Flanking the banks of the Econlockhatchee River, a ribbon of wilderness protects a swath of forests edged on one side by suburbia, on the other by ranchland. It is the Little-Big Econ State Forest, more than 5,000 acres of uplands and cypress swamps along this floodplain river, a sinuous waterway with tall bluffs and many tributaries. Along its 10-mile journey through the forest, the Florida Trail offers one of the most rugged hikes in the Orlando area, dipping into a broad range of habitats along the way.
Length: 10 miles, with shorter hikes possible
Lat-Long: 28.667006, -81.176692 (Lockwood Blvd), 28.687403, -81.159278 (Barr Steet), 28.649219,-81.129719 (Snow Hill Road), 28.653077, -81.096552 (Brumley Rd)
Fees / Permits: fee for parking at Barr Street trailhead
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Bug factor: moderate
While other parts of Little-Big Econ State Forest permit hunting during hunting seasons, this portion, which includes the Florida Trail corridor, does not.
CAUTION: If the river is high, the trail will flood in many places, including the side channels. Do not attempt this hike if water is flowing across the trail at any point.
This hike starts where the Florida Trail crosses Lockwood Blvd on the edge of Oviedo. From either Geneva Rd (SR 426) or Chuluota Rd (SR 419), drive down Lockwood Rd to where you see the tall power lines. The trail starts here on the east side of the road. There is no formal parking area, but hikers park on the broad grassy shoulder.
The official trailhead at Barr Street is 0.8 miles east of Lockwood Blvd along Geneva Rd (SR 426), on the right hand side. There is a per person usage fee.
The end of this section is at the trail crossing at Brumley Rd in Chuluota. To find Brumley Rd, follow Geneva Rd east from Lockwood Blvd in Oviedo towards Chuluota for 3.1 miles. After you pass Geneva Wilderness Area, turn right on Old Mims Rd. Turn right on Snow Hill Rd. Follow Snow Hill Rd for 4.7 miles, passing through the tiny community of Snow Hill into Little-Big Econ State Forest and back out again into the suburban edge of Chuluota. Turn left at the first turnout after the curve onto Avenue H. Make the second left onto Brumley Rd, which twists and winds for a mile until it comes to a T intersection. Turn left. Continue 0.4 mile to the trail crossing. Park on the right side of the road.
For the Snow Hill Road trailhead, follow the above directions to Brumley Rd but don’t turn off Snow Hill Road. You’ll see the trailhead sign on the right about 1/2 mile past the turnoff in Chuluota for Avenue H.
You start off from the shoulder of Lockwood Blvd, where there is ample parking near the power lines. A kiosk, just tucked back in the woods a little, provides an overview of Little Big Econ State Forest. There are many bog bridges as you walk through wet flatwoods. You can see side trails here and there into the bogs, where local botany students poke around. The trail crosses a long, narrow bridge with no easy way to pass an oncoming hiker. After the far end of the bridge you see your first “LE” sign. There are many of them along this trail, somewhat of a distraction, placed here to help emergency responders and people who get lost. This is suburbia, after all.
The trail corridor is narrow, trapped between fences due to development pressures, as it passes a large retention pond beyond the fence on the right, meandering through scrubby flatwoods with a boggy understory. The trail follows this corridor straight as an arrow, nicely shaded by sweetgum, oaks, and pines, before coming to a five-way junction of trails. Look to the left, where the orange blazes lead you at a diagonal into the forest, a palm and oak hammock dense with bromeliads in the trees.
After a half mile, just past the LE 26 marker, you come to a little bridge crossing a sand-bottomed, tannic tributary flowing towards the river. This is the first of many tributary crossings along the hike. Cypress knees rise from a bowl. The saw palmetto are of significant size. Not far after the bridge there is a bench on the left, a beauty spot, and that sound you hear is a cascade – Boonie Falls, Oviedo’s own natural waterfall, named for iconic trail maintainer Boonieman, who started sharing local trail information online before I got around to it. Granted, it’s not a tall cascade but it sure is pretty.
