A hidden treasure among a sea of subdivisions in New Port Richey, James E. Grey Preserve hugs the shores of the winding Pithlachascotee River, protecting 80 acres of swamps and uplands. An extensive boardwalk follows the river’s sinuous path, creating the well-shaded Palmetto Loop with its beautiful overlooks along the river. A secondary loop, the Uplands Trail, provides a walk through an upland scrub habitat, where roserush and tarflower bloom in abundance and gopher tortoises ramble along the forest floor.
Location: New Port Richey
Length: 1.3 miles
Lat-Long: 28.236674, -82.700147
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Dogs and bicycles are not permitted. The beauty of this preserve is accessible to those in wheelchairs and motorized assistance devices, as a paved path now leads from the handicapped parking spaces to the boardwalk along the river, enabling a scenic half-mile round-trip.
To find James E. Grey Preserve, take SR 54 east from US 19 in New Port Richey for 2.7 miles to Rowan Rd. Turn left and drive north 1.6 miles, past the light at Trouble Creek Rd, to the light for Plathe Road. Turn left. Continue a quarter mile to the park entrance on the left. Drive in on the entrance road, passing the circle at the canoe launch, to park in the large main parking area.
Walk over to the picnic area and restrooms, where a large kiosk showcases the park map. Behind it is a broad forest road marked as the Grey Preserve Trail on the map. Walk up to it and turn left. In summer, fragrant tarflower blooms add a splash of color to the otherwise crispy forest, which runs right up to the edge of the floodplain forest along the Pithlachascotee (also called “Cotee” in these parts) River.
You quickly reach a “You Are Here” sign with map and a picnic shelter just beyond it. The boardwalk starts here; turn left to follow it. It’s a sturdy structure, built to withstand heavy flooding, and it quickly swings out through the floodplain forest to follow the river channel, providing a view of a sluggish waterway, and a cove framed by oak branches.
The boardwalk leaves the cove and continues meandering through a dense palm hammock, where songbirds fill the air with their calls. You can still see the river through a screen of trees to your left, with a few residences in view on the far shore. There is a break in the boardwalk at 0.1 mile, on the left, with a trail taking off into the forest. Stay on the boardwalk, and you’ll come up to a lake on the right, with the Cotee remaining in your left. When you cross the bridge, it’s obvious that the two connect—the lake is a cove off the river, and a rather large one, lined by lush palm hammocks. The boardwalk continues to wind along the waterway, well-shaded by cabbage palms, with glimpses of water from both sides. With all of the water surrounding you, there’s always a nice breeze, making this a cooler-than-average walk for a summer day.
After 0.3 mile, a side boardwalk leads to an observation deck—don’t miss it! The setting is spectacular, with a panorama of the wild river shorelines. It’s hard to believe you’re in the middle of New Port Richey. Returning to the main boardwalk, turn left. The board ends, depositing you on a berm surrounded by a forest with ferns thickly carpeting its floor. You’re leaving the river now, as the trail keeps close to the shore of the cove on the right. An opening on the right with a bench provides a quiet place to sit and watch herons picking their way through the shallows.
Still in deep shade, the trail narrows, and the footpath becomes gravel. Glimpses of the cove are less frequent, but you can still see it through openings in the forest. Might that shimmer in the water be a manatee? The footpath broadens again, back to the width of a jeep trail, as you approach the sign for the Upper Trail at 0.6 mile. Turn left to explore this loop, which focuses on the upland scrub forest near the river, and offers two benches for resting. Pale pink roserush blooms in summer amid the grasses. Bear left at the loop junction and follow the wide bark chip path as it leads you into the shade of mature sand live oaks. The trail follows what looks like an old road, veering right as it leaves the bark chips to loop around. Transitioning to sandhills, the footpath rejoins the bark chips as you’re surrounded by turkey oaks that offer little shade, and the trail winds its way through this open, sunny habitat where you’ll notice gopher tortoise burrows along the way. By 0.9 mile, you reach the end of the loop. Continue straight to rejoin the main trail – the Palmetto Loop – and take a left.
You’re back on a jeep road with very little shade, and this leads straight back to the trailhead, if you prefer to be direct. But why not savor the river on your way out? A unmarked side trail at 1.1 miles tempts. Dive into the cool shade of the palm hammock, and you’re back along the edge of the cove again, approaching the opening in the boardwalk. Step up and return to the boardwalk. Turn left to retrace your approach through the floodplain forest back to the boardwalk’s end at the picnic pavilion. Turn right to exit, completing a 1.3 mile hike.