CLOSED due to Hurricane Ian damage
When railroad magnate Henry Flagler snapped up some real estate in what’s now Chuluota around the turn of the prior century, he figured to sell plots, he’d put in rail access.
Building a spur from the main line north of the St. Johns River, he extended the route across the river through the towns of Osceola and Geneva to the planned community of Chuluota.
Following that historic spur from the Florida East Coast Railway, the Flagler Trail is a linear greenway broken in two pieces, north and south of Geneva.
Access to the southern segment is possible from both ends and via side trails in the middle. We present this south to north since it makes for an easier ride, the south end having a firmer surface.
The northern portion of the trail, twisting through Geneva Wilderness off the actual linear route, gets into soft sand and healthy scrub, tougher on a bike but great for hiking.
A round-trip along this route is ten miles. The intermediate destination of the Econlockhatchee River bridge is a scenic turnaround point for those seeking a shorter trip.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Chuluota to Geneva
Length: 5 miles linear
Trailhead: 28.64901, -81.130493
Restroom: At Geneva Wilderness
Land manager: Seminole County
Open dawn to dusk. Leashed pets permitted. No hunting is allowed but you will hear gunfire when passing a county shooting range 1.5 miles north of Chuluota.
Check ahead regards river levels. If water is flowing over the bridges in the Econlockhatchee River floodplain, they are unsafe to cross.
From the Toll 417 exit for Oviedo / Winter Springs at SR 434, follow 434 into downtown Oviedo. Turn left onto CR 419 (Chuluota Rd). Drive 4.8 miles east to Taintsville. Turn left onto Snow Hill Rd and continue a half mile. Turn left at the trailhead sign.
Hike / Bike
From the large trailhead at Snow Hill Rd, look for the main kiosk. The path heads west from there, a crosswalk across Jacobs Rd to reach the rail corridor.
At this south end, it starts out skinny and twisty, palms and oaks crowding close to the pathway. It won’t remain this way for long, just a quarter mile.
Passing a metal gate and trash can, the trail comes up to a fence with an “Attention Visitors” sign and a gap to walk or ride through.
Soon after is the Mile 4.25 post. Mile 0 is the county line along Fort Christmas Rd, the old start of the Flagler Trail route from when the Florida Trail followed it through Chuluota.
Mileages are counted upward in quarter mile increments on the markers from this point. The trail immediately widens significantly.
The well worn path marches on as far as the eye can see, the surrounding forest, hardwoods here, proving mottled shade.
Nearly a mile along, passing a boundary marker once the trail clears the adjoining subdivisions, you are now within protected lands for the remainder of the corridor.
A sturdy bench with a blue blaze painted on it is in a sunny sport before the trail enters another long tunnel of shade.
The soil becomes dark and rich underfoot, the surroundings heavy with cabbage palms. Massive palm fronds crowd the path, narrowing it slightly. You are now in Little Big Econ State Forest.
At 1.3 miles, at the LE-77 sign, the Florida Trail joins in from the right to utilize this old rail corridor right up and across the Econlockhatchee River.
Although the trail widens, the palm fronds resumes. There are swamps on both sides now, heavy on cypress trees and cabbage palms.
When the habitat shifts to sandhill at 1.5 miles, a bench adjoins an intersection with a mountain bike trail. The 6 mile marker is soon after, signaling more bike crossings ahead.
The trail adjoins the piers of the former railroad trestle, dropping into the river floodplain by means of a series of broad bridges.
The final one is the bridge over the Econlockhatchee River itself, at 2.2 miles. Enjoy the views from both sides.
On the north side of the river, the Florida Trail leaves the Flagler Trail to the left. Continue straight ahead. The path makes a jog between the piers.
It continues to a broad bridge over the rim of an oxbow pond off the river. At the far end of that bridge it jogs again to rejoin the linear railroad right-of-way.
The next straightaway is heavily shaded, another tunnel with a light at the end. At 2.7 miles, that light shines on a six-way trail junction at a pair of facing covered benches.
White-blazed hiking trails lead east and west (Kolokee Trail), as do well-marked equestrian trails paralleling them. Continue straight.
Not too far north of that junction, the right-of-way becomes an elevated causeway through a cypress strand.
Picturesque swamp flanks both sides of the trail for the last time on its linear route.
Scattered pines characterize a habitat shift past the mile 6.75 marker as the trail opens into a grassy area, a restoration area for pine flatwoods.
It feels like you’ve entered a ranch, which this land once was. At 3.1 miles, cross a perpendicular equestrian trail before the Flagler Trail reaches a large richly textured marsh on the left.
A quarter mile later, beyond a corridor strung with grapevines, the trail starts to curve. Past the 7.25 mile marker, it emerges into an open scrubby area.
Look behind you for signage for the Flagler Trail southbound, at what appears to be a trail junction.
A vast open scrub lies to the east, a dense oak scrub to the west. The soft white sand is tough going for cyclists for the next half mile or more.
Beyond another curve with a marsh to the left, pass the 7.5 mile marker. Reach the northern end of Little Big Econ State Forest, an LE-1 sign nearby.
The trail enters Geneva Wilderness Area at 3.8 miles. A firebreak to the left serves as a shortcut across the preserve, as shown on our map. Signage for the Flagler Trail urges you forward.
Following the signs, you are guided around the east side of the flatwoods ponds in the preserve, with nice views. Sandhill cranes are often present.
Reaching the north end of the ponds, there are two routes to the trailhead. One goes to the right, up the road past the nature center, picnic area and restrooms.
The other goes to the left, following red blazes (stay left at the second junction) past a pond with a pier and up a skinny, winding path through the oak scrub.
Using either route, you end up at the Geneva Wilderness Area trailhead after 5 miles. There is a picnic area here under the oaks, another haunt for sandhill cranes.
Place a second car here in advance for a linear ride or hike, or turn around and take the route you followed back to Snow Hill Rd for a 10-mile round trip.
See our photos of the Flagler Trail South
More worth exploring along this trail route
Spanning from Oviedo to Geneva and Chuluota, Little Big Econ State Forest encompasses more than 10,000 acres of diverse habitats.
One of the most beautiful hikes near Orlando is rugged, too: the Florida Trail atop bluffs above the Econlockhatchee River through Little-Big Econ State Forest.
Tieing together the Florida Trail, the Kolokee Trail, and the Flagler Trail, the 5.6-mile Kolokee Loop in Little Big Econ State Forest shows off the best facets of the its humid subtropical forest.