Showcasing prairie ponds amid scrub on the edge of a pine flatwoods, Geneva Wilderness Area offers gentle paths on which to explore the habitats. Two main trails wind their way through the park. Red diamonds designate the Loop Trail, which runs along the edges of the ponds and through a stand of pine forest that once was part of a thriving turpentine camp. The yellow diamonds provide a connection to the Flagler Trail, a north-south trail leading into the adjoining Little Big Econ State Forest.
Length: 1.8 mile loop and 1.4 mile spur
Lat-Long: 28.708800, -81.123967
Type: Loop and spur
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
The primitive campsite is perfect for introducing young children or newbies to backpacking, as they have restrooms nearby and are an easy walk from the trailhead. For a camping permit, call 407-665-7352. $30 per night for groups. The North Campsite has been permanently closed; only the South Campsite, on the far side of the lakes, remains.
Follow SR 434 from Winter Springs into downtown Oviedo. Turn left at the light, then immediately left on SR 426, following it 6.1 miles west (past the Little Big Econ State Forest trailhead for the Florida Trail at Barr Street) to the entrance to the Geneva Wilderness Area on the right. Approaching from Sanford or I-95, take SR 46 to Geneva and turn onto SR 426; the park comes up on the left not long after you pass Snow Hill Road.
Start your hike at the informational kiosk. Sign the register, and pick up a trail map. The trail starts off in a forest in miniature—gnarled sand live oak, scarcely tall enough to shade the trail. Dense clumps of foamy turquoise deer moss carpet the forest floor. At the first distinct junction of trails, turn left. A new feature along it is a boardwalk out into one of the ponds, providing a nice spot for birding or fishing.
At 0.3 mile, the trail leads up to a clearing. It is here that the Loop Trail starts and ends. Turn left and walk along the Loop Trail.
Stay right at the next fork to follow along the edge of the two largest flatwoods ponds in Geneva Wilderness. Although both ponds fade to mud during drought, they serve as magnets for wildlife when the waters return. Rounding the second pond, the trail forks again. Turn right and follow the trail paralleling the shoreline. Walk out to the water’s edge and look carefully for the many small and delicate sundew plants along the shore.
After 0.7 mile, you’ll walk along the edge of the South Camp, situated beneath spreading live oak trees. When you reach the sign for Spigot #8, turn left and follow the narrow service trail up through the pine forest. Pause to enjoy spring blueberries and blackberries before you pass the restrooms. You’ll soon come to a T intersection with the loop trail.
Although this hike follows the Loop Trail to the right, you can extend the length of your hike an extra 2.8 miles by turning left, then right, following the route of the Flagler Trail. A round-trip walk to the Econlockhatchee River and back will take at least two hours. The Flagler Trail is blazed with yellow diamonds within Geneva Wilderness, but the blazes turn to blue rectangles painted on the trees once you enter the adjoining Little Big Econ State Forest.
Geneva Wilderness Park is the former site of one of Florida’s many turpentine camps. The Loop Trail soon crosses a narrow but deep cut through the forest, one of the few remaining canals from the turpentine era. Turn left for a quick side trip along the canal to see several of the longleaf pines that were once regularly tapped for turpentine. At the canal’s end, near the property fence, notice one tall pine tree with a deep gash running more than six feet up the tree from its base. Beyond the fence lie several more tall pines with similar gashes. Called catfaces, these gashes provided the turpentine collector a means of “bleeding” the tree for its resin.
Walk back along the canal to the Loop Trail, and turn left. The Loop Trail soon rejoins the shoreline trail in front of the entrance to the Chapel. Take a moment to walk the 0.2-mile trail down through the dense pine hammock to the Chapel. Built on a peninsula out into the pond, the Chapel provides scout groups and others with a nondenominational outdoors site for worship.
Returning to the Loop Trail, turn right. The trail squeezes between two flatwoods ponds on its way back around the loop. At least one pair of bald eagles nests nearby, providing hikers a chance to see these regal birds in flight over the open space of the ponds. At 1.4 miles, the Loop Trail has completed its full loop.
Turn left, and watch for a trail leading off to the right to the Ed Yarborough Educational Center. Used mainly for field trips and scout outings, this building is open the first Saturday of each month between 9 AM and noon for public workshops; check the kiosk for details. Once you reach the front of the building, take a look at the native plant garden. You can walk back to the parking area along the entrance road near the caretaker’s home, but it’s more pleasant to walk back behind the nature center and head back along the trail to the main trail. Turn right, and right again to exit through the tiny scrub forest, ending up back at the parking area after 1.8 miles.
Explore the preserve
- Biking the Flagler Trail South - While biking the Flagler Trail from Geneva Wilderness to Snow Hill Road, John discovers a few useful lessons in being prepared for what can happen on a bike ride through the woods
- Flagler Trail South - Following a historic railroad route, the southern portion of the Flagler Trail provides a sometimes rugged, sometimes gentle ride between Geneva and Chuluota