Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to revisit Kelly Park and explore its little-known hiking trails. For families in the know, Kelly Park is a favorite destination for tubing, the southernmost tubing run in Florida. I’ve always thought of it as a natural water park, since you can splash and play in the chilly waters of Rock Springs Run, from swirling down over the little rapids in a tube to snorkeling the clear water and swimming in the swim basin. But until this summer, I didn’t know there were some interesting trails to follow – and plenty of wildlife. My July encounter brought me as close to a Florida black bear as I’ve ever been, and this week’s hike rousted out a parade of white-tailed deer and a flock of wild turkeys.
There are two main places to hike in the park. Running a little shy of its posted mileage of 2.75 miles, the yellow-blazed Kelly Loop Trail gets you up close to scenic views of Rock Springs Run and out rambling through scrub, sandhills, and pine flatwoods with rolling terrain, dense hardwood hammocks, and numerous sinkholes. Across the street, behind the Kelly Park Fire Station, a second set of trails showcases sandhills and prairie. The Oakhill Trail is the blue-blazed outer loop of 1.8 miles, while the showier Prairie Lake Trail, blazed red, is an inner loop that leads you to and around a relict lake, now a prairie with several grassy arms.
A small admission fee is charged. Even if you don’t splash in the spring or tube down the run, it’s worth stopping in to take a hike or two – just stay alert for wildlife!