For those in the know, Black Hammock is a bit of Old Florida still clinging to the old ways along the shores of Lake Jesup, where folks still grow celery and strawberries and ride their horses down dirt roads. It’s a delightful place to visit, and the trail showcases what’s best about Black Hammock—the lush upland hammock, dense with bromeliads and ancient cabbage palms. It also leads into a vast upland area along the St. Johns River, including pond pine forests and scrub reminiscent of those found in the parks of the Wekiva River basin, Wekiwa Springs and Rock Springs Run. Walk a little and just enjoy the boardwalk and hammock, or go for the mileage— it’s a linear trail with a loop at the end.
Length: 4.5 miles
Lat-Long: 28.699408, -81.159226
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Parking is very limited. Seminole County suggests you park at the Barr Street Trailhead and walk in, but that adds an extra 1.8 miles to your hike (and a parking fee). The trail is open to equestrians and bikes, but I wouldn’t suggest taking either on the boardwalks, which can be slippery when wet.
This trailhead is at the end of a narrow dead-end road in a residential area in the heart of old Black Hammock. From SR 417 exit 44, follow SR 434 towards Oviedo. After 1 mile, turn left at the Black Hammock sign on the curve onto Deleon Street. Continue down Deleon Street to where it ends at a T. Turn right onto Howard Street. Follow it for 3 miles until it ends. Please drive slowly, as there may be equestrians or children on the road. Be respectful of private property along the road and park only in the parking corral at the trailhead.
From the parking area, the trail enters a beautiful, bright open scrub habitat with glistening sand and diminutive shrubs. Stop and sign in at the kiosk, which has information about the trail and maps to take with you. Continue down the crunchy seashell path through the scrub. Saw palmetto lines the trail, and behind them, there are loblolly bay—an interesting interface of dry and wet habitats.
The habitat quickly transitions into an oak hammock as you approach the beginning of the boardwalk, which is nicely dedicated with a plaque to a gentleman who fought to preserve Black Hammock’s rural heritage. The boardwalk begins, and this is a major feature of the hike—one worth coming out for just to walk the boardwalk. It’s narrow and long, just like a tunnel through the woods, carrying you a few feet above the floodplain forest. Terrible thistle rises from the forest floor to show off puffy purple blooms, and tall, spindly cabbage palms tower overhead. Your perspective is turned skyward to marvel at the tall trees, but take the time to peer over the railing, too, to see the thickets of ferns.
After 0.3 mile, the boardwalk comes to an end on an island with lots of tree roots in the footpath. It’s a lush hammock, with needle palms as a backdrop and oaks and palms overhead, plus plenty of ferns lining the trail. Across from a bench, mounds of grapevines have taken over the understory. You’ll find red cedar and young citrus trees growing in the hammock. Colorful fungi peeps out from fallen logs. When you reach the second boardwalk, look up and notice the bromeliads making the limbs of the oak trees fuzzy. Tall cedars and loblolly pine intersperse with cabbage palms and sweetgum trees. The second boardwalk drops you into a forest dense with southern magnolias. Bromeliads fill the upper branches of the oaks, even the dead trees—so thick they look like hanging flags. You’ve discovered the natural beauty of Black Hammock, lush vegetation brought about by high humidity in the hardwood hammock. More tall, skinny cabbage palms rise well overhead. While you’re looking up, be cautious of tripping on a root! Blue and silver markers mark the distinct path.
Crossing a bridge over an ephemeral creek that drains towards Lake Jesup, you’ve walked nearly a mile. This is where the trail begins to rise up into a pine forest touched with a bit of scrub, and it’s quickly apparent you’re no longer going to have the lovely shade you’ve enjoyed so far along this hike. At the T intersection, turn right. You’re now walking on a forest road in a very open area. Pond pine grows along the edges of the road, distinctive with its needles popping out of the trunk. Pennyroyal and sensitive brier grow along the edges.There is little to no shade as you walk. At the fork, turn left, following the arrow. The sand gets soft underfoot. Gallberry along the trail sports magenta blooms in springtime. Pine snags rise out of the thick saw palmetto understory, and a few have large woodpecker nest holes. See the treeline in the distance? That’s where the trail is headed.
At 1.4 miles, you reach a trail junction. Continue straight. Pennyroyal grows in nice beds around the trail. You reach a bridge over an ephemeral waterway and a bench thereafter. Now comes the warning—unless you really, really love walking in soft sand to explore scrub habitat, turn around here for a 2.8-mile round-trip. Immediately after the bench, there’s a trail junction, and this is the start of a 2.5 mile loop back to this point.
Still going? Continue straight ahead. You’re in a pine forest with a very dense understory. In a few moments, you reach the beginning of the loop, which is well marked. Continue straight. Keep an eye on the arrows, since this scrub is criss-crossed with firebreaks and alternative trails where you can get pretty lost if you don’t carefully stay to the main route. Ignore the mowed areas, too. Loblolly bay grows on both sides, and the trail goes through an area that gets seasonally wet. A little elevation gain and you’re into the scrub, with Chapman and myrtle oak growing in the white sand. After you pass a prairie on the left, with tall grasses in hues of wheat, there is a bench at 2.1 miles. Turn right and continue into the sand pine scrub. It looks like good Florida scrub-jay habitat, with lots of rusty lyonia. We heard what sounded like a scrub-jay sentinel, but could not confirm. At the T intersection, turn left. It’s soft sand, roughed up by horses, and difficult to walk in. Climbing uphill, you can see houses off in the distance to the right. At the bench, the trail turns left to start back along the loop. Did I mention there was no shade on this loop?
Turn right at the next fork, and the trail drops back into the pond pine flatwoods, thankfully out of the sugar-soft sand. Keep going straight ahead at the next trail junction. A wild turkey peers down from the branches of an oak. Coming up around a corner framed by young pond pines, you reach a bench at 2.6 miles, and just beyond, a pond pine with serious curves in its trunk. The pines close in more thickly and the walls of saw palmetto rise taller as the trail continues its moderate descent. At the unmarked fork in the trail, turn left and look for an arrow on a pine tree, a confirmation blaze. At the next intersection, which comes up suddenly, it isn’t obvious you’ve completed the loop, but you have. Turn right and you’ll see the back side of the sign marking the beginning of the loop. At the end of the loop, a sign says “Entrance.” I thought it should say “Exit,” but that’s just me…
Pass the lonely bridge (it had no water under it when we visited) and at the next two junctions, keep right, then left. Keep watching for the arrows on the trees to guide you back through the scrubby pond pine flatwoods. At 3.4 miles, look for a pine with a catface on the right, indicating its historic use for turpentine tapping. Keep right at the fork, and then left at the next fork, turning away from the house and back into the shady forest, which you’ll enjoy the rest of the way back. One last point of confusion—around 3.6 miles, it appears that the trail goes straight into the woods at a place where there is some graffiti on a tree. Turn left to stay on the main trail to continue winding through the hammock, and you’ll get back to the boardwalk.