We first came to Key Vista Nature Park in search of grandeur. At the time, it was home to the largest known sand pine in the United States, standing 75 feet tall and more than 8 feet around.
Sand pines have a natural lifespan of 70 years or so, and are easily impacted by strong winds.
Sadly, that pine is no more, and a new champion has taken its place in a different Florida county.
Despite the loss of its giant, this 101-acre park is still a fascinating destination.
It provides interpretation of a gradient of natural habitats from the sand pine scrub at the start of the trail system to mangroves lining the Gulf of Mexico.
Why mangroves and not a beach? A barrier island offshore.
Anclote Key has the beaches, while this stretch of mainland is a mangrove forest along a part of the Gulf called the Anclote Anchorage, sheltered from wave action.
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Length: 1.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.199438, -82.779548
Address: 2700 Ballies Bluff Rd, Holiday
Restroom: At the trailhead
Land manager: Pasco County
Open daily dawn to dusk. Leashed dogs welcome. Accessible parking and restrooms provided. Trails are natural surface.
Picnic tables are provided in the central island of the parking lot. A dog water station is thoughtfully set up near the restrooms.
From US 19 in New Port Richey, follow Moog Road west to Straber Memorial Hwy. Continue south to the T intersection, and turn left onto Ballies Bluff Rd. The park entrance is on the right within a quarter mile.
Start the hike by following the sidewalk from the handicapped parking area by the restroom to the path leading towards the pines.
This was once a dense sand pine scrub with champion-sized trees, but is now very open. The sandy path winds between the trees.
Slash pines are interspersed through the sand pines, noticeable with their longer needles and broader crowns.
These are the trees that osprey choose to nest in, and bald eagles as well.
Passing a junction to the right, the path meanders through this open space with clusters of pines.
You see water on the horizon. Beaten paths lead down to a slender strip of sand on the edge of the Gulf, piled in sea wrack.
A trail leading due south parallels the shoreline through this coastal pine forest.
When you reach the staircase with an observation deck and boardwalk after a half mile, you’ve reached the boundary of adjacent Anclote Gulf Park.
Add 0.4 mile to your hike if you take the boardwalk to the neighboring park to explore it, or an extra 1.1 miles if you go all the way out to the observation deck on their pier.
Turning around at the park boundary after taking a look from the deck, come back to the open area.
Looking out over the Gulf, the observation tower is almost as tall as the surrounding pines. From the top of the observation tower, you get a grand view of the shore and forest.
Several side paths lead out to the edge of the Gulf in this area around the tower, where you’ll find local anglers trying their luck.
Reaching where Rocky Creek flows into the Gulf, the broad path turns to follow this tidal creek upstream.
It’s a picturesque mangrove-lined waterway where fishermen also tend to stake out spots.
Passing a trail junction on the right, the path continues through the coastal pine flatwoods.
Look up into the crowns of the slash pines a mile into the hike and you’ll see a very large bald eagle nest in one of them.
A turnoff leads directly to the parking area, but there is still another loop at the north end of the park.
It circles through the forest edging Sleepy Lagoon and returns back to the parking area, wrapping a 1.5 mile walk through the park.
This trail system interconnects with Anclote Gulf Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
The largest nature preserve in Pinellas County, Brooker Creek Preserve protects a mosaic of vanishing habitats while interpreting their value along more than 4 miles of trails.
Explore an expansive landscape of pine flatwoods, prairies, scrubby flatwoods, and open scrub along nearly 50 miles of trails just east of New Port Richey
Home to one of Florida’s deepest springs, at 320 feet deep, Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park protects crucial coastal estuaries along the Gulf Coast
Our thanks to Al Force (FT Class of 2015) for on-the-ground research and photos to help us bring our trail information up to date.