Anchoring the western end of the Ocean-to-Lake section of the Florida Trail, DuPuis Reserve is accessed “the back way” by backpackers via the NENA (North Everglades Natural Area) Trailhead along US 441 between Port Mayaca and Canal Point. Between NENA and DuPuis Loop 3, a full day’s hike, you’ll spend much of your time hiking in pine flatwoods, zigzagging around and through cypress domes, ending at a pleasant campsite in the heart of the forest.
Location: Port Mayaca
Length: 7.8 miles
Lat-Long: 26.949959,-80.609974 to 26.926554,-80.542248
Fees / Permits: Free permit required for camping
Bug factor: moderate to rugged
DuPuis Reserve is managed by the South Florida Water Management District. Dogs are NOT permitted.
DuPuis is managed for wildlife by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and is extensively used by hunters during the fall and spring hunting seasons. It’s smart to check the FWC website before you plan your trip to ensure you’re not hiking in the middle of general gun season. If you are hiking during hunting season, even small game or turkey season, wear an orange vest or orange pack cover for safety’s sake.
The NENA Trailhead is in the middle of a rural area. It’s best to have someone drop you off there so your car doesn’t need to be parked here while you’re backpacking; better to keep your car at the end of the three-day hike at Corbett WMA’s Hungryland Slough Trailhead, with permission from the folks at the gate. Call ahead to ensure that leaving your car there is not a problem.
The NENA Trailhead, the only direct access point for this segment, is located along US 441 on the lake side of the highway 3 miles south of the junction of SR 76 and US 441 at Port Mayaca. Access to a portion of this trail is available via the main gate of DuPuis Reserve, but means a different route to traverse – the DuPuis Loops, not the Ocean-to-Lake Trail.
Your hike starts at the NENA Trailhead along US 441. From the parking area, cross US 441 – being aware that high-speed traffic doesn’t expect hikers crossing – and head down the berm to the barbed wire fence. Climb up and over, as there’s no stile in place yet, and you’ll come face-to-face with the Ocean-to-Lake sign. It’s one of many that’ll help you find your way on this journey. Turn left and work your way diagonally to the next fence beneath a large ficus tree. Climb up and over that and head for the limerock road you see disappearing off into the distance, leading east. The orange blazes are on small wooden markers. Bleached white and dusty, the road reflects sunlight back at you as you walk down it. To your left are beautiful stands of palm trees in a nursery, including a large grove of royal palms. To your right, sugar cane fields stretch on to the horizon.
After 0.9 mile you pass through a gate, with stern warnings on both sides not to leave the road lest you trespass on the private property of the Five Stones Mine, a limerock mine. Past the pits, piles, and heavy machinery, you pass through a second gate at 1.4 miles. Sugar cane is off to the right, and barbed wire separates you from a ranch where cattle roam. Sprays of Brazilian pepper poke through the barbed wire fence, and a small drainage ditch with sprays of cattails parallels to the right.
At 1.9 miles, you come to the end of the cane field. The land slopes down to a stand of willows, and you come to an Ocean-to-Lake sign. Turn left to climb over the next gate. This one leads to a north-south berm paralleled by a canal to your right and a cattle ranch to your left, as well as a pair of high-tension power lines. Beyond the canal the forest rises, the bald cypress notably tall, from within DuPuis Reserve. You pass a gate into the cattle ranch to the left.
At the next gate, the trail drops down and loops up and around uphill to the right, finally entering DuPuis Reserve in earnest. You’ve walked 2.5 miles. The spot of shade you encounter is the first good place to sit and take a break out of the sun. The trail crosses an equestrian trail and firebreak and continues forwards – eastbound – into the pine flatwoods. Watch for a water source on the right, a deep hole that holds water most of the year. It would be a tough scramble down there with a bag, but a filtration hose could be dropped down in. Keep in mind that both DuPuis and Corbett have large, active alligator populations and you may encounter alligators anywhere you find water, especially at culverts like these.
Keep your eyes on the blazes as the trail snakes beneath the slash pines through a thick understory of saw palmetto. The footpath is obvious enough, except where wild hogs have trashed it by rooting up the earth, which they do often. Hiking through these rooted-up segments is an exercise in painful trudging, climbing in and out of short but annoying holes. By three miles, the habitat has yielded to young longleaf pines, wax myrtle, and Florida myrtle in an open, park-like setting with a very open understory, where clumps of saw palmetto and a variety of grasses and goldenrod breaks up the landscape.
Passing a track in the woods, the landscape changes again to a slash pine forest with tall slash pines overhead and orange sprays of broomsedge growing almost shoulder-height. Gatorbacks – those remnants of saw palmetto roots that we love to hate – make for rough terrain underfoot. There are aquatic plants growing in the footpath, and marsh ferns along the edges, so this is a spot serving as drainage during the wet (summer) season. After crossing a grassy forest road, you emerge onto a graded limestone road at 3.6 miles. Ocean-to-Lake signs are on both sides of the road crossing. Glance off to the right and you see a line of tall bald cypress in the distance. Straight ahead, the trail enters into a pine-palm flatwoods, crispy after a burn. Rising up an embankment, the trail drops down to the edge of a cypress dome. While the footpath seems to go straight ahead into the dome, watch the blazes—it takes a sharp right, crossing a culvert between dome and canal to dance along the edge of this wetland area. Purple bladderwort adds color to the edges. Bromeliads are all around you in the trees, and goldfoot fern peeps out of the trunk of a cabbage palm. Pennywort grows in the footpath, so you know it gets wet here.
