Bridging an immense expanse of pine flatwoods bisected by floodplain forests, the orange-blazed Florida Trail crosses Tosohatchee Reserve, a 28,000 acre tract of lands protecting the western edge of the St. Johns River floodplain. Walk through one of the state’s oldest slash pine forests and along the virgin cypress swamp at Jim Creek; stand beneath a canopy of ancient live oaks along a tannic creek. Side trails – the White Loop and the Yellow Loop – create loop possibilities for weekend backpacking. See the map at the bottom of the page for details.
Length: 10.0 miles
Lat-Long: 28.498500, -80.996750
Fees / Permits: $3 per person
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Bug factor: moderate to high
Expect to wade if the St. Johns River is high. Mosquitoes can be extreme at times. Tosohatchee WMA is managed by FWC, so be aware of hunting seasons. If you hike here during hunting season, wear a bright orange shirt or vest.
Most of the roads in the reserve have deep soft sand and may not be passable by passenger cars. Weekend backpackers must make reservations in advance for use of the campsites.
From SR 50 in Christmas, follow Taylor Creek Rd south to the park entrance on the left. Stop and pick up a park map, and drive in to the trailhead parking on Powerline Rd. The south end of the trail can also be accessed from the end of Yates Rd off SR 520; do not block the gate.
The White Loop (see details) includes 8 miles of the 10 miles of this hike.
From the Yates Road gate, follow the orange blazes north as it leaves the fenceline and follows an old berm along ditches on the property boundary, where you’ll see the showy blooms of water-loving plants like duck potato and wild iris. The trail heads to higher ground under the tall pines. Turning to the east, it parallels one of the preserve’s many sand roads before crossing Fish Hole Road. If you want to make a side trip, the virgin cypresses at Jim Creek are roughly a mile south on Fish Hole Road.
You reach the junction with the White Loop after 1.3 miles. Turn left. The habitat is a mix of pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods, and scrub, where you might see a black racer basking on a log, or a flock of wild turkeys picking through the palmettos. Luscious blueberries and blackberries abound in late spring. Watch for the signage for Tiger Branch primitive campsite (no access to water).
Hiking north, you reach a well-signed trail junction with the Yellow Loop. Turn right. The next section of trail is the most beautiful part of the Tosohatchee Reserve, where massive live oaks and enormous slash pines create a near-unbroken canopy over your head. Red berries dangle from gnarled yaupon hollies, and a dense thicket of saw palmetto claims the understory. Between these live oak hammocks, the trail works its way in and out of mazes of cabbage palms in the river floodplain.
A trailhead marks the trail crossing at Power Line Road, at 5.4 miles. Continue north under the power line and follow the blazes back into the pine flatwoods. Wildflowers generate clouds of color – purple deer’s tongue, yellow goldenrod, and white sabatia – that hover scant feet above the forest floor. Two more side trails lead to additional parking areas along Power Line Road. You reach the northern junction with the White Loop at 8.1 miles. Turn right and stay with the orange blazes.
Passing a blue-blazed side trail to the Youth Camp area, the trail continues across Tosohatchee Creek on a log bridge. The creek is the only 100% reliable water source along the trail in Tosohatchee Reserve. You reach the northern gate of the reserve after 10 miles, which exits to St. Nicholas Road.
CONNECTOR NORTH FOR SECTION/THRU HIKING
Continue north for 0.9 mile along St. Nicholas Road (rural residential, with dogs) to SR 50. Services are to the east within a half mile (conv store, BBQ, post office). Cross SR 50 and pass the Christmas RV Park (tent camping not allowed, but potable water available) and follow the orange blazes up the road to the left of the RV park to reach the boundary gate to Seminole Ranch WMA, with a small parking area, after 1.1 mile.