Deep Creek Preserve exists to set aside a liquid landscape for future water resources for Volusia County.
Both the county and St. Johns Water Management District worked to puzzle together several large parcels of land, former pine plantations and a cattle ranch.
Wells to provide drinking water to residents in DeBary, Deltona, and DeLand are part of the reason for this public land.
Deep Creek rises from these swamps and feeds a vast basin to the west where Spruce Creek begins.
Most of the habitats in this preserve are perpetually wet. As we discovered while we hiked the loop, that means showy year-round wildflowers.
It also means a lot of slogging, deep mud, and precautions against biting insects. And that was just on the mid-length loop.
Since we hiked the yellow and orange blazed trails at this preserve, the preserve has nearly doubled in size, to more than 8,000 acres.
The official map shows a new loop extending off the trail we describe here, adding another 6.8 miles for more than 12 miles total.
The distance is perfect for equestrians but, given the trail conditions here, more than a little challenging for those of us who tackle trails on foot.
Bicycles are welcome, but we seriously wouldn’t riding this loop unless we’re having a bone dry winter. See our photos below for why.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Lake Ashby
Length: 5.3 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.9514, -81.0973
Address: 964 SR 415, New Smyrna Beach
Restroom: Portable toilet near a screened picnic pavilion
Land manager: Volusia County
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed pets welcome. Insect repellent is a must. Mosquitoes are relentless.
We’ve encountered flooded trails and deep mud throughout this preserve, so plan your footwear accordingly. Using hiking poles would be wise.
Hikers, off-road cyclists, and equestrians share all trails. Churned up sand and mud is common. Active habitat restoration may cause deep wet ruts and clearcuts.
From Osteen, follow SR 415 north. From Samsula, the next crossroads west of New Smyrna Beach and Interstate 95 via SR 44, follow SR 415 south. The trailhead is on the west side of the highway.
Leaving the parking area and its kiosk, follow the forest road into the preserve. A quarter mile along the road you reach a screened room with a picnic table and portable toilet.
The kiosk, with background about the preserve and habitat restoration, shows a map of the loop trails. We followed the yellow markers.
The forest road crosses a giant culvert over a flowing stream, pouring strongly through a deep ditch lined with ferns.
Immediately turn right to start the hiking loop. Follow the yellow blazes past markers with interpretive information.
Loblolly bay and water oak grow near the creek, attesting to the wet character of this landscape.
After following an old barbed wire fence, the trail narrows down and slips through the forest to the left, winding through relict sandhill habitat.
A half mile in, the trail comes out at a berm along another canal, and there is a bridge across the canal with benches on both sides.
After you cross the pedestrian bridge, the trail pops back out onto the road it shares with equestrians. Turn right.
This is one of the most pleasant sections of the loop, an old forest road in deep shade.
It parallels a waterway along the property boundary. Just watch out for those “road apples” underfoot!
After three quarters of a mile, you come to the junction of the Orange and Yellow Trails. Here, the Orange Trail turns left.
If you follow it through the pines, it meets a forest road and loops back towards the pavilion for a hike of slightly less than a mile back to the trailhead.
Unless you want the shorter hike, stick with the yellow blazes. A patch of scrub stands out among otherwise monotonous surroundings.
At a mile, there’s a bench. Beyond it is a little patch of cypress swamp that was all dried out, signaling how the ranch canals changed the hydrology of this landscape.
A dense thicket of saw palmetto clumps come right out to the forest road. Shiny blueberry intermingles with bracken fern.
The trail turns northeast, away from the property line and into the heart of the preserve.
It’s here that there is a shift to wetter habitats. Giant puddles – and flowing water – take over the trail where the water flows between bayheads.
Sundews and bog buttons grow along the edges. Here’s a decision point for you, at 1.8 miles.
Following the yellow blazes, you’re going to get your feet wet continuing on the outer loop.
You can turn around here for a 3.6-mile hike, or plunge forward. And we do mean plunge.
Once you cross this first water barrier, the landscape opens up into a longleaf pine restoration area. It’s very soggy here. The trail follows an old road and is a muddy mess.
There’s a reason they call this Deep Creek, and by 2 miles we find out why. It is wet. Truly mucky and suck-off-your-boots wet.
By 2.1 miles, there is a sign leading to the dry area on the right that says “Restricted area do not enter.” Of course.
Turn left here and continue along drier ground. A canal is parallel to the forest road. A creek drains the pine flatwoods and cypress domes off to the right.
It’s here you’ll see colorful bog wildflowers, including yellow bladderwort, and a great gush of water out into that open area.
You walk along the perimeter of a former cypress strand; it is now a line of dead cypress and pine trees.
By 2.9 miles, the forest road broadens, but still has lots of water on both sides. It enters another restoration area.
Gallberries are covered in pink blossoms in spring. Looking down this long straight forest road you can see a covered bench at the end of it.
The yellow trail makes a left at the T intersection in front of the bench; there is a “Do not enter” sign to the right. Straight ahead is the new white-blazed 6.8 mile loop.
Turn left. Water trickles out of the forest to the left, nourishing the feet of young cypress trees.
The open area on the right is planted in longleaf pine but in tree farm fashion, very close together.
You reach a four-way intersection at 3.5 miles. The graded road to the left returns to the front gate. Yellow blazes lead you straight ahead.
Of course, the trail gets a little squishy. It turns left away from the fenceline onto a firebreak at 3.7 miles to enter the beautifully restored longleaf pine habitat.
However when we hiked it, it was a rough firebreak, terribly deep in mud, almost impassible.
If you see a hint of any muddy mess when you head this way, we suggest you follow the graded forest road from the intersection at 3.5 miles instead.
The forest was beautiful, but the trail is not meant for people on foot when it is muddy.
Eventually, the two routes come together. The firebreak trail meets the graded road at 4.5 miles.
A few footsteps later, you come to the junction with the Orange Trail, the short interior loop.
Continue along the graded road, crossing the creek to come up to the screened picnic area.
Take a break before the last quarter mile of walking out the forest road to the trailhead to exit Deep Creek Preserve, wrapping a 5.3 mile loop.
See our photos of Deep Creek Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Explore the cypress-lined shore of Lake Ashby on a gentle trail system consisting of a boardwalk and easy pathways beneath deep shade along the lakeshore.
For a quick dip into the beauty of the St. Johns River floodplain, the 1.6 mile Kratzert Trail offers a walk beneath ancient oaks and cabbage palms of enormous size
Discover a parade of habitats in the uplands of the Deep Creek basin on the 2.2 mile White Trail, the shortest loop at this massive conservation area