You start to see patches of wild coffee and larger patches of cinnamon fern growing alongside the trail. In this tangled jungle of palm and oak within the Econ River floodplain, all of the plants are very lush. The trails reaches a T junction with an incoming trail from the right out of the pine flatwoods, and turns to the left to follow another feeder stream. You pass a bridge that’s been abandoned since the most recent trail re-route, and continue along this side of the narrow creek. Beyond the LE 25 marker, the footpath drops down through a drainage that may flood seasonally, then swings to the right to follow a straightaway into drier habitats, with blueberry bushes, oaks, and magnolias. Passing by some very weathered and worn fenceposts with bits of barbed wire dangling from them, you see a weathered and worn orange blaze. The trail veers away from the fenceline and continues to climb into scrub habitat.
By 0.8 mile, you reach a trail junction at the LE 23 sign with a sandy trail that goes off to the right into the scrub. The Florida Trail crosses at a diagonal, climbing into the scrub in the shade of silk bay and rusty lyonia. You can peek out of this tunnel to the left and see where the forest has grown in, with tall pines along the scrub’s edge. The trail does a nice job of snaking through the scrub forest, where masses of carolina jessamine hang from the oaks and red blanket lichen swarm up the branches. It is both scrubby and lush, thanks to its proximity to the river basin. Slipping through the scrub, the trail passes the LE 21 sign and comes to a T junction at 1.2 miles. It turns left, leaving the scrub for an oak hammock where there is a big gopher tortoise burrow.
At the next T junction, at the LE 24 marker, make a left at the double blaze. Cross over a tributary and as you come up the old road, the trail swings off it to the right into the open palm hammock. There are citrus trees growing at random throughout the forest, with dangling fruit just barely out of reach. The habitat transitions out of high canopied oak hammock, leading the trail back into a tunnel of scrub forest, with giant vines dangling down to the footpath. At 1.7 miles, you reach a 4-way trail junction in front of the LE 19 marker. Continue straight ahead as the trail works its way downhill through the scrub. Coming up on a clearing with a sand road through it, you encounter the first place that the trail is within sight of the river – you can see it sparkle in the distance to the right. The trail will soon swing out towards it, so no need to follow that road.
The trail continues through a narrow, winding corridor in the scrub. At 2 miles, marker LE 18, there are signs of a campsite within sight of the river. This is not a designated camping spot but certainly a popular one. It doesn’t take long, past that open grassy spot, for the trail to swing out along the river bluffs, providing mighty fine views. There is a spot on the right with a bit of a beach when the river is low, and you can scramble down to it from the trail. A cabbage palm rests its trunk on the ground, curving upward to form a bench of sorts. It’s here that the trail starts its “difficult” phase, climbing in and out of side channels through a very undulating landscape. Cabbage palms and oaks shade the footpath as it drops down and around depressions that were once a part of the river.
After crossing between two depressions, the trail reaches a T intersection where it turns right to head back out towards the river for a short stretch. Weaving back into the palm hammock along a tributary, you cross the Penny Troll Bridge, another F-Troop effort, before emerging at a T intersection with a forest road. Turn right to follow the orange blazes past a designated campsite on the left, just beyond the trees. Crossing a spray of white gravel, the trail continues into the shade of a hardwood hammock, where it reaches the T intersection with the trail out to the Barr Street Trailhead. You’ve hiked 2.8 miles.
Continue straight ahead to cross the Salt Creek bridge. The trail emerges into a former pasture planted in pines, making a right to stay close to the creek. It reaches the Econlockhatchee River at the Boy Scout Camp, a fire ring and bench on a high bluff. The bluff provides a nice panorama of the river, which is tannic but translucent.
Turn left at the campsite. Shaded by overhanging trees, the trail follows the river bluffs. A memorial bench overlooks a bend of the river where Virginia willows crowd the far shore. Follow the trail as it swings left, back to the old pasture, where it passes another undesignated campsite with a side trail to the water. The trail plays tag with the forest road briefly before it heads into the shady river bluff forest. When you reach the tributary on the right, look down and you’ll see the crossed palms, a landmark along this section. They’re easy to miss from this direction.
