Sharing the start of its hike and a trailhead with the Culpepper Trail in the remote northeast corner of Little Big Econ State Forest, the River Trail quickly diverges in tone.
Heading upriver where the Culpepper Trail meanders downriver, the River Trail is far more rugged, with scrambles through ravines and along river bluffs.
An immersion into a lengthy tunnel of ancient live oaks along an old ranch road is just part of the natural beauty of this hike.
The hike is in two parts. The unblazed 1.5-mile Little Big Econ connector meets the River Trail coming in from Bronson State Forest and follows that white-blazed trail for 1.3 miles.
This round-trip hike is 5.6 miles. You can trim that by turning around at any point in the hike.
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Length: 5.6 mile round-trip
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Leashed dogs welcome. Insect repellent a must. Active cattle leases mean the potential of encounters with cows and bulls along the trail.
Bicycles and horses are not permitted access from this trailhead or on the River Trail.
This trailhead serves as a walk-in hunting entrance during hunting seasons. Check ahead regards hunt dates before you make plans for outdoor recreation, and wear bright orange if you choose to hike during hunts.
From SR 50 between Orlando and Christmas, turn north on Chuluota Rd (SR 419) and drive 4.9 miles north towards Oviedo. Turn right onto Lake Mills Rd in front of the Hitching Post Bar. Continue on Lake Mills Rd for 3 miles, passing Tropical Ave and Fort Christmas Rd before Lake Mills Rd makes a 90-degree left turn. Stay on it, passing the Panorama Trailhead of the Florida Trail. Lake Mills Rd becomes Brumley Rd and makes a hard right. Continue 2.4 miles to the end of the road. The amply shaded trailhead is on the left just past a large paved turnout with no parking signs.
Squeeze through the stile at the Brumley Rd trailhead and walk straight down the ranch road behind the gate, passing a state forest sign and some old corrals on the left.
Following the edge of a working ranch, this straightaway ends at a junction of fence lines after a quarter mile.
Your ranch road route continues through a gate on the left. Leave it however you found it, latched or unlatched.
It emerges into open pastureland for a stretch before the trail is flanked by swampy sloughs. Watch for alligators dozing on the banks.
After a curve away from the sloughs, the trail enters a deeply shaded hammock with beautiful old-growth live oaks covered in resurrection fern and bromeliads.
Citrus trees grow throughout the forest, creating a heavenly scent in winter and a bounty of oranges and grapefruit in an unexpected place.
When you see a trail on the right, it’s the Equestrian Trail from Joshua Creek trailhead in Bronson State Forest meeting this ranch road.
The next trail junction is with the white-blazed Bronson River Trail on the right, coming in from the east end of the forest at 1.3 miles. It joins the ranch road.
Delight in the old-growth canopy of oaks overhead, which arch over the forest road to create a tunnel effect as far as you can see.
Just past a small slough, the Econ River Trail turns left at a marked junction with a post to prevent equestrian access. Follow the white blazes.
The trail weaves beneath a dense canopy of ancient oaks and palms. Stay on the footpath and don’t venture off it.
The understory is an unfortunate sea of caesarweed, an invasive plant that will cover you in burrs if you brush against it. It opens up closer to the river.
At 1.7 miles, you meet the junction of the River Trail with the Culpepper Trail. Even if you hike no farther (a 3.4-mile round trip to this point) this view of the river is well worth seeing.
Turn left to follow the white blazes. Live oaks droop low, festooned with resurrection fern and orchids. Palms line the edge of the trail along the bluff.
Since there are many enormous live oaks through this section, there are substantial roots across the footpath as well. Watch your step.
The trail swings away from the bluff to follow the high ground between the river and a ravine dropping off to the left.
Swinging closer to the bluffs, the footpath passes through stands of cabbage palms and under bromeliad-decorated oaks of sizable proportions.
A steep slope awaits at 1.9 miles, where the trail drops through a side channel. If water is rushing through it, turn around here. Otherwise, scramble down and back up the hill on the other side.
The old trail along the bluff has partially fallen into the river, so follow the newer footpath behind the screen of saw palmetto. Watch for white blazes to guide the way.
Past fallen oaks and a maze of palms, the river and its palm-decorated far shore are visible, the near shore approachable down a gentle slope.
The trail turns away from the river into a palm hammock. Keep an eye on those white blazes as the footpath is not distinct and casearweed can blot out the understory.
At 2 miles, scramble in and out of a low side channel. The understory is very open under the oaks and palms ahead, affording river views.
Where the bluff opens up, enjoy a panorama of a long arc of the river in both directions. The trail sticks close to the bluff, winding beneath cedar trees and palms.
Passing a cabbage palm arching out over the river below around 2.2 miles, the trail sits above a small beach used by passing boaters.
White blazes draw close to the eroding bluffs beyond, with a view of a large beach on the far side of the river.
Leaving the bluff, enter a passageway into a palm and oak hammock with an open understory. Keep alert for blazing here.
Soon after, at 2.3 miles you come across a clearing with a fire ring. This unofficial campsite used by paddlers makes a good landmark to end your hike and turn around.
However, the blazes still lead through it and past it forward onto a peninsula created by a river bend.
They may be tricky to follow, but they aim for the far side of the peninsula instead of sticking close to the bluffs.
When they reach the bluffs again, the trail stays in the trees near the edge. Past this point, the trail was too choked by brush to follow when we hiked it, but blazes continues another quarter mile.
This trail was created by the FTA Central Florida chapter with the idea of an eventual bridge across the river to reroute the FT away from the roadwalk it now follows out of Chuluota Wilderness.
Those plans may be well in the future, but the chapter continues to maintain this spur trail along the bluffs each winter for your enjoyment. Return the same way you came.
Learn more about Little Big Econ State Forest
Little-Big Econ State Forest
Spanning from Oviedo to Geneva and Chuluota, Little Big Econ State Forest encompasses more than 10,000 acres of diverse habitats.
See our photos from the Econ River Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
One of the lesser-known trails of Little Big Econ State Forest, Culpepper Bend leads you to an outstanding panorama where the Econlockhatchee River meets the St. Johns River.
Florida Trail, Mills Creek
As the Florida Trail follows the curve of the basin in which Mills Creek into a bowl of marshlands, enjoy old-growth trees and long boardwalks along this 2 mile hike
Florida Trail, Chuluota Wilderness to Joshua Creek
3.9 miles. Enjoy the natural beauty of habitat diversity along a scenic segment of the Florida Trail connecting Chuluota Wilderness and Bronson State Forest
Lake Mills Park
Camp beneath ancient live oaks or wander the gentle trails to Lake Mills as you enjoy one of Seminole County’s nicest county parks