As suburbia grows denser, wildlife needs a place to go. People need green space. What makes the Econ River Wilderness a treasured place is not just the habitats it safeguards, but its location.
Unlike most of the Wilderness Areas in Seminole County, this one is not inside the designated rural boundary. It sits within walking distance of the University of Central Florida.
The first time we visited, it was a block away from the bustle of the growing college campus. Now there’s a Dollar General across the street. Subdivisions line its north and south boundaries.
Ancient cypress and colorful wildflowers are the prizes along these gentle trails, and you might even spot a gopher tortoise or two.
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Length: 2.7 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.613780, -81.174113
Address: 3795 Old Lockwood Rd, Oviedo, FL
Land manager: Seminole County Natural Lands
Open dawn to dusk. Leashed pets permitted. Trails open to hiking, cycling, and equestrian use.
The main trail is not blazed, but is sporadically marked with red discs with an arrow. It’s pretty obvious where it goes on the west side of the bayhead boardwalk.
From the intersection of SR 434 (Alafaya Trail) and SR 50 near the University of Central Florida, drive east on SR 434 and turn right on E. McCulloch Rd. Drive 2 miles and turn left on Old Lockwood Rd. The trailhead is on the right.
Start your hike by signing in at the trailhead kiosk. Follow the broad graveled path downhill towards a picnic shelter.
The shelter overlooks a pond dotted with lilies, which the trail curves around, leading beneath tall longleaf pines through a dense understory of saw palmetto.
Turning away from the pond, it winds downhill, passing beneath an arch of sand live oaks speckled in red blanket lichen.
The scattered pines grow taller. The wall of trees off to the left marks the property boundary of the preserve.
Coming to a T intersection at a directional sign, turn left. You leave the gravel for a grassy, pine-needle-strewn forest road.
Pass directional marker ERW-01 at a junction and continue straight. There are many junctions like these throughout the preserve, offering alternate routes off the main loop.
Although a worn path with a red marker disappears into the woods to the right, that’s the old trail through the wetland. Continue straight ahead to cross the bayhead boardwalk.
This wetland area marks the boundary between the not-so-wild front of the wilderness area and the more compelling habitats in the rest of it.
At the next junction with an arrow marker, follow it to the right. The trail to the left heads to the property boundary and a back entrance used by equestrians.
A large sign explaining the efforts put into habitat restoration adjoins the beginning of the Loop Trail at the ERW-02 marker. Keep left at this junction to walk clockwise around the loop.
The trail winds through an area that looks pretty rough under the trees, part of the efforts to restore the longleaf pine and wiregrass habitat that once dominated this region.
It meanders into a series of oak hammocks, each with massive sand live oaks with arching limbs. The understory is very open beneath them.
Adjoining an arrow on a post, an unmarked cross trail leads to the other side of the Loop Trail. Just beyond the post is a clearing with a bench.
Pass one massive live oak adjoining the footpath. Oaks yield to pine flatwoods as the trail makes a curve past a directional sign meant for counterclockwise hikers.
Sand pines and an oak scrub crowd the corner at the ERW-03 marker. Walking through these pine flatwoods rimmed with scrub, you come to the first overlook on the Econlockhatchee River.
It is a high bluff with a steep drop. There was once a trail along the river, but the Econ is a floodplain river and the bluffs have eroded badly since this preserve was established. You can see that a few feet away.
There are times we’ve visited when the river is full to the brim at this spot, and other times when it is way down below. The water level determines your route ahead.
If there is flooding, take the next right turn to bypass the floodplain area. If there isn’t, you shouldn’t miss these next two stops.
The trail opens into a clearing that overlooks the river. A spur footpath leading down the bluff shows off the ancient cypress and dense oak hammocks along its far shore.
Narrowing down, the Loop Trail enters a deeply palm hammock, where vines dangle from the canopy and bluestem palms wave in the breeze.
At the next arrow, turn in the opposite direction: left. This spur trail leads to the most spectacular spot in the preserve.
Where it ends is a sandy embankment created where a sinuous tannic stream winds its way through a miniature forest of cypress knees to meet the Econ.
Ancient cypress with thick bases are along both shores of the river. There once was a bench here, because you’ll want to sit and drink in this view.
Returning to the Main Loop, turn left. Past a side trail leading to the power lines on the property boundary, it curves through a wet pine flatwoods. The trail may be mushy.
Reaching a T intersection, the Red Loop arrow points left. The trail leads to the property boundary along the power lines and parallels it down a long shaded tunnel.
At the sign for the Flatwoods Trail, you have the option of taking it instead of the Main Loop. It tends to be much wetter underfoot and stays closer to the fence.
But it’s also where you will see some of the more interesting wildflowers in the fall, including pine lilies.
The Main Loop heads into the uplands. Past the second junction with the Flatwoods Trail, it immerses in the longleaf pine flatwoods once more.
Pass a cross trail -- which connects back to three junctions you’ve already walked by -- a wall of bayhead comes into view. As it edges up to the trail, you complete the Main Loop.
Continue straight ahead to cross the bayhead boardwalk back to the front portion of the preserve. Pass the ERW-01 marker and rejoin the gravel path.
Continue straight ahead to follow the other half of it. It winds through pine flatwoods with an understory of scrub.
The scrub is roughed up in places because of manual rotochopping to maintain this very flammable habitat. In this area, you are likely to see a gopher tortoise or two.
As the trail gains elevation, pass the ERW-06 marker at a road that leads out past the caretaker’s residence to a vehicle gate.
Follow the gravel path as it curves past a view of the roofs of houses in the subdivision on the south side of the preserve, and the traffic light nearby.
Entering a denser patch of scrub that screens these intrusions of surrounding development for the last few minutes of the hike, the trail emerges at the opposite side of the parking area from the kiosk.
See our video of Econ River Wilderness Area
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
In the floodplain of the Econlockhatchee River, Econlockhatchee Sandhills Conservation Area is a 706-acre showcase of upland habitat diversity with a 3.2 mile loop trail