CLOSED DANGEROUS flooding from Hurricane Ian as of Oct 1.
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 10,000 acres of uplands and cypress swamps along this floodplain river, a sinuous waterway with tall bluffs and many tributaries.
Along its nearly 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 spectrum of habitats along the way.
With multiple access points via side trails, this section of the trail can be traversed in a variety of ways. Our narrative below flows in a linear route south to north, from Chuluota to Oviedo.
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Length: 9.8 miles linear
Trailhead: 28.653099, -81.096733
Address: Brumley Rd, Chuluota
Fees: $3 parking at Barr Street trailhead
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Leashed dogs welcome. Insect repellent a must. Primitive campsites available at West Camp, must be reserved in advance.
No hunting is permitted in this part of Little Big Econ State Forest. Gunshots you hear near the southern part of the Flagler Trail are from a nearby shooting range.
The entire Flagler Trail is multi-use, shared with horses and cyclists. A network of off-road bike trails crisscrosses the linear Flagler Trail south of the river.
From SR 50 between Orlando and Christmas, turn north on Chuluota Rd (SR 419) and drive 4.9 miles north towards Oviedo. Turn right onto Lake Mills Rd in front of the Hitching Post Bar. Continue on Lake Mills Rd for 3 miles, passing Tropical Ave and Fort Christmas Rd before Lake Mills Rd makes a 90-degree left turn. Stay on it, passing the Panorama Trailhead of the Florida Trail. Lake Mills Rd becomes Brumley Rd and makes a hard right. Watch for the pulloff at the trail crossing. Parking is limited.
For shorter day hikes, the Barr Street trailhead (fee charged) is best for access to the trail in both directions. It’s along CR 426 (Geneva Rd) 3 miles northeast of downtown Oviedo. Additional (free) parking areas at Lockwood Blvd in Oviedo, Snow Hill Rd in Chuluota and at forest headquarters in Geneva, and at Geneva Wilderness Area are shown on the map.
Start your hike with downhill on a mowed path through a vast green meadow below Brumley Rd. Where the trail reaches treeline at the edge of this access easement, expect boggy ground.
Pine savanna bogs flank the trail at treeline. Entering the shade of a wet pine flatwoods, the trail is soon adjoined by clumps of cinnamon fern and sprays of saw palmetto.
While it remains close to a fenceline with houses on the opposite side, the trail burrows into bayhead habitat, which can be mucky underfoot after a rain.
Expect damp spots in the dark, rich earth before the traversing a series of long plank boardwalks through fern-rich bogs.
The lush understory spills right across the boardwalks, ferns and other vegetation obscuring what’s ahead on the planks.
There are spots where the boardwalks don’t extend far enough to keep your feet dry. On the high ground, pines tower overhead.
After a long triple-planked boardwalk surrounded by soft grasses and ferns, it’s obvious the trail is headed uphill.
It emerges from the bayhead and out of the treeline, crossing a firebreak at 0.7 mile. The trail continues to higher ground, a pine savanna with a thick understory of saw palmetto.
Cross a forest road that cuts through the savanna. Soon after, the trail enters a shaded corridor of oak scrub, with many young pines in the open understory.
After two more forest road crossings in quick succession, the habitat shifts to hardwood forest with a smattering of cabbage palms. Pass the LE-94 sign at 1.2 miles.
The trail winds between oak hammocks and the slightly higher ground of sandhills topped with turkey oaks, longleaf pine and wiregrass.
Beyond a forest road crossing where a forest road is also visible to the right, the trail arcs through sandhill on a promontory above a large sinkhole pond at 1.7 miles.
Meandering between turkey oaks and pines in the sandhill, the trail turns due north. The sounds of cars rushing past carry from nearby Snow Hill Rd.
At 2 miles, the trail exits a tunnel of scrub forest into saw palmettos and emerges at a crossing at this rural road. Be cautious of vehicles traveling high speed. Shoulder parking is very limited here.
Pass an LE-91 sign soon after the crossing. The trail opens up from the tunnel of oak scrub into a sand road through more diminutive scrub, where Florida scrub-jays might be spotted.
Watch for the signposted turnoff to the left at the LE-86 sign. This leads into another winding path through tiny scrub oaks, reaching a boardwalk through a bayhead swamp.
The trail hugs a ranch fence for a short stretch before entering the floodplain of Jones Creek. Cross the substantial bridge over this tannic waterway at 2.7 miles.
Drop into the floodplain again, rich black earth sometimes mucky in this palm hammock. Catch the scent of wild citrus in the breeze during the winter months.
This lush habitat of palms, ferns, and large live oaks surrounds the trail for some time. A concrete pipe offers a trailside curiosity.
Magnolias dominate the forest around 3 miles, yielding to an opening in the canopy where an old oak leans across the trail overhead. The LE-80 sign stands trailside in a palm hammock.
Deeply shaded by high canopy of oaks, the trail rambles through a forest floor made up of ferns, with bluestem palms and needle palms above them. A marsh sits off to the right, hidden by the understory.
Magnolias take over again by the LE-78 sign. The trail rises into another oak scrub before breaking into sandhill before the Flagler Trail junction at 3.8 miles.
At this perpendicular junction, the sign facing the way you came gives mileages and directions. The Snow Hill Rd trailhead is a mile and a quarter to the left. Turn right to continue on the orange blazes.
A multi-use path, the Flagler Trail follows the historic railbed of the Flagler Railroad extension to Chuluota, built in the early 1900s. It is a causeway flanked by swamps.
The well-established forest surrounding it creates a tunnel effect over the next mile, a gradient from hardwood swamps to higher ground on sandhill, where a bike trail network criss-crosses.
