At Carney Island, the breeze carries the scent of orange blossoms from some of the northernmost remaining commercial groves in Florida.
Lake Weir is a palatable presence, even though the trails stick to the oak hammocks.
As a peninsula, parts of Carney Island Conservation Area are naturally air-conditioned, like the benches adjoining the trailhead parking area, overlooking the lake.
Marvel 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.
We’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.
A big surprise on our last visit was to encounter a Florida black bear, which slipped off the trail when it saw us.
Resources for exploring the area. Full details on this hike are in Five Star Trails.
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Length: 4 mile network of trails
Trailhead: 29.014936, -81.964311
Address: 13275 SE 115th Ave, Ocklawaha
Fees: $5 county park entrance fee
Restroom: Yes, at trailhead
Land manager: Marion County
Pets are not permitted.
Besides hiking and biking the trail system, other activities include kayaking (bring your own), swimming in designated areas, and picnicking.
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 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.
There are three loop trails along this peninsula, reached by a 0.3-mile connector on a causeway through a floodplain forest.
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.
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).
See our photos from Carney Island
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area
At Ocklawaha Prairie, east of Lake Weir and south of Marshall Swamp, trails lead to some of the best birding in the region from levees along the extensive marshes of the river basin.
Sunnyhill Levee Trail
A linear path along the channelized Ocklawaha River, the Levee Trail at Sunnyhill Restoration Area stretches 7.5 miles from SR 42 north to Moss Bluff.
Cross Florida Greenway
Stretching 90 miles from the St. Johns River near Palatka to the Gulf of Mexico, the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway is a mile-wide recreational corridor with hiking, biking, and equestrian trails as well as paddling and boating access.
Historic Ship Canal Trail
The shortest trail on the Cross Florida Greenway interprets nearly a century’s worth of efforts to dig a canal across the Florida peninsula and split it in two.