<--More Absolutely Florida
Hiking and Nature Trails
of East Central Florida

by Jim and Cynthia Tunstall

The cool-sand-between-your toes option: 50 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches in St. Lucie and Indian River counties that arguably offer the best hiking in the region. Access is easy (just about anywhere) and the trail length is entirely up to you. While some of the natural aesthetics are interrupted by condominiums, plenty of undeveloped areas remain, giving you a chance to see virgin coast and native species, such as endangered sea turtles, manatees and shore and sea birds.

Port St. Lucie
St. Lucie Inlet State Park, (561-744-7603), is another slight stretch, this one being about two miles south of the county line. In addition to 2 miles of Atlantic beach, the park has a 3,300-foot boardwalk that meanders through hammocks, live oaks, cabbage palms, wild limes, coco plums and paradise trees.

By the way, that skunk-like aroma that greets you comes from the shite stopper tree. This is another area popular with green, loggerhead and leatherback turtles that nest in the summer months.

The Blue Cypress Conservation Area offers a blister-raising 26 miles of trails through marshes, lakes and cypress swamps along the St. Johns River. It’s a good place to see endangered snail kites as well as eagles, ospreys, limpkins and great blue and night herons.

Vero Beach Area
The Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area has 12 miles of trails through upland and wetland areas, again along the St. Johns River. You’ll encounter dry prairies, hardwood swamps and freshwater marshes as well as white-tail deer, turkeys, sandhill cranes and the dreaded feral hogs. .

The Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area has two miles of trails and two loops that are wheelchair accessible. It’s dotted with hammocks, wetlands and flatwoods and provides a home to 20 rare plant species, including whisk ferns, coral-root orchids and Simpson’s stoppers.

The South Florida Water Management District, (800-432-2045) in Florida or (561-686-8800), provides 12 miles of trails at its Hickory Hammock site. The trail runs parallel to the Kissimmee River, mainly through uplands.

Remember, when it comes to water management districts, check before you land to make sure you’re not arriving in the thick of hunting season.

Additionally, there is a nine-mile leg of the
Florida National Trail along the Kissimmee River, eight miles west of Okeechobee on Hwy 70. You’ll catch a glimpse of several species of wading birds and, possibly, some sandhill cranes eating in nearby pastures. If your thermostat starts boiling over, you can cool off in the river at the Hwy 70 bridge.

DeLeon Springs
DeLeon Springs State Recreation Area,(904-985-4212), offers a 4.2-mile round-trip trail that meanders through a floodplain forest at an old plantation site.

Hontoon Island State Park, (904-736-5309), is unique in that it’s an inland park accessible only by ferry or private boat. Located on the St. Johns River and Lake Beresford, its calling cards include a three-mile trail that passes marshes and a lagoon en route to an Indian shell mound and a replica of a 600-year-old owl totem discovered here in 1955. There’s also an 80-foot observation tower on one of the trail spurs.

Orange City
Blue Spring State Park, (904-775-3663), offers an eight-mile hiking trail through shaded hammocks and open flatwoods at a park that also includes a spring run, part of the St. Johns River, and a lagoon.

Kratzert Conservation Area, (407-897-4311), offers 3 miles of trail space through wetlands, the river and Lake Monroe.

Ormond Beach
Tomoka State Park, (904-676-4050), has a .4-mile trail on the Halifax River, passing big live oaks, creeks and sculptures depicting the Native American heritage. There’s also a museum on the property. The park is just north of Ormond Beach.

Sebastian Inlet State Park , (407-984-4852), offers 2.1- and 1.1-mile venues along the Atlantic on a barrier island dotted with inlets, lagoons, coastal hammocks, mangroves and dunes. On the southern end of the 587-acre park, the McLarty Treasure Museum recollects the loss of a Spanish fleet laden with gold and silver during a 1715 hurricane.

Ft. Pierce
Dunes, hammocks and mangroves are among the featured attractions at
Fort Pierce Inlet State Recreation Area, (561-468-3985), which offers the 2.2-mile Marsh Rabbit Run Trail on Jack Island and a .9-mile hammock trail at Dynamite Point, part of the area where Navy frogmen trained in World War II. The bird life includes laughing gulls, cormorants, brown pelicans and black skimmers. If you venture into the wet areas you’re sure to find a city of fiddler crabs flitting in and out of their holes.

Cape Canaveral Area
A warning for those who are easily offended:
Playalinda Beach on the seashore’s southern end is a notorious habitat for skinny-dippers, although local and federal officials are continuing to crack down on this sport. So, if you don’t want an eyeful, steer clear of this small area.

Turnbull Hammock Conservation Area, (407-984-4940), gives you nearly nine miles of trails through densely vegetated wetlands that are home to several bird species.

Canaveral Marshes, another favorite of waterfowl and wading birds, is accessible from Hwy 50, 10 miles east of Titusville (access is through the Great Outdoors resort). This one has 10 miles of trails.

Lake George
Lake George Conservation Area has more than 12 miles of trails bordering the lake, hardwood swamps and pine flatwoods. Fox squirrels, owls, bald eagles, herons, ospreys, hawks, deer and otters are common to the area.

Bull Creek Conservation Area provides 17 miles of trails inhabited by many of the same bird species as well as white-tail deer, gopher tortoises and wild turkey. The entire length is part of the Florida Trail.

Three Forks Conservation Area has 15 miles of trails that have otters, alligators and numerous birds species along the way.Remember, when it comes to water management districts, conservation areas and forests, check in advance to make sure you’re not planning on hiking when gun- or even bow-toting hunters are in the area.

Click for Southwest Florida Camping Directory
More Great Links:

Florida Recreation
Florida State Parks
Florida Wildlife

For directions, call Florida Trail Association
800-343-1882 (in Florida) or 352-378-8823
P.O. Box 13708, Gainesville, FL 32604.

Office of Greenways & Trails
850-487-4784, Mail Station 795,
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000.

or try the mapping service below (some remote areas not available)

One warning before you move on:
Any time you venture into a state forest (not a state park) or conservation area there's a chance of encountering hunters. Call or write in advance for hunting seasons as well as a detailed booklet on the districtís properties (P.O. Box 1429, Palatka, FL 32178-1429).
A visitor perches for a bird's eye view of Tomoka State Park.