At Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, the Bella Vista Trail leads through a shady maritime hammock of red bay, southern magnolia, and cabbage palms.
Its 1.8-mile Timucuan Loop explores the patchwork of habitats along this sliver of barrier island.
These include coastal scrub and the northernmost extent of mangroves along the Matanzas River. You’ll see a little of old A1A, too, which is open for bicycling.
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Length: 1.8 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.632757, -81.208425
Address: 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd, Palm Coast FL 32137
Fees: $5 per-vehicle state park entrance fee
Restroom: at the visitor center
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sundown. Leashed dogs permitted.
Cyclists can ride old A1A but the hiking loop is not open for biking. Take precautions for mosquitoes and ticks.
The park is along the west side of A1A, south of Marineland and 4.1 miles north of the Hammock Dunes Bridge at Palm Coast.
Drive in on the park entrance road and park by the Bella Vista trailhead on the right. A kiosk and map are at the trailhead.
Begin at the trail head and hike to the first trail junction, the start of the Timucuan Loop.
Turn right to hike through the maritime hammock, under live oaks, southern magnolia, cabbage palms, and cherry laurel.
Look for wild coffee in the shade of the underbrush; you’re at the northern extent of psychotria nervosa, which sports crimson coffee beans each fall.
Cross old A1A under an arching red bay before returning to the shade of the hammock.
Overhead is a canopy of live oaks, and on the forest floor is coontie poking up through drifts of leaves.
As the trail rises slightly, saw palmettos fill the understory, and the trail passes through a scrub of spindly bluejack oaks and gnarled sand live oaks no more than 15 feet tall.
Next is an older, taller hammock of American holly and red bay, and at 0.5 mile you’ll encounter an immense slash pine.
A tall mound of duff encircles the tree, created from years of accumulation of pine needles at its base.
The trail continues back into the oak scrub, where the saw palmetto takes on a silvery blue hue from the salt in the air. The prevailing sea breeze sculpts the branches of the live oaks.
Next, enter an open, windswept scrub, the habitat of the Florida scrub-jay. The last scrub-jays were sighted here in 1990, and it’s suspected that red-tailed hawks caused their demise.
Lyonia and saw palmetto make up a dense thicket up to seven feet high. The trail turns left, returning to the shaded maritime hammock.
At 1.1 miles, cross old A1A again, entering the forest between two stone pillars that once served as a gateway to the plantation. The trail soon curves left to parallel the Matanzas River.
At 1.2 miles, a short spur trail on the right leads to the river’s edge, ending in a salt marsh full of black needlerush. Passing boats send waves into a sandbar covered with black mangroves.
Back on the main path, continue to walk under the arched limbs of red bay trees. The trail makes a sharp left into a grassy corridor.
Pass a sugar hackberry with its mottled warty gray bark. Beds of sword ferns thrive in the shade of the live oaks.
The loop ends at 1.7 miles. Continue straight ahead to the trailhead and the end of your hike.
See our video of Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
See our photos of the Bella Vista Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
On the shores of Fort Matanzas, a significant historic site south of St. Augustine, the dunes are now swaddled in maritime forest, a gentle place with ancient oaks and an accessible boardwalk.
Stretching 5.2 miles through an primordial forest of sluggish, fern-lined waterways, ancient live oaks, magnolias, and cabbage palms, the Bulow Woods Loop is one of North Florida’s most scenic hikes
Betty Steflik Memorial Preserve protects more than 200 acres of mangrove marsh, mud flats, and coastal uplands right on the edge of downtown Flagler Beach