With a surprising amount of habitat diversity for such a short stretch of trail, the hike between Chuluota Wilderness and the Joshua Creek trailhead of Bronson State Forest is a very scenic one.
Hiking this section southbound gives the distinct feeling of going downhill, as habitats transition from the high, dry scrub down through pine forests and into the floodplains of two creeks.
Well-designed and well maintained, this is a very pleasant section of the Florida Trail that’ll have you smiling over the natural beauty you’ll find around every bend.
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Length: 3.9 miles linear
Trailhead: 28.623217, -81.063275
Fees / Permits: $2 per person parking fee at Joshua Creek
Restroom: None. Closest one is at Lake Mills Park in Chuluota
Land Managers: Seminole County Natural Lands, 407-665-2211 and Bronson State Forest, 407-971-3500
Open dawn to dusk. Leashed pets welcome. Hunting is permitted in Bronson State Forest, so check on hunting dates and wear bright orange.
Hunting is not permitted in this wilderness area, so if you’d rather avoid walking through a hunting area, do a round-trip hike to the park boundary from the Chuluota Wilderness trailhead, returning on the East Loop or West Loop.
From CR 419 (Chuluota Road) at the south end of Chuluota, turn onto Lake Mills Rd. Drive 0.8 miles to Fort Christmas Rd. To drop a car at the end of the hike, follow Fort Christmas Rd south for 5.8 miles. Turn left on Philips Rd to the sign for Bronson State Forest. Take the jeep track to the left of the sign. It ends up at the trailhead. Pay the day use fee and leave the receipt on your dashboard.
To get to the start of this hike, return to Fort Christmas Rd and follow it back up to Lake Mills Rd. Turn right. Continue 1 mile to Curryville Rd. Turn right. Follow it 2.5 miles to the trailhead on the right, just before the road ends.
Starting at the Chuluota Wilderness Area trailhead, which has a picnic table in the shade by the trailhead, the footpath starts off in a oak hammock yielding quickly to sand pines.
After you cross a forest road – which is used as an equestrian loop through the preserve – the trail enters a forest of young sand pine scrub.
Within a quarter mile, the pines are much taller, with mosses and lichens growing riotously on tree limbs and across the forest floor.
You start to see large rounded shrubs. These are Florida rosemary, and there are enough of them to refer to this spot as a rosemary scrub beneath the sand pines.
Crossing a forest road sometimes used as a firebreak, you enter a younger scrub forest, and beyond it, more rosemary scrub.
The trail twists and winds between the shrubs as it loses elevation. You head towards a wall of pines. A gopher tortoise burrow is off to the right.
The habitat transitions from scrub into hardwood hammock with saw palmetto, cabbage palms, and oaks, with intrusions of sand pine scrub.
The trail crosses a another forest road used as part of the equestrian trail. Off to the left you can see a round red marker with an arrow. Stay with the orange blazes that mark the Florida Trail.
Descending through hickory and water oaks, southern magnolia and a smattering of sweetgum, you can see a bayhead off to the left as you walk through the shade. Watch for the double blazes at the sharp turns along this section.
After a mile, the trail makes a sharp left and heads into a tunnel of scrub oaks, narrow and twisting, with a canopy close overhead. The trail seems to double back, snaking through the thickness of the vegetation.
As you see another bayhead swamp in the distance, the trail descends from the scrub and a mixed hardwood forest dense with hickories, rich in texture and color.
The trail crosses a long boardwalk as it draws close to a boundary fence along a ranch. Cross a footbridge over a small tributary before the footpath edges up right again the barbed wire to avoid a paralleling forest road that’s become a swamp.
As the trail leaves the fence, it turns to meet the property boundary between Chuluota Wilderness Area and Bronson State Forest at a nice rest stop, a covered bench at 1.7 miles.
Pass through the fence on the right to enter Bronson State Forest.The trail parallels an old forest road that has also turned into a swamp. Stick with the beaten path in the trees to avoid the mucky spots in the floodplain, with frequent twists and turns.
Reaching a trail junction with signage at 2 miles, the blue-blazed trail to the left – the County Line Connector – leads to the white-blazed River Trail that crosses the entire forest at a diagonal.
For this hike, you’re staying with the orange blazed Florida Trail, so continue straight ahead. Crossing a forest road, the trail rises up into an upland area where tall skinny pond pines dominate.
Curving above the floodplain, the trail enters a hardwood hammock before dropping into a mushy bayhead area with a boardwalk. The aroma of fallen leaves rises from the forest floor, which is full of roots to trip over.
At the base of a Southern magnolia, a lengthy boardwalk lifts the trail slightly above the floodplain of Bunscombe Creek, which is quite marshy. Plants poke right up through the boardwalk, making footing a bit tricky.
After the boardwalk ends, footing is a little difficult through the hardwood forest. This bit of forest sits between two creek basins that sometimes overflow.
Crossing an old sand road that is part of the equestrian trail system, the trail reaches a sign that says “Joshua Creek Campsite.” At 3.1 miles, the campsite is down a short side trail to the right, and not far from its water source.
The boardwalk begins, and it is slippery in places. It ends briefly at an island in the middle of the Joshua Creek floodplain and resumes, ending soon after you cross the tannic, sand-bottomed creek.
Climb up a slope through a saw palmetto thicket into a pine savanna, where scattered longleaf pines shoot up through the dense saw palmetto and prairie grasses.
Dropping through a small drainage, the trail rises up into an old pasture dotted with colorful wildflowers, including paw-paw and wild bachelor’s button.
As the trail gains a little elevation, the habitat shifts to sandhills. You reach the intersection with the blue blaze to the Joshua Creek trailhead at 3.7 miles. Turn right.
The blue-blazed trail zigzags between the stands of oak trees, attempting to optimize the shady spots between the turkey oaks. Once pasture, this is sandhill reclaiming its own.
You complete your hike as you emerge from the forest to the gap in the fence at the Joshua Creek trailhead at 3.9 miles.
NORTHBOUND: Curryville Road Roadwalk
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Wheeler Road to Joshua Creek
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
One of the lesser-known trails of Bronson State Forest, Culpepper Bend leads you to an outstanding panorama where the Econlockhatchee River meets the St. Johns River.
Threading together ancient riverfront hammocks with uplands, the Florida Trail traverse of Bronson State Forest provides an immersion in botanical beauty.
One of the most beautiful hikes near Orlando is rugged, too: the Florida Trail atop bluffs above the Econlockhatchee River through Little-Big Econ State Forest.