149.1 miles (Orlando). Hiking through the Orlando metro – four counties, including Osceola, Orange, Seminole, and Lake – means a strong sense of contrasts between wild and urban. It’s surprising just how wild the segments of the Florida Trail on public lands are through this section, following an arc that parallels the St. Johns River and its tributaries. With the exception of two days of roadwalk through a vast cattle ranch and two days of urban paved trails, this section shows off hammocks of ancient live oaks and towering cabbage palms, vast pine savannas, desert-like scrub forests, and bogs with terrestrial orchids and pitcher plants. Easily accessed from a variety of trailheads, these segments are popular destinations on the weekends.
Be aware of hunting season dates for the public lands through this region, especially during general gun season (deer season).
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on symbols for details and directions.
Starting north from Canoe Creek Road – where the Western Corridor heads north along the road – the Florida Trail is a delight to walk through open prairies, tall grasses studded with saw palmetto, boggy spots with colorful wildflowers, and occasional pines standing tall. These open areas are all part of the great Osceola Savanna, across which ranchlands (and now, sadly, subdivisions) sprawl. They are punctuated by pine forests and islands of high, dry scrub forest.
Leaving Three Lakes WMA, the trail follows US 441 north briefly past what little remains of the historic village of Nittaw before ducking into Forever Florida at a stile just north of Bull Creek. Forever Florida is a private conservation area and ecotourism destination, where the Florida Trail traverses more open prairie and occasionally dips you through feeder streams that flow into Bull Creek. Take the short side trail to the boardwalk on Bull Creek to enjoy the primordial forest. A blue-blazed trail leads to the Cypress Restaurant (and trailhead) within this private preserve, and Forever Florida also boasts a very nice camping area with shelter and restrooms (see sidebar for how you can camp there).
Up and over another stile, you enter Bull Creek WMA. Here, a 20-mile loop offers opportunities for weekend backpackers; the thru-trail follows the eastern (wetter) side of the loop, using old logging tramways to traverse inky swamps lined with cypresses and cabbage palms. The habitat diversity is pleasant here as well, with Little Scrub camp set in a scrub forest and Jane Green in a pine forest. Once you reach the levee and gate at US 192, that’s the end of the footpath for a while.
Once upon a time, there was a very pleasant traverse of Deseret Ranch on the Florida Trail. But years ago, the trail was banished from the ranch, a decision made not by locals but by the LDS in Salt Lake City. So hikers now face a 30-mile roadwalk between Bull Creek and Tosohatchee. At least the roads are quiet, once you get north of US 192 at Deer Park. It’s impossible to camp roadside until you get to Nova Road. Do not hop into private property along this 30-mile stretch. Water is available from several creeks along the route.
Tosohatchee sits squarely in the St. Johns River floodplain. With much of the preserve either wet pine flatwoods or ancient palm hammocks, the footpath can get squishy or just plain flooded here. But it is spectacular for its old growth trees and colorful wildflowers, and the campsites stay high and dry. When you cross SR 50 in Christmas, you’ve reached the far edge of the Orlando metro, although it’s so rural here you might not notice. On the north side of SR 50, Seminole Ranch is one of our favorite places because of its hauntingly beautiful palm hammocks. Again, it’s adjoining the St. Johns River, as is a portion of adjacent Bronson State Forest. That’s why the Florida Trail is here – it’s on public land along the mighty river’s floodplain. The transition into Chuluota Wilderness is marked by a small shelter and the River Trail connector, a potential future route for the Florida Trail.
