At Flat Island Preserve south of Leesburg, Dr. Rexford Daubenmire, a noted botanist, and his wife and fellow botanist Jean explored the lush hardwood hammocks and uplands on this island surrounded by the Okahumpa Marsh.
A significant expert in plant ecology, Dr. Daubenmire was a professor of botany at both the University of Idaho and Washington State University, and wrote two notable books: Plants and Environment (1947) and Plant Communities (1968).
In their later years, the Daubenmires lived in Lake County and found this particular site fascinating for its botanical diversity. They successfully lobbied the county to create this 2,300-acre preserve.
There are now three trails at Flat Island Preserve. Of these, the Daubenmire Trail is the oldest and the most popular, offering a 3.7-mile network of loops. It was built and is maintained by volunteers from the Florida Trail Association.
A memorial near the beginning of the Daubenmire Trail loop gives thanks for the Daubenmires’ determination to preserve this botanically rich landscape.
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Length: More than 5 miles of trails in a network of loops and spurs
Trailhead: 28.778683, -81.902800
Fees: Free. Deposits required for canoe use or camping.
Restroom: at the trailhead
Land manager: Lake County Water Authority
Open 8 AM to sunset unless you have a permit for camping. Dogs, bicycles, and equestrians are not permitted.
Permits are required for both camping and paddling. The canoes, paddles, and PFDs are located a mile down the Daubenmire Trail near the launch. A $50 deposit is required for both activities.
As long as you return the gear / clean up your camp after yourself, your deposit will be mailed back to you in a week or so.
Follow US 27 southbound from Leesburg. Turn right onto CR 25A. Continue north 0.5 mile, then turn left onto Owens Road, a narrow dirt road. After 0.6 mile, you’ll reach the preserve entrance and parking area, with its large trail kiosk and Florida Trail sign.
Start your hike at the trail kiosk next to the group campsite. Sign in, and follow the orange blazes. The trail turns into a causeway, up above the lapping tannic waters of the surrounding hydric hammock.
The Island Hammock Trail starts at Signpost A, where a memorial pays homage to the late John Weary, a tireless trail maintainer responsible for many of the Florida Trail Association’s best efforts in Central Florida.
Veer right, away from the service road, following the well-established treadway into a forest of southern magnolia and young laurel oaks.
Look up and down: greenfly orchids cling to the trees, and collybia mushrooms grow in crowded groups, like miniature forests.
Crossing the service road, the trail continues through an area of younger oaks along the edge of a palm hammock. Roots break through the hard-packed dirt of the trail. Monkeyflowers crowd the sides of the footpath.
At 0.5 mile, Signpost B marks the beginning of the outer loop. Continue straight, passing under lofty live oaks. At Signpost C, pass the junction with the cross trail and keep going straight as the oak forest yields to a hydric hammock.
Needle palms rise where wetlands and uplands meet. After 1.1 miles, a canoe symbol sign points down a boardwalk to the left. Follow it through the cypress swamp to a floating landing on a canal on the edge of Flat Island.
At 1.6 miles, Signpost E marks the second cross-trail. Continue straight on into a thicket of needle palms, royal ferns, and marsh ferns. The trail may be mushy here, as it is prone to flooding along the edges if the marsh waters are high.
An old cockfight ring sits alongside the trail at 2.1 miles, just before the turnoff to the primitive campsite. Sheltered by a canopy of oaks and magnolias, the campsite provides benches and a pitcher pump.
At Signpost F, you pass the cross-trail from Signpost E. Continue straight ahead, entering an area of younger trees, including live oaks, sweetgum, and southern magnolia. Their supple limbs braid into an arbor over the trail.
When you reach Signpost D, you’ve hiked 2.9 miles. The cross-trail from Signpost C meets up with the main trail. Keep going straight ahead as the trail veers close to the edge of the island.
After skirting a broad expanse of swamp dense with bald cypress and cabbage palms, you reach Signpost B and the end of the loop. Turn left to exit to the parking area.
Don’t forget to sign the trail register! It always warms the heart of a trail maintainer to know that you enjoyed their efforts to keep the trail open.
Corley Island Trail
The Corley Island Trail is a linear trail leading away from the trailhead and the Okahumpa Marsh in the exact opposite direction from the Daubenmire Trail, ending at a mobile home park off CR 25A.
Along the 1.2 mile hike (2.4 mile round-trip), the trail primarily stays in upland habitat under a canopy of oak and hickory trees. There is a loop in the upland area, as well as views of a marsh with an island in it.
Magnolia Island Trail
Only paddlers will ever set foot on the Magnolia Island Trail. It’s a 2.3-mile trip along the canal through Okahumpa Marsh from the canoe landing on Flat Island to the landing on Magnolia Island.
The half-mile round trip trail on Magnolia Island leads to the primitive campsite that hardy canoeists can reserve. You’ll need protection from mosquitoes and a bear canister or bear bag to camp there.
See our photos of Flat Island Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.