A few weeks ago, we got a call from a reporter with the Orlando Sentinel wanting to know what it was like to hike at Black Bear Wilderness in Sanford. It’s one of the closest hikes to where we live, so it was a heads-up that the preserve was going to reopen. (Here’s the news story). We checked the Seminole County Natural Lands website, hoping it might open on National Trails Day, but it didn’t provide an opening date. It does now.
What it did mention, however, was a 7.1-mile loop trail. With a primitive campsite! Now that certainly was news to us. Back when I was researching Five Star Trails Orlando, Black Bear Wilderness was closed the entire time while the county was working on a water treatment plant that the trail passes by.
Our last hike at Black Bear Wilderness was after the release of Five Star Trails Orlando. We wanted to share the good news with our friend Paul, who lived very close to the preserve, so we met there for a hike. We followed the trail along the dike out to the St. Johns River, where there was a little platform overlooking the river, and then continued along the river until we hit this sign.
So that was it. A 2.8-mile round-trip, which we added to this website and regretted we couldn’t put in the book, since it was a beautiful and wildlife-rich hike. Including meeting up with Mama bear and her cubs as we were pulling out of the parking lot.
This Tuesday, while my sister and her kids were visiting, we decided to see if Black Bear Wilderness had reopened. It’s easy to miss the turn to get there – which we did – since there isn’t a brown sign on Orange Blvd to give you a heads-up to turn on New York Avenue. The trailhead is right at the end of the street. On the kiosk at the trailhead, we found this new map.
So there is now a 7.1-mile loop through the preserve, with the dike system now linked together by connecting boardwalks. But at 10 AM and 90*F outside, we weren’t about to take on the entire loop. Instead, this was a visit to let the kids see the wild side of the St. Johns River – we’d been to the Sanford Riverwalk a couple of days before – and to see if we’d see wildlife.
We did, of course. When we paused at a tree to look at how a vine had forced its trunk into a snake-like twist, a barred owl took off over our heads. In a nearby cypress, a red-shoulder hawk was fussing because we, and the owl, had wandered into its territory. And we almost tripped over this box turtle along the footpath.
We made it out to the St. Johns River for a peek from the platform. You can hear the boats on the river better than you can see the waterway, but I don’t doubt that the new loop extension of the trail provides plenty of riverside walking. Just looking at the map, the trail may follow the river for a good three miles, and the campsite is not far from the river.
Ironically, we don’t have the time to try it out, yet. We’re packing to embark on our next adventure. If you get out there and try the whole loop before we do, please let us know how you like it!
Oh, and if you decide to camp out there? Please be sure to use a bear canister or plan to bear-bag your food. This is the heart of Florida black bear territory.