Pass a bench at this junction and continue through the shade uphill to where a bike path goes off to the right. The trail descends over long bridges shaded by willows.
The remains of the old railroad trestle piers adjoin the trail as it drops towards the Econlockhatchee River. The broad bridge offers excellent views up and downriver.
This is where trails come together for cyclists, equestrians, and hikers. The Kolokee Trail starts due north of the bridge, rejoining the FT to the north.
At 4.8 miles, make an immediate left on the north side of the bridge to stay on the FT. This next segment winds between river bluffs and oxbow swamps.
Bridges carry the FT over old hand-dug canals as well as tributaries that add their flow to the river. The dense hardwood forest is furry with bromeliads, thanks to the humidity created by all this water.
Riverfront views come as the trail follows the bluffs. As waters rise and erode the sand during periodic floods, the trail must be relocated frequently.
At the LE-43 sign, cross a bridge over a very deep channel of a tributary. When the trail swings to the river again, a small beach lies below the trail at 5.4 miles, accessible when water levels are low.
The trail winds inland from the river to cross a tall bridge at the LE-42 sign, and a smaller bridge as the footpath heads for the bluffs again.
Hickories dominate the forest as the footpath reaches the well-marked north end of the Kolokee Trail at 6.1 miles. This cross-trail enables a balloon-shaped loop hike out of several trailheads.
After a short stretch by the river, the trail follows another tributary upstream to a bridge. Downstream, you pass a set of crossed cabbage palms in the drainage.
Arcing away from the water, the trail joins a forest road in a stand of pines. The river is still visible through the vegetation to your left.
At 6.7 miles, West Camp starts. It’s the new designated camping area in the pines. Sites must be reserved in advance online. Water is available from the river at a beauty spot where a tributary flows in.
Beyond the series of campsites that make up West Camp, which includes a group site, the trail leaves the river to follow Salt Creek upstream
The 0.2 mile blue-blaze to the Barr Street trailhead is on the right immediately after the bridge, at 6.9 miles. Weaving off a forest road into a palm hammock, the trail crosses a slender bridge.
Working its way to the river again, it dips through bridged depressions and past bowls of cypress swamp. The landscape gets rugged, more undulating than before.
At 7.5 miles, a showy curved palm arcs over the trail where it stairsteps closer to river level. River views are expansive along this section.
In the hardwood forest, a patch of white at river level catches the eye. This beach lies well below the trail and takes some scrambling to get down to it.
More river views delight from the next stretch of bluffs, the last along this section of the Florida Trail. Reaching a junction with an old river road, turn left for a side trip to water’s edge.
This short detour at 7.8 miles provides a final beach, a beauty spot, the water easy to access, the edge of a near marsh lined with cypress knees. Be cautious of alligators.
Beyond the LE-18 sign, the trail enters a narrow, winding corridor in the scrub. Within a quarter mile, it passes one final glimpse of the river from far above.
It reaches a 4-way junction at 8.4 miles at the LE-19 sign. Follow the blazes uphill into more scrub forest. The trail crosses an old sand road and parallels it amid scrub and wild citrus trees.
You cross the old road again at the LE-21 sign, continuing through the corridor of scrub. Past the LE-23 sign, the habitat changes radically.
A waterway spills into a corner of a depression the trail crosses. The trail parallels this waterway through a lush palm hammock.
Cross a short boardwalk as the sound of tumbling water draws closer. You can see some cascades in the creek on the right through the palm fronds.
The trail gets rooty and sometimes mucky through this palm hammock. A side trail takes off to an open area on the left before the orange blazes lead to Boonie Falls at 9.1 miles.
This strong cascade through a knot of roots and cypress knees is noisy and always picturesque. A bench provides a perch from which to enjoy it.
Not far beyond the falls, another cascade spills into a waterway right next to a bridge the trail crosses. This one can be almost as noisy, but less visible.
The rooty palm hammock continues to a clearing where an LE-27 sign is prominent. So is the white sand bottom of a creek which didn’t exist six years ago.
Hydrological changes caused by development surrounding the forest have forced water flow into the Florida Trail, which makes a sharp right turn here to head uphill, in a new streambed.
This narrow strip of forest connects to the edge of busy Oviedo, so there is little wiggle room to move the trail. That’s evidenced by the lengthy boardwalks you soon encounter.
While on the plank boardwalk you can see a large retention pond off to the left within the pine flatwoods. All around you is water.
Twenty years ago, only the Wiley Boardwalk, the one with the railings, existed. The bog boardwalks before and after it were added in more recent years.
Trail’s end is up the corridor of pines, past an original FT kiosk and out to a power pole along Lockwood Blvd. A small parking corral provides the trailhead here.
While the 9.8 miles across Little Big Econ State Forest ends here, the Florida Trail continues northbound across Lockwood Blvd at the crosswalk, following a sidewalk into Oviedo.
We discovered that despite the blinking lights and the Florida law that motorists must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, no one even slowed down.
SOUTHBOUND: Mills Creek Woodlands
Learn more about Little Big Econ State Forest
See our video of this Florida Trail segment
See our photos from along this route
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
One of the lesser-known trails of Little Big Econ State Forest, Culpepper Bend leads you to an outstanding panorama where the Econlockhatchee River meets the St. Johns River.
As the Florida Trail follows the curve of the basin in which Mills Creek into a bowl of marshlands, enjoy old-growth trees and long boardwalks along this 2 mile hike
3.9 miles. Enjoy the natural beauty of habitat diversity along a scenic segment of the Florida Trail connecting Chuluota Wilderness and Bronson State Forest