Although Lake Griffin State Park protects more than 600 acres along the shoreline of Lake Griffin north of Leesburg, the hiking trails here are short.
That’s because most of the park is a swamp. The Dead River Marsh bears similarities to the Okefenokee Swamp for its mats of quaking earth. However, it is nowhere near as large.
It stretches more than five miles in circumference. But the paddling route to Lake Griffin along the Dead River is less than a mile.
Most day users are here to paddle. Land-based activities include picnicking and camping. But the must-see at this park is the Mammoth Live Oak, found along the Live Oak Trail.
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Location: Fruitland Park
Length: 0.4 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.858450, -81.900150
Address: 3089 US 441, Fruitland Park
Fees: $5 per vehicle
Restroom: at the picnic area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
8 AM to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome. Bicycles not permitted.
The park entrance is prominently along US 27-441 on the northbound side of the four-lane highway 2.5 miles north of where US 27 and US 441 merge in Leesburg, immediately south of Fruitland Park.
While you might be tempted to pull off at the “Live Oak Trail” parking sign right inside the park entrance, drive past it.
You’ll want to park at the parking area adjoining the boat basin and picnic area if you are walking the full 0.4-mile loop and side trail to the oak.
Restrooms and the canoe rental are in the picnic area. To find the start of the Lake Griffin Nature Trail, walk along the boardwalk adjoining the boat basin.
It leads to the end of the picnic area clearing. Look uphill and you’ll see the sign marking the start of the Lake Griffin Nature Trail.
This is a gentle interpretive walk in the woods, with typical state park signs pointing out natural features. You briefly see the waterway that the paddlers follow at the start.
While the trail stays along the edge of the Dead River Marsh, floodplain forest plants and trees like wax myrtle, holly, and sweetgum dominate. The path may be soggy in spots.
As the trail climbs up away from the marsh, it enters the deep shade of an oak hammock.
You are still along the woody edge of Dead River Marsh, where ferns are visible in low spots and hollies adjoin the trail.
Climbing away from the marsh, the trail leads into an upland forest that is more lush. Live oak limbs are swaddled in mosses and ferns.
Clumps of saw palmetto adjoin the path as it leads you up to the edge of the campground about halfway through the hike. Cross the campground road.
Past the campground, the broad corridor climbs into climax sandhill, with a large number of laurel oaks.
Walk along the edge of a herbaceous marsh before the trail makes a sharp left to turn south, paralleling US 27-441 very close to the park boundary.
You can’t see the highway, but you can certainly hear it. The trail continues beneath oaks and hollies before coming up to the campground entrance road.
It’s here that the Live Oak Trail shoots off to the right. Follow this short spur uphill to marvel at the Mammoth Live Oak.
We don’t know what its current measurements are, but when we were researching big trees for Exploring Florida’s Botanical Wonders, it was listed as the sixth largest live oak in Florida.
According to the Florida Register of Big Trees, it was measured as 28 feet around and 70 feet tall in 1997 when it was put into the register.
After walking around the oak, walk back downhill along the Live Oak Trail to rejoin the Lake Griffin Nature Trail.
Within a few minutes you return to the picnic area, completing the 0.4-mile loop.
See our photos of Lake Griffin State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Established as a botanical preserve for native plants, Flat Island Preserve protects islands in the Okahumpa Marsh, offering hikers and paddlers immersion in a lush wilderness