A 2-mile rural roadwalk gets you to Mills Creek Woodlands and the corridor of public lands along the Econlockhatchee River, including popular Little Big Econ State Forest. This is the last stretch of deeply forested landscape before you reach suburbia in Oviedo. The trail winds through some neighborhoods and Round Lake Park before reaching the beginning of the paved Cross Seminole Trail in downtown Oviedo. This bike path is the most urban section of the Florida Trail, with no opportunities for camping. You’ll need to plan a motel or AirBnB stay somewhere along the route. The upside is lots of restaurants, easy access to food in general, and some outfitters not far from the trail. Crossing Interstate 4 on a large pedestrian/bike bridge, you join the Seminole Wekiva Trail for another four miles of paved path before the blazes direct you to Lower Wekiva Preserve State Park. That brief immersion in sandhill habitat is followed by a roadwalk over the Wekiva River bridge on SR 46 to reach Seminole State Forest on the west side of the river. Finally, you’re back in the woods, at least for the next 8 miles, before another roadwalk to get to the next piece of Seminole State Forest inside Royal Trails. Here, pine forest yields to scrub, and scrub to dirt road, on the walk towards Camp La No Che, the Boy Scout reservation that the trail traverses before reaching the birthplace of the Florida Trail at Clearwater Lake on the south end of the Ocala National Forest.
9.4 miles. The north section of Three Lakes WMA north of Canoe Creek Rd leads through vast open pine savannas and through scrub and pine flatwoods, as well as a bayhead swamp with a boardwalk. Just a few miles into the hike, you tunnel beneath the busy Florida Turnpike.
Florida Trail, Forever Florida
7.3 miles. The first 2.3 miles is a roadwalk up US 441, which leads to Forever Florida. It’s a commercial attraction that showcases the beauty of the pine flatwoods and cypress swamps on a working cattle ranch, and has a campsite that can be used with permission.
13.8 miles. From the vastness of pine savannas to the leafy shade of the Crabgrass Creek floodplain, the Florida Trail through Bull Creek offers a great deal of diversity and two designated campsites. A 20.5 mile loop provides a weekend option.
Florida Trail, Deseret Ranch
30.1 miles. More than a decade ago, Deseret Ranch closed access to the Florida Trail, which ran atop a dike through their property. Long distance hikers must now follow this two day roadwalk through the ranch along public roads to connect to Tosohatchee WMA.
10 miles. A deep immersion in palm hammocks with ancient live oaks and one of Florida’s oldest slash pine forests makes the ramble through Tosohatchee, known for its botanical beauty, an unforgettable experience.
4.9 miles. Between the community of Christmas along SR 50 and the Wheeler Road trailhead, the Seminole Ranch section winds through jungle-like stands of palms and live oaks along the St. Johns River floodplain.
9.4 miles. Running partly through Seminole Ranch and partly through Bronson State Forest, this relatively new section of the Florida Trail is a delightful mix of wetland and shaded habitats, with palm hammocks in the lowlands and pine flatwoods with bogs in the uplands.
4.3 miles. With rosemary scrub in the high, dry uplands of Chuluota Wilderness and the lush floodplains of an array of feeder streams nourishing the Econlockhatchee River, this segment makes for a pleasant day hike.
4.1 miles. Connecting a 2.1 mile backroads roadwalk on a paved but dead-end road and a beautiful but short stretch of the Florida Trail through Mills Creek Woodlands, this connector segment showcases the beauty of the Mills Creek floodplain.
10 miles. Along a ribbon of wilderness defining the edge of suburban Orlando, the Florida Trail shows off the delights of Little-Big Econ State Forest while traversing pitcher plant bogs, scrub forests, and the rugged bluffs of the Econlockhatchee River.
Florida Trail, Cross Seminole
25.8 miles. The most urban section of the Florida Trail weaves its way through communities in Seminole County utilizing sidewalks, parks, short roadwalks, and paved bicycle trails to connect from Little-Big Econ State Forest to Seminole State Forest.
7.8 miles. A delight to enter after the urban walk on Orlando’s edge, this segment through Seminole State Forest is known for its bear population. Vast, open pine flatwoods and scrub forests form a counterpoint to dense hammocks around Blackwater Creek and its tributaries.
