When we first discovered Hidden Pond Preserve along SR 520, we realized its location roughly aligned with Pine Lily Preserve and Hal Scott Preserve to the west.
It’s heartening to know such a corridor is in place across eastern Orange County leading towards the vast floodplain of the St. Johns River, even if there’s no safe way for animals to cross the highway.
After hiking all three trails shown on the map at the trailhead of the preserve, we’re presenting what we think is the best way to hike this preserve, a 1.9-mile route.
What not to do is what we did first: hike the whole Green Trail loop. A good third of this 1.4 mile loop follows the fence line along SR 520, with a walk-through stile to get around a creek.
Instead, we suggest you hike the Green and Blue Trails to take a loop at the north end of the preserve, and then double back to take on the Red Trail last.
The Red Trail is where the namesake of the preserve is. Despite the size of the pond, the trail only offers a few overlooks on it, but they all have nice views.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.9 miles in two loops
Trailhead: 28.5183, -81.0654
Address: 20537 SR 520, Orlando
Land manager: Orange County
Hidden Pond Preserve is open sunrise to sunset.
This is a hiking only destination: no bikes and no horses permitted. No pets allowed.
From Orlando, follow SR 50 east through Bithlo to the ramp for SR 520, which is just past Speed World. Once you’re on SR 520, get in the left lane. There is a turnout for Hidden Pond Preserve on the left across from the first gas station you see on the right at Wedgefield. The entrance is gravel and the small lot is dirt. A picnic table adjoins the parking area.
Across 113 acres, Hidden Pond Preserve packs a lot in. It’s surprising once you realize just how much of the preserve isn’t dry land.
Fortunately, the trail system makes a point of keeping your feet dry. Start by following the Green Trail markers straight through the walk-through stile from the parking area and straight back.
The first portion of the trail feels like an old forest road through the pines. Within a little over a tenth of a mile, you pass the turnoff for the Red Trail. Skip it for now as you’ll come back to it.
The landscape opens up into prairie, where there are a lot of wildflowers in bloom. After heading up and over a rise, you drop down to a spot where a cypress swamp hugs the trail close on the right.
The straight ahead portion of the trail surprised us by leading right up to a deer stand placed facing the trail on private property on the other side of the fence. We hope the county keeps an eye on it.
The trail makes a sharp left here to dip down through a drainage area where gravel has been placed so rangers can drive their trucks through it.
Rising back up, you walk into a healthy pine flatwoods, edged by scrub. On the left is a bayhead, as most of the center of the loop created by the Green Trail is occupied by cypress swamp and bayhead.
More than a half mile in, the Blue Trail (also marked with Green Trail markers) goes straight ahead up a fence line while the Green Trail curves left to follow the forest road.
Jump onto the Blue Trail here. You may have to step over some areas that act as drainage after heavy rains.
The Blue Trail hits the back corner of the preserve and makes a sharp left. It’s here, leaving the fenceline, that it gets interesting.
The trail leads you up and over spoil piles thrown into the forest sometime in the past from diggings for ditches and ponds, creating undulating terrain.
Pine trees and pine needles top these mounds, which the trail makes a narrow ribbon along, offering views down into the adjoining property.
Making a sharp left, the Blue Trail leads you back out of the pines to a junction with the Green Trail. Here’s your decision point.
We originally took the Green Trail to the right. It’s worth walking down a short ways to see the creek that crosses the road. We were able to hop over it, but it’s obvious sometimes you can’t.
Beyond that, however, the Green Trail makes a beeline for a back gate into the preserve that leads out to SR 520. If you walk out and back to the gate you can add another 0.2 mile to this hike.
Otherwise, just turn left at this junction and head along the Green Trail into the pines. A nice bench is tucked away beneath them, near more spoil piles topped with pines.
By the time you get back to where you branched off on the Blue Trail, you’ve walked a mile. Continue back along the Green Trail the way you came in.
Watch for the turnoff for the Red Trail on the left and take that. Soon after the turnoff there is a picnic table beneath the pines. Hidden Pond is through the trees behind it.
The Red Trail leads north from the pine flatwoods into scrub forest. Despite it being close by, you don’t see the pond at all.
Gopher tortoises make their home here, so you might catch one chomping down on the abundant gopher apple.
When the trail faces a fence line, this is the one spot where you absolutely must walk along it. At 1.5 miles, follow the Red Trail markers to the right.
On the opposite side of the fence cattle roam freely, and power lines slice across the prairie landscape of the adjoining ranch.
This short segment of fence line was not well mowed and there were no red markers along it to confirm your route, but it’s obvious you can’t go anywhere else.
The pond is nearby, behind the wall of vegetation on your right, but you can’t see it. Do keep watch underfoot, however. We almost tripped over this snake in the tall grass.
When the trail leaves the fence line, it’s a relief. It turns right and goes through a little terrain change as it works its way to a small bridge.
Not far past the bridge is the first spot where you can stop and get a good view of Hidden Pond.
The last clear view of the pond is accompanied by another wooden bench. Be mindful that alligators may sun near it.
The straightaway from this point leads through the pines and oaks directly towards SR 520, with traffic noise increasing as you draw closer to the trailhead.
After a couple of ups and downs through drainages, you reach the front of the preserve and the Red Trail exits at a stile along the edge of the parking area for a hike of 1.9 miles.
See our photos of Hidden Pond Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
In every season, wildflowers are the highlight along more than 4 miles of trails at Pine Lily Preserve, where its namesake lilies bloom in late summer.
In the floodplain of the Econlockhatchee River, Econlockhatchee Sandhills Conservation Area is a 706-acre showcase of upland habitat diversity with a 3.2 mile loop trail
Protecting more than a thousand acres, Savage Christmas Creek Preserve east of Orlando has more than 8 miles of trails through panoramic prairie and pine flatwoods landscapes