Amid hammocks of ancient oaks and dense floodplain forests along the northern shore of Trout Lake, Trout Lake Nature Center in Eustis offers a network of family-friendly interpretive nature trails that guide you through these habitats out to a long boardwalk into the lake. From the covered pavilion at the end, you can see the cypress-lined shore and its many resident birds. A private nature preserve for public education, the 230-acre complex was founded by the Okalwaha Valley Audubon Society in 1988.
Length: 1 mile
Type: loop with spur
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate to high
Restroom: at the Environmental Education Center and Charles Newell Hall
Closed Sun-Mon. Open Tue-Sat 9-1 during the summer months, 9-4 in the winter. Dogs are not permitted. Bring your bug spray!
Stop in and see the critters at the Charles Newell Hall and Museum before heading out on the trails. The Environmental Education Center has additional exhibits, a library, and restrooms. This is an environmental education facility so it is busy with school groups on weekdays during the school year. Regular evening programs and guided trips to other outdoor sites are offered year-round; check their website for details.
From the intersection of US 19 and US 441 where Eustis and Mount Dora meet, drive north through downtown Eustis on US 19. After 3.6 miles, you reach CR 44, not to be confused with SR 44, at an intersection north of downtown with a CVS and Walgreens on the right and Publix and 7-11 on the left. Turn right and continue 0.4 mile to the park entrance on the right at a small sign and gate. The entrance road is narrow and unpaved, but tunnels deeply into a pretty hardwood hammock before reaching the parking loop at the Environmental Education Center.
There are many ways to walk the trail network through Trout Lake Nature Center. Our approach starts down the main trail, which makes a beeline out to the lake as evidenced by a sign that says “to dock and back 5/8 mile.” Passing that sign, look for a trail on the right. This loop leads you out into a hammock of oaks and cabbage palms with some swampy spots, where plank boardwalks lead you across the mud. A bench faces a very old oak that’s fallen on its side.
Reaching the main trail again, turn right and follow it right to the boardwalk. Leaving treeline, the boardwalk heads straight out into the marshy fringe of the lakeshore and then over open water, ending at the dock and a covered pavilion. This is an excellent spot for birding. In winter, we saw thousands of cormorants roosting in the cypresses and diving into the lake.
Returning back along the boardwalk, turn right when you get to its end. There is a sign warning you that this trail can flood. The footpath trail hugs close to the ecotone between hardwood hammock and floodplain forest, with glimpses of cypresses to your right and slash pines to your left. It is very humid here, which helps lichens and bromeliads flourish. Goldfoot fern grows in great sprays from the cabbage palms. The trail winds through this lush landscape, ending up behind the Environmental Education Center. Here, a side trail to the left goes along the south side of the center back to the parking area. Stay on the main trail, which traverses bog bridges along the edge of a cypress swamp before emerging at the unpaved park road.
This is a decision point. Another trail beckons across the road, or you can turn right and walk out the park road to a loop trail through a cluster of ancient live oaks. With limited time before dusk, we turned left to follow the park road back to the car, completing a mile-long walk.
|0.3||trail junction at boardwalk|
|0.5||trail junction at boardwalk|
|0.7||side trail to parking area|