With a trailhead just outside the park gate of Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park, the yellow-blazed Bulow Creek Loop is part of a larger trail system that includes the Bulow Creek Trail – stretching 6.8 miles one way to Bulow Creek State Park – and the Sugar Mill Trail, which connects to the ruins of the Bulow Plantation sugar mill. One of North Florida’s most scenic day hikes, it immerses you in the ancient Bulow Hammock, a landscape that feels almost primordial, canopied by majestic trees and providing scenic views across the marshes of Bulow Creek.
Location: Flagler Beach
Length: 5.2 miles
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate to high
Restroom: nearby (inside fee area)
From I-95 exit 278, follow Old Dixie Hwy east for 0.9 mile to Old Kings Rd. Drive north 1.9 miles to the entrance for Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park. Turn right. The road, about a half mile long, is one lane with pulloffs, showing off the beauty of Bulow Hammock. The trailhead is on the right at a large sign just before you reach the park gate and pay station.
Sharing part of the route with the linear Bulow Creek Trail, the Bulow Creek Loop begins at this small trailhead in Bulow Hammock, an old-growth forest with massive live oaks draped in resurrection fern, tall thin laurel oaks, large southern magnolias, scattered slash pines, and ironwood. With rich, dark soil underfoot, you’re walking along the edge of the floodplain forest of Bulow Creek, and you may discover the footpath soggy in places—the forest is full of low spots where you might find standing water. Crossing a bridge, continue through the dense greenery as the trail winds to the left at a double blaze. It narrows down to a single track through a grassy area. Sweetgum and red maples grow in the floodplain. The air is humid, and a furry coating of sphagnum moss swaddles the bases of the tall cabbage palms. Live oaks rise more than a hundred feet overhead, creating a distinctive canopy. As the forest becomes wetter, marsh ferns fill in under the trees.
You cross a bridge over a narrow slow-flowing clear stream at 0.7 mile, its sand bottom sparkling in the sunlight. The stream picks up speed as it rounds several oxbow bends. As you walk along, take care not to trip over the many roots in the trail. Gigantic live oaks spread their massive limbs, creating the high canopy. The coating of lichen on the trees is so thick it looks like whitewash. As you walk along, the trail squishes. You cross a small bridge over an ephemeral stream.
After 1.5 miles, you reach the junction where the loop trail starts. The sign says “Cisco Ditch via Pine Hammock Trail 0.6” to the right; “Cisco Ditch via Marsh Trail 1.6” straight. Continue straight ahead to start the loop. As you gain a little elevation, you’re surrounded with a hardwood hammock of southern magnolia, scattered hickory trees, and sweetgum, with cabbage palms interspersed throughout. Bamboo rises from the forest floor, and the forest crowds closer. To your left, sunlight plays across the primordial forms of giant leather fern sprouting beneath the cabbage palms that emerge from the mossy places between the flow of the waterway. The trail skirts along the edge of the floodplain; the air is filled with an earthy aroma.
The trail turns slightly uphill, away from the creek bank and into a forest of pines and young oaks, emerging at a sweeping vista along the edge of the wetlands of Bulow Creek. Dahoon holly grows along the edge of this salt marsh, showing off its red berries against the black needlerush. You walk through a tunnel of Walter viburnum, their tiny white bell blooms raining down on the footpath. A large southern red cedar stretches its limbs out over a small spot of open water in the savanna.
After the trail turns inland, away from the salt marsh and into the hardwood hammock, it’s carpeted with a dense layer of loblolly pine needles. All around you, coontie, a primitive cycad that has vanished from most of Florida, covers the forest floor. As the trail rounds a floodplain forest on the left, it rises up through a cut and comes to a swiftly flowing canal—Cisco Ditch, its sand bottom sparkling in the sun beneath water the color of iced tea.
Reaching the trail junction for the Pine Hammock Trail, you’ve hiked 3.1 miles. Turn right, away from Cisco Ditch, to scramble to a slightly higher elevation. Here, the oaks and palms are extraordinarily old and tall, creating a high canopy above the pines. As the trail meanders beneath them, you feel shrunken in scale. Reaching the original loop trail junction at 3.7 miles, turn left. Retrace your route through the remainder of Bulow Hammock, marveling at the massive live oaks and tall Southern magnolia, as you follow the trail back to the trailhead to complete a 5.2 mile hike.