CLOSED due to Hurricane Ian damage
A dazzling array of swamp sunflowers await each fall at Lake Jesup Wilderness, an expansive wetland area along the northern shore of Lake Jesup in the Lake Jesup Conservation Area.
The trail system zigzags through prairies that flood during the wet season before clambering onto a berm to tunnel beneath a canopy of cabbage palms.
Scenic views across the lake and its prairies, as well as great birding, make this an interesting, if not often soggy, place to hike.
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Length: 2.9 mile round-trip with loop
Trailhead: 28.727200, -81.263533
Address: 5951 S. Sanford Ave, Sanford
Land manager: Seminole County
Open dawn to dusk. Leashed dogs welcome.
It can be very buggy here so bring repellent. Insects depend on season and wetness.
Trail is shared with off-road cyclists and equestrians. Lake Jesup Park is a popular launch point for boaters.
From Interstate 4 in Lake Mary, follow Lake Mary Blvd east past SR 417 to Sanford Ave, one block past Ronald Reagan Blvd (SR 427). Turn right on Sanford Ave and drive to the end of the road, which enters Lake Jesup Park.
Starting at the trailhead, walk out under some very large oaks to the kiosk and beyond that, into the floodplain of Lake Jesup.
There are times this can’t be hiked at all due to water levels, and times it is spectacular.
When water is low and the sunflowers are blooming (late September through mid October), it feels like walking through a fairy wonderland, with blooms towering over your head.
It takes about a quarter mile of hiking through the floodplain to get to the main part of the trail.
After crossing a bridge over a small ditch, you reach a berm topped with a forest of planted cabbage palms.
At this T intersection, the trail runs in both directions. It’s as linear as it gets because there is nowhere to go but the berm.
We figure the berm was built with mud dredged out to make the ditch, which in turn drained the surrounding landscape into the lake to make it better for cattle.
This cabbage palm forest is nice and shady. If you want, you can follow the trail to the left up to a loop through the palms, adding a half mile or so to the hike, but we turned right.
That’s because the best views of the sunflowers and Lake Jesup itself are in this direction.
There are spots where the berm is washed out and you must scramble into and out of. Water levels determine how passable these are.
One of the gaps is especially wide and can be mucky underfoot. We were fortunate to find it passable to the last part of the berm.
The final segment of berm is headed straight for SR 417, the toll road that crosses Lake Jesup.
While you can’t see the cars, you can certainly hear them. Then the trail makes a sharp turn away from the road towards the lake.
This is the South Loop, and we found it difficult to follow as it was very overgrown.
We don’t know how often it is maintained since it can be easily cut off from the rest of the trail by water levels.
While it was tricky to follow, keep looking for those red arrows. It eventually loops back to the berm you came in on.
Turn left and retrace your route back to the trailhead, crossing the open spots again. Enjoy the views of the sunflowers.
Learn more about Lake Jesup Conservation Area
More articles about visiting Lake Jesup Wilderness
September is the time to see swamp sunflowers in bloom, and there’s no better in-your-face place to see them up close in the Orlando area than Lake Jesup Wilderness in Sanford.
In September, swamp sunflowers put on a colorful show along the St. Johns River between Sanford and Geneva, north of Orlando. Here’s where to take a hike to find them.
October 1 marks the traditional start of Florida’s hiking season, so it’s time to start planning your outdoor adventures! October is also normally designated Florida Greenways & Trails Month, but I haven’t heard a peep about it from my usual sources. Let’s get out and celebrate anyway. Last week, the morning temperatures were in the …
See our photos of Lake Jesup Wilderness
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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
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