Protecting nearly 200 acres that was once an orange grove, Ferndale Preserve is a success story in habitat restoration.
On our first visit in 2012, the orange trees and pumpkin vines were being removed from the rolling hills of this newly acquired preserve, and access was limited to certain days of the week.
Eight years later, the landscape is well along to reverting to natural habitats. It’s not there yet, but beauty abounds along the grassy hills, vertical meadows sweeping down to the blue waters of Lake Apopka.
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Length: 2.1 mile loop
Address: 19220 County Road 455, Ferndale
Restroom: at the trailhead
Land manager: Lake County
Open 7 AM to dusk. Dogs are not permitted. Shade is very limited along the trail system.
Trails shared with cyclists and equestrians. Cyclists will need fat tires for the grassy and sandy terrain, and good brakes for the downhills.
Head 1.3 miles west of Florida’s Turnpike on SR 50 towards Clermont. Turn right on Lake Blvd, which quickly reaches CR 438 (Old SR 50). Turn left. After 1.9 miles, the road becomes CR 455. Follow it 3.3 miles, driving through Monteverde, where it makes a sharp left after you pass through town. The preserve entrance is on your right after you enter Ferndale.
From the parking area, turn towards the large gazebo on the opposite side of the lot from the restrooms. The trail system is a loop, but for best dramatic effect, tackle it counterclockwise.
The gazebo is a covered series of lushly illustrated panels showing the plants and animals found in the ecosystems that historically blanketed these hills above Lake Apopka.
According to the large map (shown below under Trail Map), segments of the preserve are being managed to restore this particular habitats.
While they aren’t in evidence yet, restoration is a slow process. In just eight years, this no longer looks anything like an orange grove.
The hiker symbol sign points you past a play and relaxation area with a playground, gazebo for sitting, and a native plant garden with interpretive signs about the plants.
The trail sweeps around this passive recreation complex and climbs the hill through a stand of oaks. The first junction is with the outer loop of the trail system.
There are four miles of trails in the preserve, but you can hit the highlights while maximizing elevation changes by following a 2.1-mile circuit. Continue straight ahead at Marker A.
The trail climbs slowly, but you can tell you’re headed uphill. Dense grasses with wildflowers peeping from them carpet the hillside, with scattered sand pines and cabbage palms among them.
Before reaching Marker B, you are standing atop a knob in the landscape above Lake Apopka. It’s 160 feet above sea level, or nearly 100 feet above the shoreline of the lake.
From here, you can see a sweep of blue on the horizon across the entire panorama in front of you, a very impressive sight. It’s all downhill from here, literally.
To maximize your elevation change -- our GPS clocked 112 feet of change in a half mile of hiking -- take the left fork to end up at Marker E.
The lake looms large ahead. Continue the steep drop with walking straight ahead to Marker F, which sits near the edge of a floodplain forest. Turn right at this T intersection.
For our hike, we ended up down at the edge of Lake Apopka in an area where the county plans to add canoes for use. It’s a beauty spot for scanning the shoreline.
We backtracked up through Marker F and Marker E to climb away from the property boundary, since the low loop to the north was near a fence line.
But to maximum your lakeshore time and stretch the miles, consider continuing along Lake Apopka on the lower loop, coming back around to Marker C and following it to E to seal the loop.
We followed Marker E to Marker B to retrace our steps when we hiked the 2.1-mile route. However, you can extend the hike. Between Marker E and Marker G, follow an old farm road along the north side of the knob, well downhill from the high point.
When you get to Marker G, continue straight ahead into the oak forest. The trail curves and goes through a tunnel of oaks to emerge by the restrooms at the parking area.
See our video of walking out to the summit of Ferndale Preserve.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
On a 1.7-mile loop, Crooked River Preserve showcases a wide variety of habitats in a short hike on the northernmost extent of the Lake Wales Ridge in Clermont
As longleaf pine reaches for the sky, the rolling hills of Lake Louisa State Park near Clermont return to their forested roots