In its mile-wide sweep across a swath of Central Florida, the Cross Florida Greenway hits an interruption just a few miles north of Belleview.
The community of Santos was “in the way” during the construction of the Cross Florida Ship Canal in the 1930s. Emptied of its African-American residents, only the name and a historic church remains to commemorate the small town.
Since building the canal meant cutting down trees and leveling hills, most of the lands you cross are covered in second or third growth forests, and there are many old pastures where cattle used to graze.
You see “the middens of Marion County,” too, as the trail parallels the Baseline Landfill for some time.
While this section of the Florida Trail is surrounded by suburbia, you won’t see much of it along the hike.
Listen to the woodpeckers and pine warblers, enjoy the longleaf pines rising against bright blue skies, and imagine how many people within earshot of this sliver of forest don’t even know it’s here.
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Length: 5.1 miles linear
Trailhead: 29.105688, -82.094217
Restroom: at both trailheads
Land manager: Cross Florida Greenway
This is the most urban section of the Cross Florida Greenway and includes a short roadwalk through Santos. Random camping is not recommended due to the proximity to neighborhoods.
If you are backpacking, you’ve likely already talked to the folks at the Cross Florida Greenway office about your hiking plans. Use their recommendations. No designated campsites are provided in this segment other than the Santos Campground that adjoins the trailhead.
Santos Campground is a pleasant stop for long distance hikers. It offers showers, potable water, and picnic tables with your campsite. An outfitter with snacks and protein bars is just outside the gates.
Santos Trailhead: located just west of the intersection of US 441 and SE 80th Avenue, at the traffic light with the Santos Sheriff Station, 3 miles north of Belleview along US 441. Park your vehicle near the restrooms close to the campground rather than at the larger parking area which serves the mountain biking trails.
The Baseline Trailhead (easternmost point) is 5.7 miles north of Belleview via SR 35 just north of the intersection of SR 464 (Maricamp Road) and SR 35 (Baseline Road) in Silver Springs Shores, to the east of Ocala and south of Silver Springs.
An intermediate access point, the Historic Santos Recreation Area, is east of the Santos Sheriff Station along SE 80th Avenue and should be used as your starting point if you prefer not to cross the four lanes of busy US 441 when day hiking this section. Exit the parking area at the ballfields near the picnic pavilion to SE 80th Ave to catch the trail as it emerges for a short roadwalk through historic Santos.
From the Santos Trailhead, a blue blaze behind the restrooms leads into a shady stretch of forest, connecting you to the main ribbon of the Florida Trail. At the trail junction, there is a trail register. Turn left and follow the orange blazes through the Santos Campground.
The Florida Trail emerges from the woods to cross busy US 441. There are no signs to alert drivers that hikers cross the road here, but traffic is high speed and one-way, southbound. Be careful as you cross.
Entering a patch of laurel oak forest in a very broad median island between the two segments of highway, the trail comes up to a large concrete bridge abutment. This is a relic of construction of the Cross Florida Ship Canal. A side trail showcases the history of this project.
After you pass the kiosk, the orange blazes lead you to the northbound lanes of US 441. Cross carefully and re-enter the forest on the western side of the highway.
The trail works its way around the Santos Ballfields complex through the laurel oak forest before emerging at SE 80th Avenue at an at-grade railroad crossing.
This is a very active rail line, so stop, look, and listen before you cross to the north side of the road. You are now on a roadwalk through what remains of the historic African-American community of Santos, most of which was displaced anticipating the construction of the canal, which never happened.
One of the few community icons that remains is a beautiful little church set under the live oaks. The area is primarily residential and the road is busy, so keep to the berm. The road swings left and changes road numbers. Passing a nursery, keep watch for where the Florida Trail returns to the woods on the left. You’ve hiked 1.3 miles.
Enter another climax forest of laurel oak, where the trees are tall and spindly. Laurel oaks grow quickly but are short-lived, so they tend to rain down branches.
The ground slopes away as the trail winds its way through the woods into a narrowing corridor where you pass mats of deer moss on white sand. It emerges at a road crossing at the corner of SE 73rd St and SE 41st Ct, where a prominent sign to the right (and industrial noise beyond) announces the entrance to Marion County’s one and only landfill.
Cross the intersection and head for the Florida Trail sign to the left of the landfill sign. Passing through an old farm fence, the trail turns left and winds through a narrow ribbon of forest between the adjacent road and old pastureland, passing beneath a grand old sand live oak that you must duck under.
Turning away from the road, the trail emerges into a old field, crossing a fire lane down a corridor of blackberry bushes, where young longleaf pines are emerging from dense grasses. Crossing another firebreak, the trail enters another sliver of laurel oak forest dividing two old fields, turning left.
The trail pops back out into an open field where more young longleaf rises from a dense thicket of blackberries. Off to the right are the mounds of the Baseline Landfill in the distance, rising like a series of far-off mountain ridges.
Crossing another Jeep trail, the trail ambles past longleaf and slash pine and Florida myrtle that casts off puffs of white in fall. The land undulates underfoot but the footpath is a comfortable base of pine duff and soft grass.
In the midst of this field, the trail comes up to a small hammock and makes a sharp left, heading through the former pastures towards the next ribbon of trees in the distance. It’s sandhills with a smattering of loblolly bay and Southern magnolia, a shady respite.
Emerge into another field of longleaf pine with a noticeable downhill slope to another distant treeline, crossing a firebreak with a sweeping view of the landfill off to the right before it heads back into the shady forest.
At 3 miles, the trail reaches a confusion of footpaths in the midst of the forest. You see a house off to the left through the trees. Follow the blazes carefully across an old road; they lead to a railroad track deep in a cut. Carefully cross this rail line and clamber up the far side into sandhill habitat with its turkey oaks and wiregrass.
The trail makes a sharp right to parallel the track briefly, then turns left into the woods. You soon emerge at an open area on the edge of Rotary Park, a county park that primarily is used in the evenings for ballfields. There are restrooms with potable water, but they are generally locked during the day.
Walking behind the berm separating the park from the privately owned section of forest, you come up to a fence at a pasture. Follow the blaze posts across the open pasture to return to the shade of the oaks.
The next forest is the most untouched along this stretch of trail. It’s a descent down rolling hills, sandhills with a haze of wiregrass as a base and turkey oaks and longleaf pines above. To your left are live oaks and laurel oaks in groupings. Deer moss peeps out from the wiregrass. One lonely cabbage palm rises next to the trail.
The canopy lifts and the understory opens up enough for you to hear the hum of cars and see flashes of light in the distance as you reach Baseline Road. The trail guides you to a pedestrian underpass.
Once on the east side of Baseline Road, the trail continues through the grassy right of way to the next underpass, this one under Maricamp Road. The path is well worn as it emerges on the north side of the highway and leads you towards Baseline Trailhead.
See our photos of the Florida Trail, Santos to Baseline
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
6.7 miles. Between the Land Bridge Trailhead and Santos, the Florida Trail winds its way around horse farms to meander through stands of oaks and pines.
The shortest trail on the Cross Florida Greenway interprets nearly a century’s worth of efforts to dig a canal across the Florida peninsula and split it in two.
With miles of twisting, winding off-road bicycle trails that dip into old limestone pits, the Santos Trails south of Ocala are a mecca for cyclists who enjoy riding through the woods