Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Path at Boyd Hill Park

Path at Boyd Hill Park

Boyd Hill Park originally began its life as a zoo and botanical garden for the city of St. Petersburg. It has since evolved over the decades into a mosaic of natural habitats and wild tropical landscapes along the shores of Lake Maggiore. From the outer Main Trail, there are five side trails (mostly loops) showcasing specific habitats: the Swamp Woodlands Trail, Willow Marsh Trail, Lake Maggiore Trail, Scrub Island Trail, and Pine Flatwoods Trail. Enjoy the immersion into each habitat on the side trails, and the amusing giant armadillos along Wax Myrtle Pond.

Resources

Orlando & Central Florida: An Explorer's GuideHiker's Guide to the Sunshine State

Overview

Location: St. Petersburg
Length: 3 mile loop
Lat-Long: 27.725417, -82.649867
Type: linear, loop
Fees / Permits: small admission fee
Difficulty: easy
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: Yes

1101 Country Club Way S, St. Petersburg, FL 33705

The park is open 9-5, with longer hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer. Strategically placed cold water stations around the park are a welcome relief on a hot day. A paved bike path makes a loop through the park and just inside the park entrance, there is a wild bird aviary . A picnic area is also available for use, outside the park gates.

Directions

Follow I-275 north from St. Petersburg to exit 17. Drive 1.8 miles east on 54th St to 9th St. S (Dr. Martin Luther King St). Turn left and drive north for four blocks; make a left at the traffic light onto Country Club Way. The park is on the right.

Hike

As you walk through the entrance gate, notice the tropical trees flanking the entrance. The broad fan-shaped tree is a traveler’s palm, a native of Madagascar. It is not a palm tree, but is related to the banana tree and bird-of-paradise, as evidenced by its large, hanging blossom. The showy trees dropping their blossoms (or leaves, or seed pods, depending on the time of year) are goldenrain trees, one of the more colorful trees you see in Florida yards, a popular Asian ornamental. As their yellow flowers fall to the ground, they are replaced by colorful red seedpods, then by yellow leaves in the spring.

A manned kiosk is on the right. Pay your admission fee and ask for a loaner field guide and trail map before setting off on the extensive trail system. Because of the overlap of several key loop trails, there are many different ways you can hike the trails. Most of the trails are paved, and virtually all of them are wheelchair-accessible. Bikers share the trail on the designated bike path.

After you walk through the gate, make a hard right onto the Main Trail, into the forest. Snake plants and ferns compete for space beneath the oaks. Turn right on the Swamp Woodlands Trail for a loop through a floodplain forest off Lake Maggiore. Lush philodendron climbs the oak trees; an umbrella tree spreads its broad leaves. The trail reaches a boardwalk that loops through the swamp. Stay to the right at the junction. Elephant ears and giant leather ferns compete for space in the tannic bog beneath the red maples and red bay. Pickerelweed shows off its slim purple blooms. Turn right at the junction, then right again onto the main trail. Each of the park’s habitats is showcased along small loop trails like these, branching off the main trail. Notice the diversity of tropical plants along the Main Trail. Glorybower flaunts its cardinal red flowers above heart-shaped leaves. Long brake fern grows from the trunk of a cabbage palm. Shell ginger shows off its orchid-like blooms.

At 0.4 mile, a spur trail off to the left leads to a picturesque old stone bridge tucked away in a garden grotto. Continuing down the Main Trail, you come to the Willow Marsh Trail. Turn right, following the boardwalk across a sea of tall cattails and Virginia willows. A large leopard frog leaps across the boards, intent on returning to the water. Turn right at the junction to follow the loop. Cinnamon ferns and giant leather ferns rise beneath the elderberries. An overlook off on the right looks out over the marsh, with a glimpse of the open waters of the lake beyond. Keep turning right until you return to the Main Trail. Turn right, walking under a stand of slash pines decorated in vines. You’ve passed several benches already, but now you come to a canopied water station, one of several in the park, where you can grab a drink from a giant water jug. Turn right on the Lake Maggiore Trail. Banana trees flank the trail as you approach a bridge leading to a grassy island on the lake.