The trail continues to parallel the cypress off to the left. There’s a blaze on a double-trunked slash pine at exactly 4 miles. The cypress dome fades off into the distance as you continue deeper into the pine-palm flatwoods, encountering more rooted-up trail. At the junction of a firebreak and forest road, the trail continues straight ahead into an open prairie dotted with pines and very little shade, opening up into a straightaway for the next half mile, broad like a forest road. At 4.5 miles you reach the “3W” sign, joining DuPuis Loop 3 at last. An Ocean-to-Lake sign guides you to take a right turn. Quickly crossing over a small outflow from a cypress dome on the right, you continue through the pine-palm flatwoods.
At 5.1 miles, the trail comes up to a pretty cypress strand and jogs to the left to parallel it for some ways. The understory is ablaze in wildflowers, including blue-eyed grass, coreopsis (Florida’s state flower, also known as tickseed), and star rush along the edges of the footpath. Making a sharp right at a T at a firebreak, the trail remains in pine-palm flatwoods, with the cypress strand fading into the distance to the right. You’re amid the pines briefly as another cypress strand comes in from the left and the trail plunges right through it. Bromeliads – air plants, members of the tillandsia family, related to pineapples – grow at face level, knee level, and over your head in all shapes and sizes.
The trail pops out on a forest road at 5.4 miles with orange blazes guiding you to the right. When you come to intersections with other orange blazes, always keep to the right as you work your way through DuPuis Reserve, in order to stay on the southeast side of the loop trail system, which is the route of the Ocean-to-Lake Trail through DuPuis. Keep alert, as around the corner, you parallel another cypress strand, and the trail makes a sudden left off the forest road with no warning – watch those blazes! You pass a shelter / blind off to the left, and the trail curves away from it towards another cypress strand to the left. The trail enters it, and you’re firmly walking through the heart of the cypress strand. Large tufts of grass and beautiful wildflowers line the footpath.
At the junction of DuPuis Loop 3E/4E and 3W/4W at 5.7 miles, keep going straight ahead. A short gauntlet of caesarweed – that annoying invasive plant that leaves burrs on you like Velcro balls – follows, and then you enter a very pretty palm hammock. Graceful oaks provide deep shade. You cross a firebreak. To the right and left are cypress strands as the trail re-enters the pine-palm flatwoods. The trail heads right into another cypress strand, but keep alert! The trail you want to be on jogs off to the right, continuing through pines and palms. Meeting a swamp buggy trail, the footpath jogs to the left to avoid it. This will be a normal occurrence over the next few days, as the deeper you get into the woods, the more swamp buggy tracks you’ll encounter. These high-wheeled vehicles have the run of the landscape, so there’s no accounting for where the tracks actually lead.
Cross a forest road at 6 miles. The landscape opens up again as a broad prairie with scattered trees and a lot of hog damage in the understory. A track comes in from the left at 6.3 miles. The trail reaches it and continues straight ahead. To the right are more open flatwoods with no shade. Crossing the next track, you see trees with metal flashing partway up them. Since DuPuis Reserve is managed for wildlife, these might be baffles to prevent snakes from climbing trees that woodpeckers use for nesting.
At 6.7 miles, the trail snakes its way through another cypress strand. At times of high water, this would be a wade and a water source, but on my trek, it was bone-dry. Passing a pretty stretch of silvery-blue saw palmetto, the trail curves to the right, with a cypress dome ahead and off to the left, meandering its way through a pretty prairie of broomsedge resplendent in shades of orange. Watch out for more hog diggings!
You cross the next firebreak at 7.4 miles, and continue into open flatwoods with younger trees, mostly small longleaf pines. Rounding a prairie, the trail passes a double-blaze on a cabbage palm, and jogs left, then right to re-enter the pine woods in an open, park-like setting.
Reaching the sign for DuPuis Loop 3 campsite, you’ve completed 7.8 miles. Turn left and follow the road to the picnic tables you see up ahead. The tables, along with a fire ring and logs to sit on, make this a particularly nice campsite for a group, with nooks and crannies between the saw palmetto where you can set up tents and string your hammocks.
This is a dry campsite. A low-flow drainage ditch will serve as a water source in a pinch; otherwise, if you didn’t find water on your way in, return to the main trail and continue east 0.3 miles to find water at the junction with the Corbett connector trail, where the trail crosses a culvert. If you don’t find water there, it’s a full 1.2 miles east from the campsite to the first reliable water source along the connector trail. Plan carefully.