The largest nature preserve in Pinellas County, Brooker Creek Preserve protects a mosaic of vanishing habitats while interpreting their value along more than 4 miles of trails.
Location: Tarpon Springs
Length: Up to 4.5 miles on a network of loops
Address: 3940 Keystone Road, Tarpon Springs
Restroom: At the environmental education complex
Land manager: Pinellas County
No pets or bicycles permitted. Open 7-sunset except Christmas and the day after Thanksgiving. Closing time is posted at the front gate. Be sure to use insect repellent! It’s quite swampy along sections of the Wildlands Trail System, so you may want a pair of dry shoes in the car for after your hike.
Open Thu-Sat 9-4 and Sun 11-4 (closed holidays), the Environmental Education Center showcases natural Florida habitats and their inhabitants, and how Florida has changed as more and more people have moved in. Kids will enjoy the hands-on activities.
From US 19 in Tarpon Springs, exit onto East Tarpon Ave, just past of A.L. Anderson Park. Drive 6 miles east along that road, which has a name change to Keystone Rd along the way. After you pass a Great Florida Birding Trail sign, continue another half mile. The preserve entrance is on the right.
Preserving the last remaining wild lands on the north edge of Pinellas County, Brooker Creek Preserve covers 9,800 acres. Driving to the preserve, you can see that development has crept right up along the edges of this floodplain along a slow-moving creek that drains into Lake Tarpon.
There are several tracts of land and trails associated with Brooker Creek Preserve, but the trails at the Environmental Education Center are basically at the heart of the preserve. Visit here first. It offers an accessible boardwalk and a chain of loops which you can hike in many different ways.
We detail our favorite 2-mile route at Brooker Creek Preserve in the new edition of 50 Hikes in Central Florida.
Starting from the parking area near the Environmental Education Center, follow the boardwalk into the center complex. After a visit to the exhibits, you’ll find the official start of the trail system adjoining the screened picnic pavilion with restrooms. Pay close attention to the posted closing time. We’ve hiked here twice, and both times had to cut our hikes short because the trail conditions slowed our progress too much to get out of the preserve before closing time.
The Education Center Loop is a must at a minimum. It is a 0.7-mile loop with very clever and creative interpretive panels, as well as great views across the swamp surrounding the creek and of the creek itself.
Where the boardwalk ends is also the end of the accessible portion of the trail system. Continue into the scrubby flatwoods to reach the next trail intersection.
The Wilderness Trail follows the east side of the trail system. While it starts out in a scrub and leads into pine flatwoods, the farther along it you go, the deeper into bayhead swamps and cypress strands it takes you.
If you’re a hiker who prefers to keep your feet dry, leave the Wilderness Trail at the Flatwoods Trail to loop back for a 2 mile hike.
We continued along the Wilderness Trail attempting to reach the Blackwater Cutoff -- which makes a hike of almost 3 miles -- but when the water across the trail (which is essentially a forest road) became knee-deep and the bottom slippery, it was time to turn back.
Consider bringing hiking poles for balance on this part of the trail system. We definitely suggest you bring them if you try to hike the whole Wilderness Trail, which makes a loop of more than 4 miles.
A short side trip off the Education Center Loop, the Bird Path leads to a bird blind looking out over a marsh. If it’s early or late in the day, it’s worth a wander over there to watch for birds.
As you finish the loop, look carefully at the shores of Brooker Creek. Thanks to another visitor pointing it out, we spied a rather large alligator in its favorite sunning spot.
In addition to other trails within the bounds of what South Florida Water Management District defines as Brooker Creek Preserve -- which includes some equestrian loops -- there are also nearby parks and trails along Brooker Creek itself.