Immersing you in the ancient Bulow Hammock, the Bulow Woods Loop is part of a larger trail system across two adjacent state parks that protect the hammock.
It leads you through an an old-growth forest with massive live oaks draped in resurrection fern, beneath large southern magnolias, towering slash pines, and tall ironwood trees.
Location: Flagler Beach
Length: 5.2 mile loop
Address: 3501 Old Kings Rd, Flagler Beach
Restroom: inside the fee area at Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Although the trailhead does lie outside the park gates, state park hours are 8 AM to sunset. If you park inside the gates, there is a $4 fee payable at an iron ranger. Restrooms are down by the canoe launch and picnic area.
This is a deeply shaded forest, so mosquito protection is a must. Dogs are welcome on this hike. Bicycles are permitted but the terrain is not optimal for them, especially on the loop.
The footpath is often squishy and covered in puddles in places. There are times of year – particularly after heavy rains – when parts of the trail become a wade.
Be very aware of your surroundings. On our last hike along the trail – on a sultry September morning – we spotted five pygmy rattlesnakes. You’re less likely to see them in the cooler months.
From Interstate 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. Watch for the sign to turn right.
The natural surface entrance 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 Woods Hiking Trail, the hike begins at this small trailhead in Bulow Hammock.
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. A half mile along the hike, live oaks rise more than a hundred feet overhead, creating a distinctive canopy. Marsh ferns fill in under the trees.
Cross a bridge over a narrow slow-flowing clear stream, 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. Cross a small bridge over an ephemeral stream.
Meet the loop trail junction at 1.5 miles. 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 portion of this hike.
Gaining a little elevation, you enter 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.
Sunlight plays across giant leather ferns sprouting beneath the cabbage palms that emerge from the mossy places between the flow of the waterway. The trail skirts the edge of the floodplain. The air is filled with an earthy aroma.
The trail turns uphill, away from the creek and into a forest of pines and young oaks, emerging at a sweeping vista along the wetlands of Bulow Creek.
Tunnel beneath 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 away from the salt marsh and into the hardwood hammock, it’s carpeted with a dense layer of loblolly pine needles. 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 after 3 miles and comes to a swiftly flowing canal. It’s Cisco Ditch, its sand bottom sparkling in the sun beneath water the color of iced tea. This is the junction with the Pine Hammock Trail. Turn right.
The trail scrambles 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.
After 3.7 miles, meet the loop trail junction for a second time. You’ve completed the loop.
Turn left and retrace your route through Bulow Hammock, marveling at the massive live oaks and tall Southern magnolia. You reach the trailhead after 5.2 miles.
Discover more of Bulow Hammock at these nearby destinations
Walk among the ancients in Bulow Hammock, starting with the imposing Fairchild Oak, one of Florida’s largest live oak trees
History and natural beauty meet under a dense oak canopy at the ruins of one of Florida’s oldest sugar mills
Our slideshow of hiking the Bulow Woods Loop