Managed by Osceola County, Lake Runnymede Conservation Area is only 43 acres, but what a preserve! Sandwiched between the massive East Lake Tohopekaliga – which, despite being on the other side of Rummel Road, can be seen from several vantage points along the hike – and the much smaller Lake Runnymede, it showcases one of the most spectacular stands of ancient live oaks in Central Florida.
Location: St. Cloud
Length: 0.9 miles
Type: 2 loops with shorter options
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: at the trailhead
Along US 192 east of downtown St. Cloud, drive 1 mile to Orange Ave. Turn left. Continue 1.1 miles to Rummell Rd. Turn right. The park entrance will be on the right within a half mile.
As you enter the gate from the parking lot, you’ll see a privy and a list of park rules. Leashed pets are welcome along these trails, and a primitive camping area is available for group use. The preserve is open sunrise to sunset. Two hiking loops start from this point, the green-blazed Live Oak Trail and the yellow-blazed Lake Trail. Turn right to take a look at the park kiosk and its map, and to start the Lake Trail. Following this trail, you are beneath a dense canopy of live oaks laden with Spanish moss. Markers guide you along the path. At the first junction, turn right. The trail posts are tipped in red and have hiker symbol medallions on them. The footpath parallels Rummell Road, and you can see the glimmering waters of East Lake Toho through the residences on the other side of the road. In the first tenth of a mile there is a bench on the right-hand side within this beautiful oak grove, a park-like setting with an understory that is very open. On the right, as the footpath curves, you see a cross-shaped impression of an ancient oak that was lopped off at the surface, probably after falling over. The bases of these live oaks are enormous, the age easily 500 years or more for many of them.
Through the open understory you can see for quite some distance, the arching limbs everywhere and blotches of white lichen on the trees. A historic site on the left speaks to what this land used to be: open range. The cattle pens hearken to a time when St. Cloud was Florida’s ranching capital. Passing under the arching limb of a live oak, the trail drops down past the pens and hangs a right. You snake beneath more live oaks, and by a quarter-mile the trail emerges out to cross a open stretch of bright white sand, the ancient sands of the Florida Peninsula, between smaller oaks. Sandhill cranes cry in the distance. Tacking to the right, turning to the left, the trail works its way into another shady stand of oaks near the road. One oak on the left is particularly massive in size, its limbs about two thirds the breadth of the trunk itself. The hike has that Old South feel, with Spanish moss swaying in the breeze in thick draperies from the limbs of these enormous oaks around you. The trail curves out of this stand of oaks past a partially fallen one, half its trunk settled down into the sand of the scrubby area that the trail now enters.
Past the fallen tree, the trail makes a right curve through this open, scrubby area where prickly pear cactus grows. Although the footpath follows the shoreline of Lake Runnymede, the water is not visible – vegetation is in the way. A giant bromeliad with a top bigger than a pineapple sits in the leaf litter under one oak. The trail turns left and comes up to a picnic bench at a half mile under another oak, with a similar bromeliad up in the branches above. The trail tacks to the right past a fire ring, a wood grill, and another picnic bench, all part of the group campsite. Posts lead you through the open area, and a mound of sand is off to the left. Getting out of the sun quickly, you tack right back into a beauty spot under the oaks with more picnic benches and barbecue grills.
Songbirds, including cardinals and titmouse, flutter between the trees as you zig-zag back and forth along the footpath under the oaks, passing a thick clump of saw palmetto. Beyond another patch of blinding white sand, the trail makes a quick left through a patch of shade, and ducks beneath live oaks with limbs so low they tempt tree climbers. By 0.7 mile, you’ve returned to the main entrance and the solar powered privy. Walk past it and continue along the green-blazed Live Oak Trail. This heads into another portion of the live oak forest.
The loop begins quickly, with an arrow pointing to the left. The oaks are dense enough that you can’t see the nearby road. These oaks are younger than those on the other loop but still easily more than a century or two old. An ornamental palm pokes up between the oaks on the left, a notable change in the forest texture as you walk under the bowed branches of the live oaks. A tall slash pine rises to the right. You hear the creel of a red-shouldered hawk and see its shadow as it glides overhead. Passing a bench on the left, the trail curves to the right things and down an alley of elegant live oaks. You still see palms poking up here and there between them. As the trail continues, there is a grassy prairie off to the left as you curve around to the right to finish this small loop. Turn left to exit to the parking area, completing this 0.9-mile stroll.
|0.0||parking area / start Lake Trail|
|0.7||return to privy / start Live Oak Trail|