As a peninsula in Lake Weir, parts of Carney Island Conservation Area are naturally air-conditioned, like the benches adjoining the trailhead parking area, overlooking the lake. While waiting there for a group of hikers to assemble, I marveled at the size of the live oaks near the restrooms. One has a branch that bounces off the ground and climbs back up towards the sky. It called to me from childhood memories, inviting a climb up the extended limb. While I was busy studying the tree, a doe and her fawn crept up towards the parking area, browsing the grass, and spooked when a runner approached off the trail.
There are three loop trails along this peninsula, reached by a 0.3-mile connector on a causeway through a floodplain forest, and they attach like links in a chain. Walk to the farthest point, Lemon Point on the Fox Trot Loop, for panoramic views of Lake Weir.
Length: 4 mile network of trails
Lat-Long: 29.014936, -81.964311
Type: Loops, round-trip connector, and two spur trails
Fees / Permits: $5 county park entrance fee
Difficulty: Low to moderate
Bug factor: Low to moderate
Carney Island Park is off SR 25 between Belleview and Ocklawaha, just south of Silver Springs Shores. Follow the signs into the park from SR 25. The park’s address is 13275 SE 115th Ave, Ocklawaha. There is an entrance fee. Other activities include kayaking (bring your own), swimming, and picnicking.
I’ve never failed to see wildlife in this park, most commonly deer but also endangered fox squirrels, resplendent in their coats of black and tan. They tend towards the upper end of the park, hanging out in the pines. The hiking trails start at the very end of the road, past the swimming area, serving double-duty as a service road with a lot of tire tracks from park vehicles. The trail system contains 4 miles of stacked loop trails with a 3.2-mile perimeter. If you check the map at the trailhead kiosk, don’t believe what it says about restrooms along the trails – there aren’t any. But there are rest stops with benches, and a great panorama of the lake if you walk all the way out to the end of the peninsula.
Your hike starts with a walk down an earthen causeway, a 0.3-mile connector to loop trail system. On both sides is a floodplain forest, colorful in fall and winter with autumn-tinted leaves, and lush with ferns as an understory. The first of the three loops is the Fern Gully Loop (1 mile), which circles more wetlands dense with ferns. Keep right at the junction, and keep right at the next junction to continue along the Quail Loop (2.2 miles), which leads through a pine plantation surrounded by oak hammocks. A short spur trail, Whispering Pines, takes off to the left for a walk through the pine forest. At the last junction, turn right to do the Fox Trot Loop, which heads out to the tip of Lemon Point and provides access to scenic views of the lake. The trail is on a high bluff as it rounds the bend to return to the junction; side trails offer places you can catch a view.
When you return to the trailhead, there is one more spur trail, this time off to your left. It leads through the forest about a half mile to the swimming area along the lake (which can also be reached by car from the main park road).