Having been present for the ribbon cutting of the Nice Wander Trail, it’s a delight to know that this loop along the Florida Trail remains a popular destination for birders.
In 2006, it was touted as an accessible-with-assistance natural surface trail, but the firm-packed base it was built on has not stood the test of time.
On our last hike here, marshy spots, sandy spots, and deadfall meant that only the part of the trail on FR 208, a graded road, might remain accessible with assistance.
However, immersion in the longleaf pine forest — especially to see a nesting colony of red-cockaded woodpeckers — continues to make this a compelling day hike.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.7 mile loop
Trailhead: 30.212617, -82.389083
Address: Battlefield Trail Road, Sanderson
Restroom: At state park visitor center
Land Manager: Osceola Ranger District
Open daily sunrise to sunset. No entrance fee except during special events at Olustee Battlefield.
Leashed dogs welcome. Foot travel only. Wear blaze orange during hunting season. Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and plenty of water.
Primitive camping is allowed in Osceola National Forest. Random camping is allowed except during deer hunting season. Bear bags or canisters must be used at all times.
From Interstate 10 west from Jacksonville, use exit 324 at Sanderson to follow US 90 west for 5.5 miles to the entrance to Olustee Battlefield. From Interstate 75 exit 427, Lake City, drive 18.6 miles east on US 90 to the state park entrance. After you cross the railroad tracks, the trailhead is immediately to your left.
Start your hike by crossing a short bridge to the trailhead kiosk. Follow the blue blazes past the fire tower at Olustee Battlefield and the picnic grounds.
Beyond the picnic grounds is a historic cemetery between the forest and US 90, a resting place that adjoins the old railroad line that the highway parallels.
Control of that rail line railroad tracks brought two armies together at this spot in 1864 in Florida’s largest Civil War battle.
Blue blazes meet orange where the Florida Trail makes its own arc past the cemetery as it comes in from the west and boomerangs northwest.
Join the orange and white blazes down the footpath into the longleaf pine forest. The understory is very open with only scattered patches of saw palmetto.
As the forest becomes denser, listen closely, and you can hear the tap of woodpeckers on pine trunks.
After 0.4 mile, the trail reaches an intersection with a two-track road and the Loop A sign, which points to the return route to the left.
Only take that if you’re looking for the shortest possible loop of 0.8 mile. Otherwise continue straight ahead along the orange and white blazes.
Watch for the white-banded pines. These are the ones where the red-cockaded woodpeckers live, and you’re most likely to see them active at dawn.
This endangered species only nests in old-growth longleaf, and many of these banded trees are more than a century old.
After a half mile, look up into the trees to see the sap dripping down the sides of the pines from the nest hole, looking much like candle wax.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers do this to protect the entrance to their nests from predators such as rat snakes.
Loop B turns off to the right. Continue straight. You can see a break in the trees to the left where a there is a seasonal marsh.
In this part of the pine forest, low spots that stay damp host clusters of carnivorous plants, including the very showy hooded pitcher plant.
After 0.8 mile, the trail ascends a gently sloping boardwalk through a wet area. There are two benches on a platform here, a nice place for a break.
Past the platform, the trail emerges through saw palmetto out to a forest road, FR 208. It’s here that the orange and white blazes part ways.
To the left, the orange blazes of the Florida Trail lead northbound towards the Cobb Hunt Camp and Ocean Pond Campground, which is 4.9 miles north.
Following the white blazes, the Nice Wander Trail turns to the right onto FR 208.
Being on a forest road, the return walk is pretty straightforward and mostly in the sun. You meet the Loop B crossover at 1.1 miles, and the the Loop A crossover at 1.3 miles.
Passing some old cattle pens, you complete the Nice Wander Loop after 1.6 miles, meeting the blue blazes again.
Continue through the gate and follow the forest road towards the picnic area at the tower. Watch for the boardwalk over to the trailhead.
Emerging from the cool shade of the oaks, you reach the trailhead and finish the hike after 1.7 miles.
NORTHBOUND: Nice Wander to Ocean Pond (4.9 mi)
SOUTHBOUND: Olustee (1.9 mi)
Learn more about Osceola National Forest
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
More than ten thousand soldiers met and fought in the longleaf pine forest at Olustee, the largest Civil War battle on Florida soil
An interpretive walk with extensive details on timbering history, the Trampled Track Trail leads to a waterfront view on Ocean Pond.
The short, easily accessed Mount Carrie Wayside in Osceola National Forest showcases an old growth longleaf pine forest with a population of red-cockaded woodpeckers.