Along the St. Johns River floodplain in Osteen, the 1.6 mile White Loop on the Kratzert Tract at Lake Monroe Conservation Area offers an immersion into palm and oak hammocks.
We were first introduced to it by our friends in the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, who were looking after its trail maintenance at the time.
It’s a short and fun hike. Wildflowers abound, and gopher tortoise burrows are obvious in several locations.
There are there are long stretches of narrow, maze-like corridors through dense, tall saw palmettos, and bridges to cross.
Since it lies in the floodplain, the trail can be seasonally innudated. Seasonal hunting is permitted on the Kratzert Tract too, so plan ahead.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.6 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.8320, -81.1914
Address: 2656 Reed Ellis Rd, Osteen
Restroom: At nearby Beck Ranch Park
Land manager: St. Johns River Water Management District
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome. Insect repellent recommended for mosquitoes and ticks.
Check hunt dates before you visit. Deer hunting generally spans Nov and Dec, prime hiking months. Wear bright orange if hiking during any hunting season.
From Interstate 4, take exit 101C, Sanford. Head east on SR 46 into Sanford, and pay careful attention to the road joining and leaving US 17-92. Reaching the light at SR 415, turn left. Follow SR 415 north for 2.5 miles, crossing the St. Johns River Bridge into Volusia County. Turn left onto Reed Ellis Rd. Continue 0.6 mile to the trailhead parking on the left.
Start the hike from the west side of the parking area into the longleaf pines that have grown in nicely over the past two decades to replace the cattle pasture that was here.
White blazes guide you along the grassy path. After a quarter mile, the trail dips through a small drainage lined with young sweetgum and large wax myrtle.
As the trail rises up again, you can see the vast floodplain forest beyond the pines. The trail turns away from Reed Ellis Road and into a patch of open scrub.
Walking under live oaks and palms, you pass a patch of coreopsis, our state flower, which is often in bloom.
Turning again, the trail enters a hardwood hammock with clumps of saw palmetto around, the oaks creating a canopy above.
A footbridge proudly inscribed as an Eagle Scout project crosses an ephemeral waterway at the half mile mark.
Rising up through another pasture reclaimed by planted longleaf pines, the footpath becomes slippery due to the grass and pine needles.
Look for gopher tortoise burrows here before the downhill into a shady forest of oaks, saw palmetto, and large longleaf pines.
Beds of sword fern crowd the footpath as it parallels the meandering route of a sand-bottomed stream. Roots jut out into the trail.
Reach a T intersection with an unmarked trail. Turn right, away from the pines.
A jog to the left leads uphill through a tangle of saw palmetto beneath a corridor of magnolias.
The trail twists and turns down a narrow corridor, entering a very dense stand of Southern magnolias.
After plunging into the twisting, winding path again, at 0.7 mile the trail rises up under tall oaks laden with bromeliads.
It drops back into the palmetto maze again, making its way through the dense understory.
Climbing up into a palm hammock, the trail winds beneath with cabbage palms of regal stature, rising more than one hundred feet above the forest floor.
Being close to the river, the air is humid. Every tree sports colonies of bromeliads and orchids.
Look overhead for dense mats of resurrection fern, fine sprays of wild pine, the purple, red, and yellow spikes of cardinal wild pine.
Grass-like blades of butterfly orchids are nestled in the crooks of tree limbs. This is truly a beauty spot worth hiking to.
The trail jogs through the thickets of saw palmetto as you continue under the grand oak canopy.
Pass between two cabbage palm trunks before the corridor gets much denser with young trees. Leaves dangle just overhead.
After a mile, you reach a trail junction with another unnamed path. The White Loop turns left. Continue through the palm hammock.
The elevation slowly rises, leading you beneath laurel oaks and water oaks. At the next trail junction, continue straight ahead.
A lazy waterway meanders off to the right as it makes its way down to the St. Johns River, its banks lined with netted chain fern.
The trail turns right to cross a bridge over the waterway, then broadens considerably for a short stretch.
Once it narrows down, you’re walking along the edge of another palm hammock.
Notice the watermarks on the trees. This trail will flood a foot or more deep when the St. Johns seriously overflows into its floodplain.
Walk under a massive live oak that looks just plain furry from the amount of resurrection fern swaddling its limbs. Cabbage palms grow right through the middle of the tree.
As the trail slowly climbs away from these shady hammocks of the St. Johns River floodplain, it rises through stands of tall saw palmetto.
It emerges into planted longleaf pine forest, along the edge of the forest.
Follow the obvious footpath. Coming over a rise, you see the trailhead kiosk and parking lot, the completion of the 1.6 mile loop.
Learn more about Lake Monroe Conservation Area
See our photos of the Kratzert White Loop
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
An unearthly glowing bowl in shades of green, the centerpiece of an ancient forest at Green Springs is surrounded by gurgling streams and the trails that follow them
On a mile-long loop in grassy prairies along Lake Jesup, enjoy palm-framed panoramas of the open prairies along the lakeshore
Just east of Osteen, Hickory Bluff Preserve provides a 1.5-mile loop to a bluff of notable size along a scenic stretch of the St. Johns River