You can see downtown St. Petersburg across the lake, but it’s unlikely you’ll see an alligator. Lake Maggiore supports only the smallest, most versatile of fish, algae, and larvae. In 1927, an attempt to widen the channel between the lake and Tampa Bay led to vast amounts of salt water flooding the lake, killing the fish and ruining the natural ecosystem. With subsequent pesticide and herbicide runoff from surrounding lawns, the lake has never recovered. Softshell turtles, primarily vegetarians, roam the lake’s bottom, and herons snap up the small fish. Small bald cypresses grow along the water’s edge.

Returning to the Main Trail, you reach a four-way junction. Turn right onto the Gator Loop, paralleling the lake. Air potatoes create a tangled jungle between the cabbage palms. Notice the banyan tree on the right, with its many trunk-like roots dangling from its branches to the ground. Also known as the bo tree, this Asian tree is sacred to Buddhists as the tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.

As the Gator Loop turns away from the lake at 1 mile, turn right onto the unpaved pathway into the woods along the lake, through a long green tunnel of oaks. Tangled greenbrier, air potatoes, and philodendron make this a jungle-like setting. Gardenia shows off its white blossoms. The trail curves away from the lake and through a patch of ginger; a stone canal hides off several feet to the right. Passing under some palm trees with exceptionally long fronds, the trail rejoins the Gator Loop. Turn right. At the next trail junction, go straight. Placid Wax Myrtle Pond sits off to the left. As you ascend a small rise, you come to a bizarre piece of art—an oversized armadillo made up of old car parts. Dropping back down, make the next left to loop around the pond. Another armadillo stands guard at the trail junction as you rejoin the Gator Loop. Turn right, crossing the Field Mouse Trail as you enter the scrubby flatwoods.

Passing a dense stand of bamboo at 1.4 mile, you come to the Scrub Oak Island Trail. Turn right, and take a moment to grab a cup of water at the water station. The shade under the canopied bench is the only shade along this particular trail. The trail loops through a desert-like oak scrub, where myrtle oak and Chapman oak grow only three feet tall. Watch for gopher tortoises ambling along trails through the wiregrass. Returning to the trail junction, turn right. Within 200 feet, you come to the Pine Flatwoods Trail. Veer right, then right again. The multicolored blooms of lantana spill out over the trail’s edge. Passing another water station, you walk through the pine forest. Dog banana, a type of pawpaw, shows off its fuzzy green fruits. Urn-shaped pink blossoms dangle from shiny lyonia. One of the park’s more interesting inhabitants lives in this forest—the southern flying squirrel. Growing up to ten inches long, these brown and white squirrels have unusually large eyes. With a fold of skin on each side of their body connecting their front and hind legs, the squirrel can glide up to 150 feet between trees. A nocturnal rodent, the southern flying squirrel prefers to live in abandoned woodpecker holes, like the ones found in this stand of pines.

Looping back around to the canopied water station, turn right. Stay on the main path; a shortcut off to the right leads to the Bike Trail. Returning to the trail junction, take the second right onto the Main Trail (you should see a “Main Trail” sign). As you walk under the tall slash pines, you cross the Field Mouse Trail again. Returning to the cool shade of the oak hammock, the trail veers right, ending at the ticket kiosk. You’ve walked 2.1 miles. Take the time to visit with the raptors before you leave.

Mileage

0.0 start @ kiosk, right on main trail
0.0 right on Swamp Woodlands trail
0.3 return main trail, right
0.4 old bridge spur trail
0.4 right on Willow Marsh Trail
0.6 return main trail, right
0.8 right on Lake Maggiore Trail
0.9 return main trail, right on Gator Loop
1.0 right onto woodland path along lake
1.1 return Gator Loop, right
1.2 jct, go straight
0.0 jct, left down around pond
1.3 right on Gator Loop
0.0 cross Field Mouse Trail
1.4 right on Scrub Oak Island Trail
1.7 return main trail, right
1.7 right on Pine Flatwoods Trail
0.0 veer right
2.0 jct 4 trails, 2nd right
2.1 return kiosk

 

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