James E. Grey Preserve is a hidden treasure on the outskirts of New Port Richey, a quiet rural breather along the Pithlachascotee River. It’s in a most unexpected place: surrounded by modern-day subdivisions, a tiny patch of rural Florida exists down a bumpy one-lane limerock road, a handful of residences deep in the woods and this preserve along the riverfront. An extensive boardwalk follows the sinuous path of the Pithlachascotee River, creating the well-shaded Palmetto Loop, which has beautiful overlooks along the river and a large cove on the opposite side. A secondary loop provides a walk through an upland scrub habitat, where roserush and tarflower bloom in abundance.
Location: New Port Richey
Length: 1.3 miles
Lat-Long: 28.236674, -82.700147
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Nearly half of the hike is on a broad, winding boardwalk along the Pithlachascotee River, but there is no direct access to the boardwalk for wheelchairs. The preserve includes picnic pavilions and a canoe launch.
To find James E. Grey Preserve, take SR 54 east from US 19 in New Port Richey for 2.7 miles to Rowan Rd. Turn left and drive north 1.6 miles, past the light at Trouble Creek Rd, to the turnoff for Plathe Road on the left. Plathe Road quickly turns into a one-lane limerock road through a residential area. Never fear, you’re in the right place! The turnoff for the park is rather obvious, and it’s on your left after 0.3 mile on the left. Drive in and park in the first parking area on the left to start your hike
Start your hike at the first parking area on the left, a circle at the canoe launch. A large kiosk showcases the park map and points you in the right direction, headed down a broad jeep road through the scrub forest to start the first of two loops in the park, the Palmetto Loop. In summer, fragrant tarflower blooms add a splash of color to the otherwise crispy forest, which runs right up to the edge of the floodplain forest along the Pithlachascotee (also called “Cotee” in these parts) River. You quickly reach a “You Are Here” sign with map and a picnic shelter just beyond it. The boardwalk starts here; turn left to follow it. It’s a sturdy structure, built to withstand heavy flooding, and it quickly swings out through the floodplain forest to follow the river channel, providing a view of a sluggish waterway, and a cove framed by oak branches.
The boardwalk leaves the cove and continues meandering through a dense palm hammock, where songbirds fill the air with their calls. You can still see the river through a screen of trees to your left, with a few residences in view on the far shore. There is a break in the boardwalk at 0.1 mile, on the left, with a trail taking off into the forest. Stay on the boardwalk, and you’ll come up to a lake on the right, with the Cotee remaining in your left. When you cross the bridge, it’s obvious that the two connect—the lake is a cove off the river, and a rather large one, lined by lush palm hammocks. The boardwalk continues to wind along the waterway, well-shaded by cabbage palms, with glimpses of water from both sides. With all of the water surrounding you, there’s always a nice breeze, making this a cooler-than-average walk for a summer day.
After 0.3 mile, a side boardwalk leads to an observation deck—don’t miss it! The setting is spectacular, with a panorama of the wild river shorelines. It’s hard to believe you’re in the middle of New Port Richey. Returning to the main boardwalk, turn left. The board ends, depositing you on a berm surrounded by a forest with ferns thickly carpeting its floor. You’re leaving the river now, as the trail keeps close to the shore of the cove on the right. An opening on the right with a bench provides a quiet place to sit and watch herons picking their way through the shallows.
Still in deep shade, the trail narrows, and the footpath becomes gravel. Glimpses of the cove are less frequent, but you can still see it through openings in the forest. Might that shimmer in the water be a manatee? The footpath broadens again, back to the width of a jeep trail, as you approach the sign for the Upper Trail at 0.6 mile. Turn left to explore this loop, which focuses on the upland scrub forest near the river, and offers two benches for resting. Pale pink roserush blooms in summer amid the grasses. Bear left at the loop junction and follow the wide bark chip path as it leads you into the shade of mature sand live oaks. The trail follows what looks like an old road, veering right as it leaves the bark chips to loop around. Transitioning to sandhills, the footpath rejoins the bark chips as you’re surrounded by turkey oaks that offer little shade, and the trail winds its way through this open, sunny habitat where you’ll notice gopher tortoise burrows along the way. By 0.9 mile, you reach the end of the loop. Continue straight to rejoin the main trail – the Palmetto Loop – and take a left.
You’re back on a jeep road with very little shade, and this leads straight back to the trailhead, if you prefer to be direct. But why not savor the river on your way out? A unmarked side trail at 1.1 miles tempts. Dive into the cool shade of the palm hammock, and you’re back along the edge of the cove again, approaching the opening in the boardwalk. Step up and return to the boardwalk. Turn left to retrace your approach through the floodplain forest back to the boardwalk’s end at the picnic pavilion. Turn right to exit, completing a 1.3 mile hike.
0.0 start at kiosk for Palmetto Loop
0.05 start of boardwalk
0.13 side trail leaves boardwalk to right
0.2 cross bridge
0.3 observation deck on left
0.4 bench on right overlooking cove
0.6 jct Upper Trail loop, turn left
0.7 back of pavilion, maintenance trail
0.7 bear left at loop junction
0.7 bench in scrub
0.8 bench in sandhills
0.8 unmarked path off to left
0.9 end of loop
1.0 return to main trail, turn left
1.1 unmarked side trail, turn right
1.1 return to boardwalk, turn left
1.3 end of boardwalk, turn right
1.3 end of loop at kiosk / parking area