Well hidden behind a screen of public lands and rural landscapes along the southwest side of the St. Johns River floodplain, Bronson State Forest has much to offer.
With more than 11,000 acres between Seminole Ranch and the Econlockhatchee River basin, this expansive forest has a great deal of habitat diversity.
An arc of the Florida Trail parallels the river basin through ancient forests, and a variety of connecting trails and forest roads make loops and extended backpacking trips possible.
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Location: Christmas & Chuluota
Headquarters: 1350 Snow Hill Rd, Geneva
Primary Trailhead: 28.591853, -81.042476
Fees: $2 per person day use fee at Phillips Rd trailhead
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Leashed dogs welcome. Insect repellent a must. Primitive campsites available.
Seasonal hunting occurs in some portions of the forest. Check ahead before you make plans for outdoor recreation.
The forest is laced with a network of rough forest roads. Active cattle leases mean the potential of encounters with cows and bulls along the trails.
Despite its size and multiple access points by trail, Bronson State Forest only has one official trailhead. The Joshua Creek trailhead is at the end of Phillips Rd in Christmas. No signage directs you there from main roads
To reach this trailhead from Interstate 95 at Titusville, drive west on SR 50 for 10.3 miles through the town of Christmas to Fort Christmas Rd. Turn right. Continue 2.3 miles, passing Fort Christmas. The curve in the road soon after marks the point between the two trailheads. To leave a car at the end of the hike, continue a half mile and turn right on Philips Rd. Follow it 1.5 miles, taking the jeep track at the sign for Bronson State Forest to the large Joshua Creek trailhead.
Pay the day use fee ($2 per person) and sign into the register before you leave a car here. Leave your receipt on the dash.
About the Forest
Charles H. Bronson State Forest protects more than 11,000 acres of the river’s watershed.
A buffer of public land along the St. Johns River basin, it creates wildlife and recreational connectivity between Little Big Econ State Forest and Seminole Ranch Conservation Area.
It is named for a former Florida agricultural commissioner, and opened to the public in 2010. Many sections of the forest are still leased to ranchers for cattle grazing.
Its extensive network of trails and forest roads are one of the best-kept secrets near Orlando. Utilizing its campsites, you can plan overnight and weekend outings.
There are four named hiking trails within Bronson State Forest. All are linear routes that can be combined with equestrian trails, forest roads, or each other to make loops.
Of these, the Florida Trail and the River Trail are the lengthiest trails. The Culpepper Trail leads to an expansive scenic view, and the County Line Trail is a short connector.
Inside the boundaries of Bronson State Forest, the Florida Trail runs 7 miles linear between Seminole Ranch Conservation Area and Chuluota Wilderness Area.
The segment within the forest starts 3.3 miles north of the Wheeler Rd trailhead, and 1.9 miles south of the Chuluota Wilderness Area trailhead.
It has one intermediate access point via a 0.2 mile blue blaze from the Joshua Creek trailhead, plus connections to the River Trail and County Line Trail.
The River Trail spans a linear 12.6 miles from the back fence of Orlando Wetlands Park to the Econlockhatchee River.
It crosses the Florida Trail at a prominent intersection near its south end, and the County Line Trail provides connectivity to the FT 2.8 miles north of that junction.
Crisscrossed by the equestrian trail network, it provides numerous possibilities for loops in its central segment.
At its north end, it crosses the Culpepper Bend Trail coming in from the Brumley Rd trailhead of Little Big Econ State Forest.
For day hikers, Culpepper Bend is a 7.9 mile round-trip hike from the Brumley Rd trailhead of Little Big Econ State Forest.
It takes a 1.5-mile ranch road and a 0.2-mile segment of the River Trail to reach the start of the yellow-blazed trail along the river bluffs.
The only trail in the forest that leads out into the open floodplain of the St. Johns River basin, it follows the banks of the Econlockhatchee River as it flows north.
Hikers can use the Equestrian Trail to make a loop back through ancient hammocks, or return along the river bluffs on a slightly longer route.
County Line Trail
A connector of slightly less than a mile, the blue-blazed County Line Trail runs close to the county line between Seminole and Orange counties.
It enables hikers coming from either the Joshua Creek trailhead at Phillips Rd or from Chuluota Wilderness Area to access the River Trail.
Suggested Hiking Routes
The following are hiking routes we’ve documented in Bronson State Forest, a variety of linear, loop, and round-trip hikes. Some start or end inside adjacent public lands.
In a lush subtropical jungle along the St Johns River floodplain, the 9.5-mile River Trail loop is an exceptionally scenic route connecting three designated campsites.
Using Orlando Wetlands Park to access the northeast corner of Bronson State Forest, this 7.5-mile loop burrows deeply into ancient forests in the St. Johns River floodplain.
Threading together ancient riverfront hammocks with uplands, the Florida Trail traverse of Bronson State Forest provides an immersion in botanical beauty.
One of the lesser-known trails of Little Big Econ State Forest, Culpepper Bend leads you to an outstanding panorama where the Econlockhatchee River meets the St. Johns River.
3.9 miles. Enjoy the natural beauty of habitat diversity along a scenic segment of the Florida Trail connecting Chuluota Wilderness and Bronson State Forest
Shown in brown on the State Forest map, the Equestrian Trail network provides both loop and round-trip options.
It interconnects with adjacent Chuluota Wilderness Area, where horses are welcome on the East Loop and West Loop.
Biking is permitted on the network of forest roads within the state forest. However, the only access point for off-road cyclists is at the Joshua Creek trailhead.
Follow the marked trail from the prominent gate on the left side of the parking area to explore the forest road system. It may be wet or flooded in places. Download the official map from the link on this page for the road system.
Primitive campsites are available in the backcountry along the Florida Trail and the County Line Trail. All were built and are maintained by the Florida Trail Association.
Campers must reserve a space in advance online. Each of the campsites has a picnic table and fire ring. Water should be brought in from sources along the trails.
Of the three campsites, only Fern Camp — a quarter mile west along the Florida Trail from the River Trail / Florida Trail junction — has adequate space for a large group.
Birders will want to focus on the open ranchland, hammocks, and expansive river floodplain reached via the Culpepper Trail and the north end of the River Trail.
Watch for flocks or families of sandhill cranes in the broad prairies, and migratory birds across the river basin.
Bronson State Forest is home to a fascinating array of habitats, including ancient live oak and palmetto hammocks with orchids and bromeliads.
Swamps within the forest cradle lesser-seen species such as jack-in-the-pulpit, and the sharp-eyed hiker will note carnivorous plant bogs.
Anglers with a Florida freshwater fishing license are welcome to either boat or paddle up the Econlockhatchee River or use the trail system to walk in and fish from the river beaches.
Seasonal hunting is permitted in Bronson State Forest in accordance with FWC regulations for fall deer season and spring turkey season.
Certain parts of the forest are entirely off-limits to hunting during those open seasons to protect other visitors.
Please consult the FWC Hunt Dates link below for a map of permitted hunting zones and exact dates of upcoming hunts.
See our photos from Bronson State Forest
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
For a hike filled with the flutter and squawk of birds about their daily routines, Orlando Wetlands is one of the best birding spots in the state. This 5-mile loop showcases our favorite route
Spanning from Oviedo to Geneva and Chuluota, Little Big Econ State Forest encompasses more than 10,000 acres of diverse habitats.
At Seminole Ranch Conservation Area in Christmas, the Florida Trail follows a linear 4.9 mile route through a string of hydric hammocks in the St. Johns River floodplain