Home to wild spaces in a very urbanized part of the Orlando metro, Lake Jesup Conservation Area is comprised of three tracts along Lake Jesup.
Covering 25 square miles in Seminole County, and stretching 13 miles long, Lake Jesup is a part of the St. Johns River system, with roughly 30 miles of shoreline.
It is connected to the main flow of the river at its northeast corner by a narrow strait which SR 46 crosses between Sanford and Geneva.
There are few homes on the lakeshore, despite the cities of Sanford, Winter Springs, and Oviedo touching its shores. That is in large part due to its floodplain, and reinforced by the existence of this conservation area.
Resources for exploring the area around Lake Jesup
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Location: Sanford and Oviedo
Length: 7.5 miles in four trails
Restroom: At Lake Jesup Park
Land manager: St. Johns River Water Management District
Open 24 hours. Leashed dogs welcome on all trails. Be aware that alligators may be encountered along the trails that edge close to the shoreline.
When the lake rises enough to flood any of the conservation tracts, the District will post them closed at the appropriate trailhead kiosk. You can also check their website for any closures.
There are four different vehicular entrances to Lake Jesup Conservation Area plus four launch points, one on private property. Please click on an icon on the map above for directions, or check the details of the individual trails below for written directions to each one.
About the Preserve
Lake Jesup Conservation Area exists as mitigation for the construction of SR 417 across the lake. Many residents were vehemently opposed to the toll road crossing one of the region’s largest lakes.
The lake is known for its robust alligator population and mostly wild shoreline. Since it rises and falls with the flow of the St. Johns River, it has an extensive floodplain.
Lake Jesup is named for General Thomas S. Jesup, who commanded the U.S. Army in Florida in their efforts to remove all Seminoles from the state during what is known as the Second Seminole War.
As residents know, the lake is large enough to affect the area around it. We lived in Sanford between Lake Jesup and Lake Monroe, and rarely had a morning without condensation on our cars parked outdoors.
The most easy to access point of the conservation area is at Lake Jesup Park in Sanford, which is run by Seminole County.
This small park at the very south end of Sanford Avenue is a gateway for hikers into Lake Jesup Wilderness, but also has a picnic grove, a boat ramp, and restrooms.
There are four separate hiking trails within the three tracts of Lake Jesup Conservation Area. Three of them are posted as multi-use. Don’t be surprised to encounter equestrians as well as cyclists on the trails.
The exception is at Lake Jesup Wilderness, which is on the Marl Bed Flats Tract that flanks SR 417. It’s managed by Seminole County and is hiking only.
Of the four trails, the three on the north shore – Lake Jesup Wilderness, Marl Bed Flats, and Cameron Tract – are the prime destinations for seeing massive blooms of swamp sunflowers in early fall. They are all in Sanford.
On the south shore in Black Hammock, the Lake Jesup East Tract has the only observation tower looking over the lake.
In this wilderness area along the shores of Lake Jesup, plunge right in for a hike through a parade of wetland wildflowers in the St. Johns River floodplain
For the broadest panorama along the south shore of Lake Jesup, follow this mile-long loop through lush oak hammocks and open prairies in a rural corner of Sanford
On a mile-long loop in grassy prairies along Lake Jesup, enjoy palm-framed panoramas of the open prairies along the lakeshore
Paddlers wanting to explore the shoreline of Lake Jesup Conservation Area have several spots for put-in. The easiest to find is at the end of Sanford Avenue, where it becomes a boat ramp into the lake at Lake Jesup Park.
This access point enables paddlers to head east along the shoreline, which is showy when the sunflowers are in bloom in the fall.
Along SR 46 on the northwest side of the bridge over Lake Jesup, Cameron Wight Park has a boat ramp used by boaters. Launch here to paddle south under SR 46 and along the edge of the Cameron Tract.
Off SR 434 along Spring Avenue at old White’s Landing, Overlook Park is another launch point into the lake. Paddling west showcases a wild shore where Howell Branch flows into the lake.
Going east, after passing a handful of waterfront homes and going under SR 417, takes you along the floodplain forests of Black Hammock.
A heads-up before you plan a paddle: Lake Jesup is known for its significant alligator population and we’ve personally spotted some massive ones here.
Boating and Fishing
Boaters can enter Lake Jesup at both Lake Jesup Park and Cameron Wight Park on the north shore. On the south shore, Black Hammock Fish Camp in Black Hammock provides a ramp with a launch fee.
For many years, they’ve also run airboat tours out on the lake from their lakefront complex, which includes a popular seafood restaurant and dockside bar.
Conservation Area Map
During sunflower season, which occurs from September through October but varies in length and intensity each year, the tracts of Lake Jesup Conservation Area are a go-to place to see spectacular masses of blooms.
See our photos from Lake Jesup Conservation Area
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Protecting more than 1,500 acres along Lake Jesup, Spring Hammock Preserve is home to some of Florida’s oldest and largest cypress trees
Black Hammock is a bit of Old Florida in Oviedo, with a trail showcasing a delightfully long boardwalk and a loop through scrub habitats above Lake Jesup
With an outstanding accessible observation tower offering a panorama of the St. Johns River floodplain, Lake Harney Wilderness is a must-see for birders and photographers