Pushing palm fronds aside as if you’re walking through a jungle, you come to where the trail curves to the right and follows the creek along a narrow path between the tall palms. Sparkleberry and highbush blueberry arch over the trail as it rises into a stretch of scrub forest. Just after a side trail to a river overlook at 4 miles, you reach the junction with the Kolokee Trail, a white-blazed loop that is part of the Florida State Forest Trailwalker program. Stay on the orange blazes.
Pulling away from the river again, the trail loops around a swale filled with saw palmetto.Roots form stairs in the trail as it gets close to the next tributary. You pass an enormous slash pine with a large catface scar from turpentine tapping. Southern magnolia forms the lower canopy, fragrant in June with its dinner-plate sized blossoms. The trail works its way back to the bluffs, providing excellent views before it turns left. You cross a long bridge at 4.2 miles. As the trail returns to the bluffs, be cautious of your footing, as the path is narrow and rooty. The footpath works its way around a large cutoff oxbow of the river, between floodplains.There’s a sharp curve around this oxbow, clambering up a bluff. Pass through a young forest of pines and cedars. When the water is low, a bit of a beach at 4.6 miles makes a beautiful spot to set up a tent. A big oak dips its limbs down right to the river.
At marker LE 43, you cross a bridge that is well above a deep tributary. You must step up and down off the ends of the bridge. The trail continues under a towering slash pine with a big round base before rounding a floodplain marsh and descending into scrubby habitat. Thickets of saw palmetto surround the trail before it swings out to the river again. Passing an LE 40 sign, the trail dips down and scrambles through an old tributary. Another whopping huge pine has roots so knotted you could mistake them for cypress knees in the footpath. Crossing a tall bridge, you turn the corner towards the river and you see the big bridge over the Econlockhatchee River. The trail continues along the bluffs, passing a bench, to reach the bridge.
The bridge is where several trails intersect. The Flagler Trail crosses the bridge, heading north to Geneva and south to Chuluota. The Kolokee Trail comes in from the left via the Flagler Trail. An equestrian trail also comes in from the left. Turn right, as the Florida Trail crosses the Econ using this bridge and begins following the Flagler Trail, a multiuse trail, for a stretch. This broad boulevard is thanks to Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, Kissimmee Valley Extension, completed in 1914. Flagler created the Chuluota Land Company, transferring 11,000 acres of marsh, prairie, and pines to it from his Model Land Company, but even with rail access, they couldn’t find takers. The land company folded, as did the railroad extension. After you cross the river, you’ll see original pilings for the railroad bridge over the Econ to the left of the trail. A bench provides a place to rest before you cross a long bridge.
Clambering up a soft, sandy hill, the trail continues to follow the broad Flagler Trail. You’ll see mountain bike trails coming in from the left, near a bunch of signs. The Florida Trail follows the old railroad line, passing LE 64 on the left, where there is a gate on the right. The trail tunnels under the trees, cloaked in deep shade as the corridor narrows. The adjoining habitats are scrubby flatwoods and floodplain forest. Passing a squat green “Cross Seminole Trail” post, you see plenty of palms in the hydric hammock. At 5.9 miles, you reach a trail junction with a bench. A marker to the left points to a mountain biking trail.
After another stretch of palms and floodplain forest full of cypress with deeply fluted bases – the trail well above any soggy spots thanks to the old railbed – the trail gains a bit of elevation and you finally bid adieu to Flagler’s legacy as the Florida Trail turns off the Flagler Trail to the left and scrambles over an embankment. (It’s 1.2 miles farther on the Flagler Trail at this junction to the Snow Hill Road trailhead). Turning left at 6.3 miles to follow the orange blazes, you past a few nice camping spots as the trail winds past a double-trunked pine and some blueberry bushes into an oak scrub with a dense understory of saw palmetto. Bromeliads and orchids grow in the trees.
