For a quick dip into the beauty of the St. Johns River floodplain, the Kratzert White Loop offers a family-friendly walk beneath ancient oaks and cabbage palms of enormous size. This 1.5-mile loop was originally built by the Central Florida chapter of the Florida Trail Association and continues to be well maintained and easy to follow.
It’s a fun hike, especially with kids, since there are long stretches of narrow, maze-like corridors through dense, tall saw palmettos, plus bridges to cross and gopher tortoise burrows in obvious spots. If you’re looking for a short but gorgeous hike, this trek on the east shore of the St. Johns River fits the bill.
Length: 1.5 miles
Lat-Long: 28.831883, -81.191683
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate to buggy
Please check hunting regulations before visiting, as hiking access may be limited during certain hunting seasons. Be sure to wear a bright orange shirt or vest if hiking during hunting season.
From I-4, take exit 101C, Sanford. Head east on SR 46 into Sanford, and pay careful attention to the road’s turn to the right (joining US 17-92 south), then left. Continue east on SR 46. At the light at SR 415, turn left. Follow this highway 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 trailhead parking on left.
For the most enjoyable traverse of this 1.5-mile loop, turn right, following the trail into a stand of longleaf pine about a decade old. On my last visit here, they were just peeping out of the grasses of a former cattle pasture, and now the forest towers overhead. Winged sumac peeps out of the understory, and wild persimmon grows in the understory. The path is grassy, mown, and obvious, but white blazes do lead the way.
After a quarter mile, you dip through a small floodplain lined with young sweetgum and large wax myrtle. As the trail rises up again, you can see the vast floodplain forest off to your left beyond the pines. Reed Ellis Road is close enough to see and hear off to the right, but the trail quickly turns away from the road and into a patch of open scrub on the edge of the floodplain. Dropping down to the right under live oaks and palms, you pass a patch of coreopsis, our state flower, which is oftem in bloom. Turning left and away from the wildflowers, you’re in a hardwood hammock with clumps of saw palmetto around, oaks creating a canopy.
A large bridge, proudly inscribed as an Eagle Scout project, crosses an ephemeral waterway at the half mile mark. The trail rises through another open field planted in longleaf pine, where raspberry bushes poke through the tall grasses. It’s slippery underfoot, between the grass and the pine needles. There are several gopher tortoise burrows right along the footpath. Heading downhill, you enter a shady forest of oaks, saw palmetto, and large longleaf pines, where beds of sword fern crowd the footpath as it parallels the meandering route of a sand-bottomed stream. Roots jut out into the trail. The oaks around you are much larger. Off to the left, you can see the pines through a window in the dense hammock.
You reach a T intersection with an unmarked traill. Turn right, away from the pines, so you’re still in the floodplain. The ferns are even denser here. A jog to the left propels you uphill through a tangle of saw palmetto beneath a corridor of Southern magnolia. The trail twists and turns down a narrow corridor, emerging in another stand of Southern magnolia before plunging into the twisting, winding path again. At 0.7 mile, the trail rises up under tall oaks laden with bromeliads, many dangling from grapevines, the canopy well overhead. It then drops back down into the palmetto maze. Glimpsing up ahead, be cautious of the widowmaker – a large dead pine leaning over on a much smaller oak, right over the trail.
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. The air is humid, and 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, and grass-like giant blades of butterfly orchids nestled in the crooks of tree limbs. This is truly a beauty spot worth seeking out.
The trail jogs right through the thickets of saw palmetto as you continue under the grand oak canopy. You pass between two cabbage palm trunks before the corridor gets much denser with young trees. Leaves dangle just overhead. At 1 mile, you reach a trail junction. The White Loop turns left. Continue left 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, and notice the watermarks on the trees – this trail will flood a foot or more deep when the St. Johns seriously overflows into its floodplain. You walk under a massive live oak that looks just plain furry from the amount of ressurection 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, emerging again at the pine forest at 1.3 miles. Follow the foopath along the fenceline. As you come over a rise, you see the trailhead kiosk and parking lot, the completion of the 1.5 mile loop.