Mist rises off the vast flatness of May’s Prairie at dawn, a wet prairie cradled in a depression near the base of the tallest landform in Brooksville, Chinsegut Hill.
Look and listen carefully, and you can count on some of the best birding in Central Florida. Flocks of sandhill cranes return here each winter. Songbirds flit through the vast pine forest.
Walk softly, and you will see wildlife. A summer visit surprised us with hatchling alligators visible from the Cypress Walk boardwalk.
Managed by Florida Fish & Wildlife as a conservation area, May’s Prairie has its own special magic. Explore it on this 4-mile network of trails.
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Length: 4 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.609986, -82.359181
Address: 23212 Lake Lindsey Rd, Brooksville
Land manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife
Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs are not permitted. No camping. No bicycles.
General access to the hiking loop is via Prairie-to-Pines trailhead. On Friday and Saturday, 8 AM – 2 PM, you may park at the Conservation Center [28.630981, -82.353800]. When the center is open, so are the restrooms and picnic tables.
From downtown Brooksville, drive 7 miles north on US 41. Turn left at Snow Memorial Highway. The trailhead is immediately on the right.
For the Conservation Center, continue up Snow Memorial Highway to the next right turn, Lake Lindsay Rd. The entrance to the Conservation Center is on the right.
Pick up a trail map at the trailhead kiosk before entering. As a portion of the loop is also part of the Florida National Scenic Trail, start your hike by following the orange blazes.
Passing a sign marking the trail, walk through the longleaf pine forest. Along with those in the adjoining Big Pine Tract, these are among the oldest longleaf pines in Central Florida.
Keep right at the fork, continuing through open pine savanna. When you reach the Chinsegut Nature Trail at a bench at 0.7 mile, this is the beginning of the loop. Turn left.
After 1.1 miles, a beaten path on the right leads to a wildlife blind. This is an excellent place to watch the flocks of sandhill cranes that gather on May’s Prairie in winter. You can usually hear them well before you reach the blind.
Climbing through the sandhills, the trail continues under the longleaf pine to a cross trail called Cypress Walk. The orange blazes turn off the main loop here. Continue straight.
The footpath broadens into somewhat of a forest road as you get close to the north end of it. When you reach the orange blazes a second time, this is the top of the loop.
You can walk up to the Conservation Center if it is open, and do the short interpretive loop around the Bishop Homestead. Otherwise, turn right and follow the orange blazes to stay on the loop.
At the second junction with the Cypress Walk, it’s worth taking a side trip down it. A boardwalk leads to an overlook over May’s Prairie, one of the highlights of this hike.
This is your decision point. You can shorten your hike by returning along the Cypress Walk to the south side of the Nature Trail Loop, retracing your route back for a 3.5 mile hike.
Otherwise, return back to where you met the Cypress Walk and follow the north side of the loop. It is a broad forest road that sweeps through the forest edging May’s Prairie.
Meeting the Hammock Spur, walk down it for a look across May’s Prairie towards the wildlife blind.
Reaching the Big Hickory Spur at 3 miles, walk down the narrow path to the water’s edge, with a nice view across the American lotus in the shallows.
Continue along the Nature Trail Loop, reaching the bench at the junction at 3.2 miles. Turn left to exit, walking through the longleaf savanna to the trailhead.
See our photos of May’s Prairie and Chinsegut Conservation Center
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