Established in 1870 as a planned community complete with a grid of streets that included many full blocks as community green space, Sanford is one of the region’s older cities, with a historic downtown right along the St. Johns River. Sanford once served as a final destination for steamships coming up the north-flowing St. Johns from Jacksonville, since the extensive marshes just upriver proved too shallow for most boat traffic.
The city itself extends far beyond its original boundaries to encompass a large piece of Seminole County along the river, towards its confluence with the Wekiva River to the north and to Lake Jesup to the east. Paddlers do ply Lake Monroe, but the Wekiva River is far more popular and reachable from two put-ins at parks off SR 46.
As a great deal of river floodplain has been set aside as natural lands, residents have a surprising variety of destinations to explore on foot and by bike. A portion of the peninsula-spanning Florida Coast to Coast Trail, a paved bike path, crosses one corner of the city, and the Florida Trail, our 1,400 mile National Scenic Trail, passes through Sanford atop existing paths.
Trails and Parks Around Sanford
Best Hikes Near Sanford
Black Bear Wilderness Loop Trail
Trot out your sense of adventure for an immersion into one of the wildest trails you’ll find near Orlando, the 7.1-mile loop in the Black Bear Wilderness Area in Sanford.
Florida Trail, Seminole State Forest
7.5 miles. Walk through vast, open spaces that you’d never imagine existed so close to Orlando.
Lower Wekiva Loop
Explore the Wekiva River and Black Water Creek floodplains on this lengthy loop hike in Seminole State Forest
Spring Hammock Preserve
Protecting more than 1,500 acres along Lake Jesup, Spring Hammock Preserve is home to some of Florida’s oldest and largest cypress trees
Recent Additions and Updates
Sanford's Botanical Beauty
The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens offers a place to enjoy both native floodplain habitats and tropical plantings year-round, but Sanford has a surprise to offer in late summer and early fall: massive fields of wildflower blooms.
From the summer months through early October, the floodplains around the St. Johns River and Lake Jesup bloom, starting with pink swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus), which can grow 15 feet tall, and red swamp mallow (Hibiscus coccineus), which can grow up to eight feet tall.
By October, swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) takes over and, in perfect conditions, swarms around the edges of Lake Jesup in a delightful show. They are best seen at Lake Jesup Wilderness, where you can walk among wild sunflowers over your head.
Sunflowers on the St. Johns
For more than a decade, I’ve been chasing sunflower blooms in Florida wetlands in October. In 2021, it’s a banner year for these showy beauties in Central Florida.
Sunflower Season on the St. Johns River near Orlando
In September, swamp sunflowers put on a colorful show along the St. Johns River between Sanford and Geneva, north of Orlando. Here’s where to take a hike to find them.
Biking around Osteen
Using Beck Ranch Park as our launch point for a cycling adventure in Osteen, we discovered how easy it was to stitch together the local network of bike paths into a pleasant ride, with the Osteen Diner right at hand for lunch.
NEARBY: Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Deland, Deltona, Geneva, Lake Mary, Longwood, Orlando, Osteen, Oviedo, Winter Springs | ALONG: Florida Coast to Coast Trail, St. Johns River | PART OF: Central Florida