Transition into a dense and beautiful river hammock with many Southern magnolias, sparkleberry, and rusty lyonia. You pass a LE 78 marker amid a swarm of sword ferns under the cabbage palms. Watch for blazes through this section, as it could flood, evident from the size of the rootballs around the bases of the cabbage palms. Large oak trees and sweetgums provide shade. Gaining a little elevation again, the trail tunnels through stretches of scrubby thick understory amid a sea of saw palmetto. At 6.8 miles, the trail jogs left and uphill past the LE 80 sign beneath an enormous live oak. This area has a very open understory and a lot of tall trees, so watch for blazing as you dive into a palm hammock, passing a concrete tube, perhaps a test well, inserted into the loam. Walking amid a small wild citrus grove, you’re tempted to pick the fruits, but we can tell you from experience they are sour. Just past the orange and grapefruit are many clumps of needle palm, a shiny, soft-fronded native palm with a deeper green than saw palmetto. It’s more cold-tolerant, too.
The trail traverses a swampy area, which happened to be dry when we crossed. A riot of ferns and fungi fill the forest floor, along with groupings of toothed-rein orchids. Climbing out of the swamp, you enter a high, dry open palm hammock. The trail becomes linear as if it is following an old road. Just past the LE 82 marker is a big bridge, built on an old concrete base, as to confirm that thought. It crosses a broad waterway, Jones Creek. After crossing the bridge, the trail reaches a barbed wire fence property boundary, goes through another swarm of sword fern, and tacks through another swampy drainage area with needle palms and cabbage palms with even bigger rootballs. Passing a citrus tree with pomelo-sized grapefruit, the trail winds through the ferns back to the fenceline and stays close to it for a while, along the edge of a ranch.
Finally rising out of the floodplain, you enters an oak scrub around 7.4 miles. Coming to a T junction with an old sand road, the trail turns right and immerses you in sand pine scrub, where you cross a bog on a long plank bog bridge. Climbing into a diminutive scrub, the trail winds amid deer moss, between myrtle oaks and rusty lyonia. You hear the rumble of cars in the distance. At the next T intersection, turn right to continue walking through the scrub, with a bayhead off to the right. Making a sharp right at marker LE 90, the trail follows Snow Hill Road, hidden from traffic by a screen of trees. You emerge at the road at the 8 mile mark. The trail turns right, goes up the shoulder briefly to circumvent a pond, and then crosses over the road to the left.
Passing through a gateway of saw palmetto, the trail turns right and joins an old forest road briefly before popping off it and back into a tunnel of saw palmetto under the sand live oaks. Crossing a firebreak, you enter a mix of oak scrub and sandhill. The two habitats struggle for control; sandhill wins out as the trail gains a little elevation again, crossing the firebreak twice more. Pine needles create a soft cushion underfoot as you walk beneath longleaf pines and turkey oaks. Crossing the next firebreak at 8.5 miles, you see a hiker symbol sign at a T junction where the trail turns to the right.
Shaded as it heads down a corridor of oak scrub, the trail follows the ecotone between scrub and bayhead for the next stretch before it makes a jog to the right, crossing the firebreak, to re-enter the sandhills. The trail stays close to the rim of oak scrub, which provides shade. Around 8.8 miles, the understory is very open and flat, a good place to pitch a tent, although no water sources are nearby. Crossing an old road, you can see fenceline off to the right. The trail drops down to the edge of a bayhead; you can see where drainage canals were dug by hand to drain this higher ground into the swamp.
Walking beneath a canopy of taller water oaks on a saw palmetto-lined corridor, you pass another nice flat, open piece of understory. At the Y intersection, keep to the right to stay on the Florida Trail, heading into scrubby flatwoods. The trail rises up into a forest of soft young sand pines that would make delightful Christmas trees. By 9.2 miles you start to see the rooflines of houses off to the right as you near Chuluota. Passing an LE 95 sign, the footpath drops down through the first of several bayhead swamps, some with mushy spots to walk through and palmetto roots to trip over, most with long planked bog bridges. They come up in very quick succession. Keep alert, and you may spot pitcher plants and terrestrial orchids through this section, depending on the time of year. Islands between the bridges host pines of enormous size.
As the trail draws close to the property line on the right, you reach a double-blaze around the corner of a fenceline and can see a private tennis court, a strange juxtaposition to these swampy spots you’re tromping through. The sky opens up as you emerge into a narrow slice of pasture, which guides the Florida Trail to the trail crossing at Brumley Road. The Mills Creek section starts on the far side of the road. You’ve hiked 10 miles.