In eastern Orange County, a puzzle of lakes lies in lowland prairies and marshes hydrologically paralleling the St. Johns River.
An effort is underway to shift the Florida National Scenic Trail into this area, a fragile buffer to the spill of suburbia spreading out of Orlando.
At 277 acres, much of it marsh, Crosby Island Marsh Preserve is the smallest link in that not-yet-completed chain. While it sits immediately north of Moss Park with a connector to Split Oak Forest, there is no linkage north.
It is 1.1 miles north of the Florida Trail in Split Oak Forest and access to Hal Scott to the north is not presently possible due to private land and a major highway and rail line in-between.
However, the loop trail at the preserve affords a short but scenic trek around the highlights of the preserve.
And a short linear trail runs south of Lake Mary Jane Rd to a stile within sight of the main entrance to Moss Park.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Lake Hart
Length: 1.5 mile loop and round-trip
Trailhead: 28.38661, -81.19139
Address: 13601 Moss Park Rd, Orlando
Restroom: At adjacent Moss Park (fee access)
Land manager: Orange County
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs permitted.
No bicycles. A picnic table is provided along the loop.
From the junction of SR 528 (Beeline) and SR 417 (both toll roads) east of the Orlando International Airport, follow SR 417 south to exit 23, Moss Park Rd. Turn left at the light at the bottom of the ramp. Drive 0.6 mile and make a right as Moss Park Rd turns at a traffic light. Continue 2.8 miles and make a left on Lake Mary Jane Rd. Drive up a brief distance, make a U-turn, and pull off on the side of the road by the stile. There is no designated parking area for this preserve, which has four walk-in stiles.
Although kiosks at the preserve proudly proclaim this as the Florida National Scenic Trail, in reality this future segment doesn’t link directly to any other trail segment.
With that the case (and no parking area provided) we tackled it from one of its four walk-in entrances, pulling off on the wide berm of Lake Mary Jane Rd.
Pass through the stile to the north and keep to the orange blazes under the deep shade of mature live oaks.
The trail is broad and easy to follow. It soon passes by a small borrow pit pond where it seemed an alligator might take residence.
Watch for an array of epiphytes in the oak limbs above, including butterfly orchids.
As the trail approaches a much larger pond at a tenth of a mile, a bench sits in the shade of oaks and a junction of white and orange trails is marked. The white trail is your return loop.
Stay with the orange blazes bearing right to loop around the pond, which appears to have also been man-made, likely as a water source for a former cattle ranch.
Young longleaf pine in their grassy and candle stages pepper the understory of the oaks.
As the trail continues to curve, the habitat transitions from the oak-dominated sandhill to a forest largely made up of pines.
Denser woodlands form a barrier against the marshes just beyond this slender isthmus. A marshy center occupies the space of this gentle loop.
As the trail gently curved, we encountered a spot marked with survey posts where a promised future boardwalk will extend into the marsh to the north.
Chalky bluestem forms a haze between the pines, defining the edges of the wet prairie central to this loop.
Near the northeast corner of the loop, a picnic table sits in the shade of a live oak.
Beyond it, the trail reaches a walk-in stile with a kiosk showing a map of the future Florida Trail route through this region.
Continue along the curve of the old ranch road as it steers you back towards the start of the loop.
Expansive views of the marshy prairie open up around a curve in the road.
The trail is now white blazed, easy to follow on the old road. It winds through sandhill habitat dominated by oaks and pines.
Reaching the large pond at the start of the loop, the trail turns at a double blaze to work its way around its edge.
Circling around to the bench set under an oak canopy, the trail provides nice views framed by the sky reflected in the pond.
Closing the loop, the white blazes meet the orange at the junction you first saw after 1.1 mile. Turn right to retrace your walk back to the stile.
For an exploration of the short linear connector to Moss Park, cross Lake Mary Jane Rd and enter through the stile on its south side.
The forest here appears to be climax sandhill, dominated by older laurel oaks. Moss Park Rd is visible and audible through the understory.
In a grassy open strip between the trees, the trail approaches a kiosk gleaming in the sun.
It jogs very briefly through denser woodland before emerging at a stile along Moss Park Rd, within sight of the gate of Moss Park.
Return the way you came. The walk feels even briefer on the trip back to Lake Mary Jane Rd, a round-trip of 0.3 mile.
Completing a hike in both directions from that point, you’ve walked 1.5 miles.
See our photos of Crosby Island Marsh Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
A live oak tree more than 200 years old is the centerpiece of Split Oak Forest, a 2,000-acre prairie and scrub preserve near Orlando, home to families of sandhill cranes
Creating a loop through upland habitats perfect for gopher tortoise survival, the Blue Trail is one of two separate trails through Isle of Pine Preserve.