At Collier-Seminole State Park, the short and intriguing Royal Palm Hammock Trail is a wild but gentle introduction to the habitats protected by this park. Although the boardwalks are slippery, you can explore the coastal prairie and mangrove marsh without getting your feet wet. The trail starts out in a tropical hammock and then transitions into habitats that lead to the mangrove fringe along the edge of Florida Bay. Along this hike, be alert for small wonders, such as colorful and endangered liguus tree snails climbing up the smooth bark of tropical trees.
Length: 0.9 mile
Lat-Long: 25.988400, -81.594000
Fees / Permits: state park use fee
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: annoying to extreme
Restroom: yes, near the marina
On your way into the park, stop at the two historic sites. The first is the walking dredge used to build the Tamiami Trail, today’s US 41. This enormous metal monster gobbled up swamp and spit it out as a muck causeway. The second is a memorial to Barron Collier, for whom this county is named. He bought this land because of the royal palms in order to turn it into a National Park. The federal government turned him down, so it became one of Florida’s first state parks.
From I-75, take exit 101, Naples / Marco Island. Drive south on CR 951 for 7.1 miles to US 41. Turn left to continue east 8.5 miles to the park entrance on the right, just beyond the turnoff to Marco Island at Royal Palm Hammock. From the east, the Collier-Seminole State Park entrance is 15.5 miles west of the FL 29 / US 41 junction north of Everglades City. Follow the park entrance road to the marina to find the trailhead.
The trail starts as a walk down a corridor along an old tramway, with giant leather ferns flanking both sides. You’ll see a tall peeling gumbo limbo, known as the tourist tree, and a Jamaica dogwood, with white and pink blossoms in spring. Check its smooth bark for liguus snails. The forest creates a dark canopy no matter how sunny the day. You’ll see some of the namesakes of this trail rise above the forest, royal palms with their tall, smooth trunks and fluffy fronds.
After 0.2 mile, you reach a fork that signals the beginning of the loop. Keep left. The trail immediately becomes a boardwalk, slippery from lichen growth. Don’t try to rush along it. Trees crowd closely over the boardwalk, causing you to duck in many places. The trail drops down off the boardwalk onto sticky marl soil. Shoelace fern cascades from cabbage palms. You cross another section of boardwalk, and pass a shaded bench. The sky opens up overhead as you pass another bench, and the boardwalk is crowded by giant leather ferns. You come to a T intersection at 0.4 mile. Turn left. This spur trail leads through a dense tunnel of white and red mangroves, where swamp lilies and leather ferns rise out of the black water. It ends at an observation platform on the edge of a vast salt marsh dotted with white mangroves. Climb up and take in the panoramic view, the northern edge of the great mangrove forest of South Florida that stretches through the Everglades and out to Florida Bay.
Turn around and head back down the spur trail, continuing straight past the bench when you reach the trail junction. You’ll hear lots of splashing in this open part of the swamp. Sea oxeye intermingles with glasswort, and the shiny succulent leaves of purslane sparkle in the sun. Pond apples dangle their large fruits over the boardwalk. Ducking under a propped-up cabbage palm trunk, the boardwalk turns to the left along a corridor of giant leather ferns crowding in upon the trail. You pass another bench at 0.6 mile. As the boardwalk continues around a corner, it tilts sharply to the left, making it difficult to walk. Use caution. The boardwalk ends, and you’re back on the path into the tropical hardwood hammock. Reaching a T with an incoming trail from the campground, you’ve completed the loop. Turn right and head back towards the parking lot.