Although the Florida Trail in Seminole State Forest is a popular destination for hiking near Orlando, the northern section is little traveled.
It’s easy for hikers to access the segment between the Bear Pond and Cassia trailheads, but takes more planning to continue north.
In 2019, the Florida Trail Association officially opened a major reroute through the Cassia section, eliminating roadwalk and adding many miles of trail.
The diversity of species in this natural space is evident in the numerous animal tracks across the sandy landscape, including the unmistakable footprints of the Florida black bear.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 14.2 miles linear (15.9 miles between trailheads)
Trailhead: 28.880879, -81.443386
Address: Brantley Branch Rd
Fees: $2 per person
Restrooms: Vault toilet at Cassia trailhead.
Land manager: Florida Forest Service
Leashed dogs permitted. Some portions of the trail are shared with equestrians.
One designated backpacker campsite is available, Sawgrass Fill Camp, 10.4 miles north of Cassia trailhead.
This section of trail spans both Seminole State Forest and two pieces of private land, the Orianne Center and Camp La-No-Che. Please stay within the trail corridor on private land.
From Interstate 4 in Sanford, take exit 101C and head west on SR 46 for 8 miles before turning right onto 46A. Continue straight for 5 miles, then turn right onto SR 44. In 5.1 miles, turn right onto Brantley Branch Rd. The main trailhead parking is a tenth of a mile down the road, on the right. If you have obtained a permit prior to the hike, pass through the locked gate and continue on the forest road for 0.8 mile. Turn left at the first intersection, and the trailhead will be one mile ahead at the intersection of Hana Dr. and Palatka Rd.
To reach the kiosk at Palatka Rd that marks the start of this Florida Trail segment, it’s a 1.7 mile walk along the connector trail from the Cassia trailhead if you do not have a permit to drive to the Palatka Rd trailhead.
That hike is described under the segment just south of this one. People who obtain permits and backpackers on long distance hikes need not worry about those extra miles.
Starting at the Palatka Road Trailhead, follow the orange blazes east down a sandy maintenance road.
The first half mile travels along this sandy pathway through scrub habitat before crossing another road and delving into the woods.
Sand pines give way to scrub oaks as the trail narrows through dense vegetation.
Vanillaleaf plants sprout from the forest floor in large clusters, filling the air with sweet aromas at certain times of year.
The oaks grow in size as a canopy forms overhead, and the terrain becomes soggy near a seasonal creek crossing.
An understory of lightly charred cabbage palms rises from a lush green cover of grass.
Approaching the stream, the trail crosses an impressive boardwalk through the swamp complete with a bridge over the tannic waters.
Across the walkway, the trail climbs up through a sea of ferns and back into the scrub.
For the next quarter mile, follow an orange blazed shared use trail to a sign indicating a split with the hiking and equestrian routes.
The trail carves through grapevine-covered shrubs lined with bracken fern for another quarter mile before reaching an elevated forest road.
Passing through a gap at a property line fence, the forest road becomes Brantley Branch Rd at the end of a neighborhood. Follow it for 0.2 mile, turning right at a Florida Trail shield sign.
The next quarter mile skirts the edge of property owned by the Orianne Center; an organization involved in the conservation of endangered eastern indigo snakes.
Scrub and sandhill habitats comprise most of the landscape as gently rolling hills alternate between open and densely vegetated forest.
The trail winds around large shrubs of Florida rosemary, and reindeer lichen carpeted stands of sand pine saplings.
After crossing Botany Woods Drive and passing a small scenic prairie pond, the trail meanders between two larger bodies of water before crossing a sturdy boardwalk.
In another tenth of a mile, the path opens to a fairly busy highway at SR 44.
Until 2019, the Florida Trail exited Seminole State Forest at the Cassia Trailhead, requiring over two miles of road walk along SR 44 to get to the next part northbound.
The trail has since been relocated, now only requiring a little over 200 feet along the highway before you cross it to the north and return to the woods.
Orange blazed trees mark the trail as it heads down a forest road for a half mile while slowly shifting to a scrub habitat.
Blackened bone-white skeletons of large oaks stand in contrast to fresh, bright green sand pines. After crossing two more boardwalks, the trail intersects with paved Coconut Avenue.
A local homeowner has constructed a sort of rest stop here, complete with chairs and a palm frond shelter.
The next two miles follow old roads in the pine flatwoods. They appear to have been planned at some point as part of the Royal Trails neighborhood before becoming state forest lands.
As the trail winds northwestward, the terrain becomes more desert-like, with soft sugar sand underfoot.
Most of this trekking is done on roads, except for one short diversion into a spectacular example of rosemary scrub habitat.
Leaving this habitat and continuing for 0.2 mile, a blue side trail leads to Sawgrass Fill Camp, an open spot for camping with access to a nearby pond for water.
After crossing Maggie Jones Rd in another 0.7 mile, the trail traces the edge of a prickly-pear cactus covered meadow, then returns to the road.
A half-mile road walk on Maggie Jones Rd leads to a forest gate on the left, where the trail follows a forest road to the boundary of Camp La-No-Che.
The next two and a half miles of trail traverse private property, the largest Boy Scouts of America camp in the state.
Depending on the time of year, tarflower may be in bloom and attracting pollinators, while pileated woodpeckers swoop from tree to tree overhead.
After passing the Rybolt pump house, which has a spigot that can be used as a water source, the trail meanders through an oak hammock, then crosses Boy Scout Road.
For a half mile, the trail navigates through a grassy pasture noted as a gopher tortoise habitat.
A variety of interesting flowers dot this landscape including paw paws, pinewoods milkweed, thistles, and passion vines.
Reaching the opposite end of the field, pass through a gate to meet and cross CR 42, which leads into the small town of Paisley to the east.
Continue into the Ocala National Forest on the north side of CR 42 for another quarter mile, walking through the sandhills to reach the Clearwater Lake trailhead to end this 14.2 mile hike.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Seminole State Forest
Learn more about the Florida Trail, Orlando section
See our photos from the Cassia section
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
A short distance from the bustling metropolis of Orlando, the Sulphur Island Loop Trail explores one of Florida’s endangered ecosystems, the scrub.
Explore the Wekiva River and Black Water Creek floodplains on this lengthy loop hike in Seminole State Forest
Trail Map (PDF) Hunt Dates Official Website