A dazzling array of swamp sunflowers await each fall at Lake Jesup Wilderness, an expansive wetland area along the northern shore of Lake Jesup. The trail system zigzags through prairies that flood during the wet season before clambering onto a berm to tunnel beneath a canopy of cabbage palms. Scenic views across the lake and its prairies, as well as great birding, make this an interesting – if not often soggy – hike.
Length: 2.7 miles
Lat-Long: 28.727200, -81.263533
Type: round-trip and balloon
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate
Wading is probable in several spots along the trail system, including between breaks in the berm en route to the South Loop. Insects depend on season and wetness. Trail is shared with off-road cyclists and equestrians. The South Loop is not well maintained and can be tough to follow.
From Interstate 4 in Lake Mary, follow Lake Mary Blvd east past SR 417 to Sanford Ave, one block past Ronald Reagan Blvd (SR 427). Turn right on Sanford Ave and drive to the end of the road, which enters the park.
From the trailhead, the trail leads you out of an oak hammock into the floodplain of Lake Jesup. At certain times of year, this can be under water, but in late summer, this is the area with the highest concentration of sunflower blooms. After crossing a bridge over a small canal, you reach a berm topped with a forest of cabbage palms and a T intersection with the trail atop the berm. Turn right to follow the berm, which provides nice views of the lake and marshes. There are spots where the berm is missing that you have to cross to continue, and these may or may not be passable depending on water levels. At the very end of the berm is a loop trail to the south through a large palm hammock. We found it rather overgrown and tricky to follow. Return the way you came. It’s also possible to walk north on the berm.