Big Bend Road Trip, Part 2: Natural North Florida–Suwannee Town to Panacea

Florida’s Big Bend has long been a preferred destination of travelers and tourists. This unspoiled region we call “Natural North Florida” encompasses the Gulf of Mexico coastline, and has developed largely along the spine formed by US19 and US98. On it’s interior US27, US90, US 301, US441 and Interstate Highways 75 and 10 have attracted larger populations and development. But it’s the coast that’s can give visitors a look at our heritage and connection to the Gulf.We invite you to take a road trip!

This is Part 2 of our series on Big Bend Road Trips. Click HERE to see Part 1

Part 1 ended at the town of Suwannee, called “Suwannee Town” by locals, not to confuse outsiders from Old Town Suwannee, at the intersection of CR349 and US19/98, over 20 miles away. One option for heading back to US19/98 and resuming your course north toward is to take CR349 back to the main highway.

Suwannee to Horseshoe Beach

A second option is to follow the Dixie Mainline from the town of Suwannee cross country to CR357, the road leading from CR351 to Shired Island. This abandoned and graded railway right-of-way is a bumpy look at several headwaters of creeks.
There’s a boat ramp at Shired Island, as well as a shallow beach and campground. You’ll find great fishing action in Horseshoe Cove and the local creek mouths.
A westerly turn onto CR351 will take you to the fishing village of Horseshoe Beach. There’s no beach, but some excellent lodging…
…and interesting architecture!
Just beware of local authorities!

Cross City

Back on the main highway (US19/98) head north to Cross City. A small town founded on the fruits of pine forestry, you don’t want to just pass through.

In Cross City, enjoy a fine meal or an overnight stay at the historic Putnam Lodge, originally built to support the local mill…
… and don’t miss a chance to eat some “country cookin'” at the Cypress Inn, just across the highway from the Putnam Lodge.


Your next stop on your Big Bend adventure is the fishing town of Steinhatchee. Head north about 10 miles from Cross City and turn left on CR358. From there, follow the signs and cross the Steinhatchee River.

Steinhatchee, located in southern Taylor County, is the perfect place to find fish, bay scallops, or just to enjoy Florida’s pristine Gulf coastline.
Snorkeling for bay scallops is a popular summertime activity at Steinhatchee
The fishing’s not bad either!
Bait, lodging and rental boats are available at several Steinhatchee marinas

There are two ways to drive from Steinhatchee to Perry, at the junction of US19 and US98. I recommend taking CR361 to Keaton Beach and on to Perry. It’s much more scenic! And don’t miss n opportunity to visit Hagens Cove and climb the observation tower there.

There’s a shallow primitive boat launch at Hagens Cove and a big public ramp at Keaton Beach, on CR361, the “Beach road’ from Perry.

Perry–Where The Big Bend Turns West

Perry, Florida’s Forest Capital, is a booming town, centered around a cellulose mill. It’s home of several festivals, including the Florida Forest Festival, the Blues and BBQ Festival, the Florida Bluegrass Festival as well as other events throughout the year. Click HERE for a good look at all the things going on in Perry and Taylor County.

Perry is also home to a restored “Florida Cracker” homestead at the Forest Capital Museum State Park It’s worth a visit!

West on US98–On To St. Marks and Panacea

Driving from Perry, you have a couple of options. US19/27 heads north towards Monticello or Tallahassee. But US98, the coastal highway, heads west towards St. Marks and Panacea, two Gulf-facing fishing communities. On the way, you’ll pass over the Aucilla and Econfina Rivers. If you’re a paddler, be sure to stop, but you won’t be the first person to experience these wild Florida rivers. Evidence of humans dating back 14,000 years has been found on the Aucilla. And a visit to the Econfina River State Park will give you a close look at this prehistoric dark-water rocky river.

Visit the St. Marks NWR by taking SR59 south from Newport, just east of St. Marks on US98. St. Marks Lighthouse overlooks the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the road.
St. Marks offers anglers plenty of opportunities to catch seatrout, redfish, tarpon and offshore species. It’s also the home of San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park, one of America’s earliest settlements.

On this trip, your final stops before leaving our Natural North Florida region and crossing the Ochlocknee River, should be for lunch at Posey’s Up The Creek and then an afternoon at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab and Aquarium in Panacea.

We hope this virtual trip along our Big Bend Gulf Coast put you into a “traveling mood” and that you’ll get on the road to explore the rich history and hidden sites of our region—the part of Florida that considers “nature to be our theme park”!