With nearly 28,000 acres along the Wekiva River basin, Seminole State Forest is an integral part of a wildlife corridor stretching from the edge of Orlando to the Ocala National Forest.
Wildlife is always present here. It’s one of the more likely places near Orlando for you to see a bear. Florida scrub-jays thrive in an extensive scrub habitat that the south end of this hike traverses.
Sandhill cranes and flocks of turkeys gather in the open prairies near Boggy Creek Lake. You can surprise a deer almost anywhere, from the deeply shaded floodplains to the open pine flatwoods.
Diverse and fascinating, the Florida Trail through this section provides an easy escape from the Orlando metro into a richly textured landscape with multiple campsites for backpackers.
Length: 7.5 miles
Trailhead: 28.819203, -81.428048
Fees / Permits: $2 per person entrance fee
Restroom: Vault toilet at both trailheads
Land Manager: Florida Forest Service
Open 24 hours. Leashed pets welcome. Bicycles and horses are not permitted on the Florida Trail through this section. A network of graded forest roads provides access to the interior of the forest, but may have puddles or soft sand in spots. See the forest map to determine where you can drive.
Seasonal hunting occurs in Seminole State Forest, so check on hunting dates in advance. Wear bright orange if you choose to hike during hunts. Since hunting dates here are limited, hunters prefer that you stay out of the woods during those dates.
Backpackers must pay a an additional nightly fee for use of the four campsites along the Florida Trail and the Lower Wekiva Loop. Bears are frequently seen in this area. We strongly urge you to bear bag or use a bear canister.
Bear Pond trailhead: From Interstate 4 exit 101C at Sanford, take SR 46 west for 5.2 miles. After you cross the Wekiva River, look for the entrance to Seminole State Forest on the right. Continue 0.3 mile along the forest road – stopping at the self-service kiosk to pay the $2 day use fee – to park on the left.
Cassia trailhead: For the northern trailhead for this section, continue west on SR 46 from Bear Pond for 2.2 miles to the traffic light with SR 46A. Drive north 5.6 miles to the traffic light with SR 44. Turn right and go 5.1 miles east on SR 44 to Brantley Branch Road on the right. Turn right. The Cassia trailhead is on the right.
Starting out from the Bear Pond trailhead, walk through the gap in the fence past the kiosk where you can reserve a campsite (and pay a fee for it). Beyond a short stretch of pine flatwoods, oaks lean over the footpath, offering shade.
After 0.5 mile you cross a bridge over a creek. This is a water source for Shelter Camp, another quarter mile ahead. One of the few shelters on the Florida Trail, it has a large sleeping area and a nice clearing for tent camping.
Just beyond Shelter Camp is a trail register in a mailbox at the junction with the Lower Wekiva Loop, an alternate route closer to the Wekiva River floodplain. Sign in and continue along the orange blazes.
This stretch of scrub forest that the trail winds through is the most likely place for you to spot Florida scrub-jays. Look for bear tracks, too, in the sand.
Crossing a graded forest road, East Spur Road, at 2.2 miles, the trail reaches a vast prairie ecosystem. The landscape rolls on to the distant horizon as the trail curves northwest.
Past Main Grade Road, the major north-south vehicle access through the forest, the trail parallels it, crossing a small bridge over an ephemeral wetland in the scrubby flatwoods.
Joining Main Grade to continue north through the floodplain of Black Water Creek, you pass the incoming blazes of the Lower Wekiva Loop on the right, followed by blue blazes leading down to Blackwater Creek Camp, which sits on a bluff above the creek.
At 3.9 miles, cross Black Water Creek on the broad vehicular bridge. This creek is one of the biggest waterways feeding the Wekiva River. The trail follows Sand Road on the other side, sweeping past a picnic bench with a nice view of the creek.
At an intersection of roads, there is a kiosk and a horse trough. Keep right and follow the orange blazes into the woods. The trail follows an old railroad tramway for a stretch.
Passing a dry prairie pond, the trail parallels a forest road. Walking through a tight tunnel of saw palmetto, you emerge onto another old tramway, used for logging the ancient trees from this forest more than a century ago.
Keep alert for blazing through the next stretch as you cross a forest road and enter another stretch of sand pine scrub. The trail returns to the road, meeting the blue-blazed junction with the Sulphur Island Loop, a Trailwalker Trail.
Crossing the road, you enter Sulphur Camp at 5.2 miles. Easily reached by visitors in vehicles, it’s a clearing with picnic benches. Walk through it and look for the blue-blaze on the right. It’s worth taking a side trip down it.
The blue blaze leads downhill, narrowing and narrowing until it meets a crystalline waterway created by Shark Tooth Spring.
While you won’t run into them along the major trails, Seminole State Forest is home to many springs. Continue up the path to where it ends at the base of the spring, which like nearby Rock Springs, flows right out of rocks at the base of a bluff.
Back on the orange blazes, continue north as the trail loops over the headland above the spring basin. It is deep in pine duff as it climbs, reaching Pine Road at the crest.
You see the blue blazes of the Sulphur Island Loop again. Turn right, then right again to head downhill, following the orange blazes along Palatka Road as it curves through a showy floodplain.
Rising out of the floodplain forest on the other side, you meet a road junction at a kiosk. Turn left and follow the orange blazes west along this road. Keep alert for where they leave the road on the right.
You’re back on a footpath, climbing through a long corridor of saw palmetto to an open area, former pastureland near Boggy Creek Lake. A bench overlooks the lake at 6.5 miles.
After winding through a sand pine scrub, the trail follows the rim of a large prairie north of the lake. It’s here that you we’ve seen sandhill cranes on every visit.
Up along another corridor of saw palmetto, the trail curves around a large, well-established sinkhole and a big blueberry patch where we saw a mama and baby bear on one of our hikes.
Climbing uphill some more, you walk through a mixed hammock of pines and oaks. The footpath is soft and easy on the feet. It’s almost a shame it’s come to an end. Passing another trail register in a mailbox, you reach the Cassia trailhead at 7.5 miles.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Cassia
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, SR 46 roadwalk
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
Nearby Parks and Trails
Other parks and trails connecting to this route or within an easy drive nearby.
Explore the Wekiva River and Black Water Creek floodplains on this lengthy loop hike in Seminole State Forest
North of Orlando, Black Bear Wilderness Area in Sanford offers some of the best wildlife watching in the region on its loop along the St. Johns River.
Tubing down Rock Springs Run is why most folks show up at Kelly Park, but the Kelly Loop Trail is a nice dry way to see the waterway and wildlife.
Trail Map (PDF) Hunt Dates Official Website