Florida Trail, Cassia
12.7 miles. A mix of connecting roadwalks and short forays into the forest, this segment of the Florida Trail connects Seminole State Forest with the Ocala National Forest via Royal Trails and Camp La-No-Che.
11.7 miles. At nearly 12 miles, the White Loop is the longest loop trail in Tosohatchee WMA, traversing palm hammocks and pine flatwoods near the St. Johns River. The White Loop was the first trail blazed by the Florida Trail Association at Tosohatchee, to provide backpackers with a scenic destination back when this was a state park. Half of it is still the Florida Trail route today.
4.8 miles. Covering more than 1,600 acres in the St. Johns River floodplain, Orlando Wetlands Park has more than 8 miles of trails and is the best place in the region for serious birding. The Florida Trail once followed the park’s perimeter but shifted into the newly opened Bronson State Forest in 2012.
5.0 miles. Following a historic railroad route, the southern portion of the Flagler Trail provides a sometimes rugged, sometimes gentle ride between Geneva and Chuluota along the old railroad grade.
4.7 miles. A loop hike in Little Big Econ State Forest, the 4.7-mile Kolokee Loop shows off the best facets of the Florida Trail along the Econlockhatchee River.
2.6 miles. The home of some of Florida’s most ancient cypresses, Spring Hammock Preserve in Winter Springs is one of the most delightful places to take a hike in the Orlando area. A relict section of the Florida Trail can still be followed through the woods along Soldiers Creek.
0.3 miles. While the iconic Senator is no more, Big Tree Park continues to fascinate visitors with its enormous cypress trees, including Lady Liberty. This park provides access to the Cross Seminole Trail.
13.9 miles.Part of the Coast to Coast Connector being built between Titusville and St. Petersburg, the paved Seminole Wekiva Trail connects suburbs through Seminole County. One portion showcases an ever-growing art gallery called Paint the Trail. The Florida Trail follows the northernmost portion of it for 4.1 miles.
2.2 miles. A 2.2-mile loop through longleaf pine and wiregrass, an ecosystem that once covered the uplands of Central Florida, this easy nature trail shares the same trailhead as the Florida Trail but quickly diverges from it for immersion in the sandhills.
8.8 miles. On an 8.8 mile hike through the southeastern portion of Seminole State Forest, the Lower Wekiva Loop treats you to shady hammocks and vast pine savannas. It connects with the Florida Trail near Shelter Camp and Blackwater Camp.
- FLOODING can be a concern along the St. Johns River floodplain. At times the river may be high enough to inundate the trail past the point where it is safe to wade it. In Tosohatchee Reserve, the western side of the White Loop serves as a drier alternate route to the Florida Trail. If you waded in Seminole Ranch north to Wheeler Road, best to roadwalk from the Wheeler Road trailhead to the Joshua Creek trailhead to avoid deep water.
- While the roadwalk between Bull Creek WMA and Tosohatchee WMA through Deseret Ranch is 30 miles long, discreet camping is possible on the eastern side of Nova Road (north of Deer Park Road) behind clumps of trees. Under no circumstances should you hop any fences in this stretch for camping or water. It is also possible to camp at the Taylor Creek Loop.
- Should you have gear issues, there are two outfitters in the Orlando area that can be reached by bus or by foot from where the trail passes through Longwood and Lake Mary: Travel Country Outdoors in Altamonte Springs and Gander Mountain in Lake Mary. REI will be opening a store along US 17-92 which will be on the bus line.
- For a 28.7 mile stretch between Little Big Econ State Forest and Seminole State Forest, there are no campsites. This is because the trail follows paved bike paths through suburbia and camping isn’t permitted in county parks. There are hotels a few miles north of the trail on US 17-92 in Sanford (take a bus), at Lake Mary Boulevard (walk west of the trail), and several hotels adjoining the trail in Lake Mary/Heathrow just after you cross Interstate 4 on the big bike/ped bridge.