Hiking through the Orlando metro – four counties, including Osceola, Orange, Seminole, and Lake – means a strong sense of contrasts between wild and urban.
It’s surprising just how wild the segments of the Florida Trail on public lands are through this section, following an arc that parallels the St. Johns River and its tributaries.
With the exception of two days of roadwalk through a vast cattle ranch and two days of urban paved trails, this section shows off nature at its finest.
There are hammocks of ancient live oaks and towering cabbage palms, vast pine savannas, desert-like scrub forests, and bogs with terrestrial orchids and pitcher plants.
Easily accessed from a variety of trailheads, these segments are popular destinations on the weekends, particular for the large number of hikers living in the Orlando metro area and on Florida’s Space Coast.
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CAMPING AND LODGING
While not required by any land manager, we think it prudent to bear bag or use a canister when backpacking this section. Bears frequently raid garbage cans at homes near the public lands that the Florida Trail passes through.
Designated campsites are provided along this section of trail. You need to use them, particularly at Forever Florida, Tosohatchee, Bronson State Forest, and Seminole State Forest, where permits and payment are required.
Along the paved Cross Seminole Trail segment, there is only one designated campsite, but hikers have access to several hotels within a few miles of US 17/92 in Sanford and in two places in Lake Mary.
Along the Deseret Ranch roadwalk, discreet camping is possible on the eastern side of Nova Road (north of Deer Park Road) behind clumps of trees.
Under no circumstances should you hop any fences in this stretch for camping or water. It is also possible to camp at the Taylor Creek Loop.
Leashed dogs are welcome along this section of the trail except at privately owned Forever Florida / Crescent J Ranch. If you bring your dog with you, be mindful of the alligator population at water sources.
Bears roam all through this region, especially along the corridor of wilderness between the Ocala National Forest and Wekiwa Springs, as well as the St. Johns River basin.
Very large alligators have been reported along the trail in Bull Creek WMA. We’ve seen them hanging out along the sandy beaches of the Econlockhatchee River as well.
Water availabity varies tremendously along this section. Surface water and potable sources can be found in Forever Florida and Bull Creek WMA.
All surface waters are suspect along the roadwalk through Deseret Ranch because of cattle ranching and the application of biosolids – dried human waste – on fields. Only Taylor Creek is trustworthy.
Swamps and ditches are the primary sources in Tosohatchee and Seminole Ranch, except for Tootosohatchee Creek.
Bronson State Forest has flowing streams, and the Little Big Econ State Forest has the Econlockhatchee River.
Potable water sources are all along the Cross Seminole Trail. Once you return to the woods, swamps, streams, and springs offer up their bounty.
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons. Check the FWC website for hunting season dates for Three Lakes WMA, Bull Creek WMA, Tosohatchee Reserve, Seminole Ranch WMA, Bronson State Forest, and Seminole State Forest.
Because this section circles around the Orlando metro, you have plenty of resupply opportunities once you reach SR 50 in Christmas. Be sure to resupply in Paisley for the full Ocala National Forest stretch.
Lake Mary is the last stop where you’ll hit a full-service grocery store right next to the trail until you’re within the last 50 miles of the Northern Terminus of the trail.
Should you have gear issues, there are two outfitters in the Orlando area that can be reached by bus or by foot from where the trail passes through Longwood and Lake Mary: Travel Country Oufitters in Altamonte Springs on SR 436 and REI Winter Park, which is along the bus line you can catch below the bridge over US 17-92.
PARKING & SHUTTLE
The Orlando metro is one of the easier places to reach the Florida Trail from out of state. You can fly in to the Orlando International Airport from just about anywhere and have a cab or car service take you out to Christmas.
Lynx bus routes connect the airport with where the trail crosses US 17/92 in Winter Springs. The Sunrail train system gets you within a few miles of the trail in Longwood and Lake Mary.
This section has a lot of trailheads, but it is also along one of Florida’s largest metro areas. Use caution leaving cars overnight.
If you need a shuttle, join the Florida Trail Hikers Facebook group and ask for assistance. There are a number of volunteers in the area who can help. Be sure to compensate them for their gas and time.
Flooding is a concern along the St. Johns River floodplain. t times the river and its tributaries may be high enough to inundate the trail past the point where it is safe to wade it.
At Bull Creek WMA and in Tosohatchee Reserve, the white-blazed western side of each loop serves as a drier alternate route to the Florida Trail.
If you waded into Seminole Ranch north to Wheeler Road, best to roadwalk from the Wheeler Road trailhead to the Joshua Creek trailhead to avoid deep water in Bronson State Forest.
Additionally, the Econlockhatchee River can swamp its banks. Do not hike that section in flood stage. Check this gauge before you hike.
At 30 miles, the roadwalk between Bull Creek WMA and Tosohatchee WMA is one of the longer ones on the Florida Trail.
While both ends are along busy highways, US 192 has a broad shoulder. Most of your mileage is through Deseret Ranch, which has narrow roadwalks and more limited traffic.
The walk from the end of the Seminole-Wekiva Trail to Seminole State Forest is now quite a mess because of construction of a toll road and bridges over the Wekiva River.
From Christmas north through the Wekiva River, this is a heavily populated region. You’ll be walking through all sorts of neighborhoods along the bike path through Seminole County.
Use street smarts. Don’t leave your pack or gear unattended in these urban areas. If you run into uncomfortable situations, especially at trailheads, don’t hesitate to call law enforcement.
We have not yet written up all of the segments of the Florida Trail along the Orlando for our website. Details about them can be found in our guidebook and app.
Each of the segments below are described from the perspective of a day hiker, noting landmarks, water, and campsites along the way. Not all are oriented south to north. However, these listed northbound through the section.
Florida Trail Connections
These sections of the Florida Trail connect to the Orlando section.
111.3 miles. Following the Kissimmee River floodplain, this is a scenic section of the Florida Trail with a mix of levees, shady woods, river views, open prairies, and cattle ranches.
241 miles. With segments linking Withlacoochee State Forest and the Cross Florida Greenway, the Western Corridor provides access to wild spaces between Tampa and Ocala
Related Parks and Trails
These parks and trails connect to or include a piece of the Florida Trail in their loops.
Florida Trail Videos (Orlando)
While The Senator is a charred stump, thanks to an arsonist, the grandeur of its surroundings at Big Tree Park – including a 2,000-year-old cypress – has reopened to the public.