The Pine Island Trail is an out-and-back walk to the St. Johns River around a very large lagoon off the St. Johns River.
It transitions between bone-dry and soggy habitats as it makes a large horseshoe curve to reach the river.
While it may no longer be true, on our last visit, the mileages on the signs posted along the trail overstated the distance. The map on the kiosk was correct.
Expect wildlife sightings along the way, and listen for the sounds of Florida scrub-jays.
Now that the expansive scrub forest along the park’s eastern boundary has grown in nicely, it provides a home for many scrub-families.
This is a round-trip hike of 7.3 miles, but it is not strenuous. With the exception of some footpath at both ends, most of it is along old forest roads.
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Location: Orange City
Length: 7.3 mile round-trip
Trailhead: 28.9426, -81.3399
Address: 2100 W French Ave, Orange City
Fees: $4-6 per vehicle
Restroom: At the parking area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome.
Bicycles are not allowed on the part of the trail between the trailhead and the bench at the T intersection in the scrub.
Bug spray is a must for mosquitoes and ticks. Carry plenty of water as a portion of the trail is in full sun.
Follow Interstate 4 east from Orlando to exit 114. Head northeast on SR 472 for 3.5 miles to US 17/92 south. Take US 17/92 south towards Orange City for 1.5 miles. Turn right on W French Ave. Follow it for several miles. The state park entrance is near where it ends. Continue along the park road to where it ends in a large parking area. Loop around the parking area to almost circle all of it and you’ll see the kiosk for the Pine Island Trail on the right.
Start your hike at the kiosk, which has a rough map of the trail posted. It’s always good to take a photo for reference when starting a long hike.
The trail begins in dappled shade in a forest with a smattering of southern magnolia among the oaks and pines.
Gaining some elevation, the footpath passes under older loblolly pines, some with signs of turpentine tapping, and scattered American holly.
The understory becomes a thicket as the trail transitions into scrub under the oak trees, with towering rusty lyonia, some rising to tree size, overhead.
At 0.4 mile you reach a bench and a T intersection with a forest road. Powerlines rise off in the distance, marking the location of the Spring to Spring Trail.
Turn right. You pass a road leading left to a line of trees in the distance. The trail follows the ecotone between the scrub and a mixed oak and pine forest to the right.
While you are walking in the scrub, the forest is a dense thicket on the right, and chunks of rocks are scattered about.
You soon discover why around the next bend. At 1.1 miles, the trail passes the remains of a homestead, complete with foundation and cistern.
A family once lived here, between the railroad and the river, with productive orange groves in what has been restored to Florida scrub-jay habitat.
A spill of fossilized snail shells across the ground lends a clue that the home probably sat atop fill taken from an ancient Timucuan midden.
The trail sweeps upward to the left, becoming deep soft sand underfoot as it leaves the treeline at a fork.
At the top of the hill, it passes a bench as it curves to the right and into the heart of the scrub.
Look for the blur of blue of Florida scrub-jays winging by, and gopher tortoise tracks in the sand underfoot.
Past a road on the right, the elevation drops. Soft sand transitions to a firmer footpath underfoot, a grassy road along the pond pines.
After 1.5 miles, the trail draws close to the park boundary fence and the power line briefly before swinging away from the fence and downhill into the pond pine forest.
Reaching a bench a quarter mile later, you’re now firmly into denser forest and will remain in the shade through the remainder of the trail. Pines and oaks tower above.
You feel a distinct drop in air temperature as the trail drops down into a floodplain between two small stretches of oak scrub.
Passing a short spur to the fence line on the left, the trail keeps dropping in elevation.
You dip into a beautiful cypress swamp at 2 miles, with an interplay of floodplain trees, including red maple and sweetgum, with leaves that turn color in winter.
This is an important decision point. If you have to wade through this swamp, and the wading is more than ankle-deep, the trail will be impassible from flooding further on.
If the trail is dry here, or simply full of puddles, the rest of the hike should be easy going.
As the trail rises back out of the floodplain, it is flanked with massive live oaks, their gnarled limbs covered in bromeliads and resurrection ferns.
A back gate to the park is on the left at 2.3 miles. The trail climbs upwards beneath the canopy of sand live oaks into a patch of scrubby flatwoods.
Pass a hydrology station for water monitoring at 2.5 miles. An abrupt change of habitat happens on the descent afterwards.
The trail leaves the flatwoods and curves to the left into the deep shade of a lush hammock of palms, pines, and large live oaks.
In a palm hammock, the trail continues to descend. Another shift in habitat, and there are more oaks and pines up ahead.
A cool breeze filters through the forest from the St. Johns River lagoon. It’s near, but you can’t see it for the trees.
In the next patch of slash pine forest, the saw palmetto crowds closely as the trail narrows and descends under an archway of ancient live oaks around 3 miles.
It curves into an obvious floodplain, where the lagoon is most likely to spill over into the trail. You may have to wade this short section, except in the driest of seasons.
Rising out of the floodplain, the trail leads into a picturesque palm hammock where the outspread limbs of live oaks form horizontal counterpoints to the verticals of the palm trunks.
This slight ridge above the St. Johns River is home to an ancient forest that envelopes the trail in deep shade from its high canopy.
The trail continues to narrow. A ribbon of sky is up ahead through the trees. Descending, the trail passes the remains of an old privy.
Follow the path as it continues through the former primitive campground to a rough path out to the river’s edge.
At 3.6 miles, this is the end of the trail, at the river bank. The water marks on the tree trunks tell the story of just how much the St. Johns River can rise.
While it feels remote here, you can hear activity echoing from the boat docks and launch area on the other side of the lagoon.
Since this is a round-trip hike, you must retrace your steps. Savor the slow ascent beneath the deeply shaded hammocks.
The climb away from the river basin becomes obvious as you rise out of the cypress swamp and keep walking uphill into the oaks and pines.
Pause at the bench in the forest after 5.4 miles for a hydration stop before the short but energy-sapping push across the soft sand of the open scrub.
Pass the next bench at 6.2 miles in the heart of the scrub. Scan the tops of the trees for scrub-jay activity.
Don’t miss that all-important turn at the bench at 6.9 miles to stay with the Pine Island Trail, where it re-enters a dense forest again.
That final shaded stretch to the trailhead is greatly appreciated. You complete the hike after 7.3 miles.
Learn more about Blue Spring State Park and its trails
See our photos of the Pine Island Trail
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