We had filled the wooden tables with a pot-luck dinner. Everyone came. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Someone had fishing poles. Someone else brought a football. It had been a perfect Sunday afternoon.
At the ample sized boat ramp, a father and son team loaded up their Carolina skiff onto their trailer with ease. If it weren’t for the infamous stumps in the 3,700-acre man-made lake, the boat ramp might have been as busy as the one at Yankeetown or Crystal River.
We hiked up to cross the Inglis Dam, pausing to watch the mist rise as the water crashed beneath the bridge and tumbled down the spillway into the cut-off to the lower Withlacoochee River. The whole bridge vibrated from the power of the water surge below.
A smaller, narrow boat ramp beyond the spill waters of the dam below allows access to a portion of the lower Withlacoochee River and the barge canal channel that leads to the Gulf of Mexico.
Hydroelectric and the Creation of Lake Rousseau
About 114 years ago, the area that is now Lake Rousseau was forest. Most of the trees were cut and milled for lumber- but not all. In 1909, the Florida Power Corporation flooded the area and built a hydroelectric plant to provide power to the booming phosphate mining industry that dominated the region. The trees that remained in the new lake eventually rotted at water level and fell. Now the debris provides a challenge to boaters who stray beyond the channel markers, and havens of safety and shade for fish.
Phosphate mining waned and in the 1960’s the hydroelectric plant was replaced with a dam when the Army Corps of Engineers made way for the never-completed Cross Florida Barge Canal project. Today the dam regulates the levels of Lake Rousseau to provide relief from area flooding during the rainy season for the upper regions of the Withlacoochee and Rainbow Rivers.
Inglis Island Trails
Past the dam bridge, we followed the paved road alongside Lake Rousseau to an information kiosk where a map of the Florida Greenway was posted.
Beyond was a large open field with a picnic pavilion and horse trough. A pair of stairs in stood in the middle of the field, awaiting horses and riders for future equestrian rides on the 7.5 miles of natural trails that wind around the 1,200-acre Inglis Island.
Instead of crossing the field, we continued on the paved trail as it curved downward into a little valley. We heard the rush of a water- a little creek ran under the road and later joined up with the roar of the dam spill waters.
Leaving the afternoon sunlight behind, the path led us into a dark canopy of trees. We saw a 20-mph speed limit sign followed by a “motor vehicles prohibited” posted warning and wonder what non-motorized thing would exceed that speed limit. This multi-use paved trail through the island is shared by hikers and cyclists, along with deer and the occasional bear.
Off the Beaten Track on Inglis Island
The trail cuts through the middle of the island, even and flat. My son noticed a small side trail and off we go, following the rising elevation. An old footprint sign nailed to a wooden post marked our path- a thumbs up that we were headed in the or at least ‘a’ right direction. The footprint signs are believed to be the signage that originally marked hiking trails along the Cross Florida Greenway.
The landscape continued to rise. Up ahead a pair of deer foraged for food. They spotted us and scampered off through the bushes.
Our trail took us to the top of a hill where we were rewarded with an overlook of the Inglis Lock. Although the lock has been non-functioning since 1999, fishermen pull their boats up into the channel to escape the winter winds of the open lake and cast their lines in hope of catching a prize-winning bass.
There was no water access on our trail, but the view was stunning. We followed the path along the hill’s ridge. The trail ahead was wide and freshly mowed. Good terrain for horseback riding or mountain biking.
We walked for a while before realizing it was getting late and we could be miles from the dam. So, we attempted to backtrack. Somewhere along the way we took a side path, believing it to be a shortcut and ended up surrounded by thick clumps of palmetto bushes. Tall pine trees rose from the lower canopy to blot out the sky. Beneath our feet the path was littered with pine needles.
In the middle of nowhere we found an old wooden post etched with the words: “Be Prepared.” A leftover project from a boy scout outing? Or a message for lost souls?
It felt as if we walked for miles and the sun dipped low in the sky. “We should have taken a photo of that map at the kiosk,” I said. The irony of the sign was not lost on me. We had not been prepared.
My son looked at me with his usual calm demeanor. “Mom, you worry too much.” He led the way through the narrowing path with confidence.
We picked up our pace and finally emerged from the woods back onto the paved trail. Twilight had fallen by the time we reached the dam bridge. We crossed back over the spill waters, two dark silhouettes against a violet-blue sky.
Things to Know Before You Go to the Inglis Dam & Island Recreation Area
Inglis Dam & Island Recreation Area is located at 10905 W. Riverbend Drive in Crystal River, Florida. It is part of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, parks and trails and green spaces that were created on the lands of the discontinued Cross Florida Barge Canal project.
This park is fee-free.
Porta-let toilets can be found at by the pavilions near the Lake Rousseau boat ramp and also by the information kiosk over the dam bridge on Inglis Island.
Horseback riding is permitted on the island. Water is a hand pump and horse trough. Access code for gate can be obtained by calling 352.447.1720.