As we pulled off US 192 onto Old Melbourne Highway, we noticed the big “For Sale” sign on the right, right in front of a steep ridge of tall sand pine with a forest floor that gleamed like snow. “What a shame,” we said.
We were here to hike at Lake Lizzie Conservation Area, at an entrance that had been moved back when US 192 was widened and a retention pond was carved into the preserve. Neither of had been here since that happened.
Despite its name, the Marsh Loop at Lake Lizzie Conservation Area in Osceola County isn’t very marshy. It’s mostly a trip through a scrub forest.
But the payoff is a boardwalk out onto the marshes that border Lake Lizzie on its eastern side.
It was a delight to discover that the Marsh Loop isn’t really about the marsh, although it leads you to it.
It’s firmly on the sand pine ridge, surrounded by dense scrub reminiscent of the Ocala National Forest.
This easy-to-follow 1.7 mile hike connects to a maze of multi-use trails that extend for 11 miles to the north throughout this thousand acre preserve.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: St. Cloud
Length: 1.7 mile loop
Address: 6495 Old Melbourne Hwy, St. Cloud
Restroom: Vault toilets at trailhead
Land manager: Osceola County
Open dawn to dusk. Leashed pets welcome. Do not remove artifacts or plants.
If you plan to hike anywhere else in the preserve other than the Marsh Loop, be sure to print and take along a map.
Primitive camping is available for a fee at the north end of the preserve.
The W.P. Tyson trailhead, the southern access point for Lake Lizzie Conservation Area, is just off US 192 on Old Melbourne Hwy to the east of St. Cloud.
Leaving the parking area, you’re immediately immersed in the scrub.
The trail is rather wide, presumably for the use of heavy equipment to build and maintain trails.
That was the only negative of our hike: the tread of a bulldozer tore deeply into the sand for a longer portion of the footpath than seemed necessary.
As the trail loses elevation, the habitat transitions from sand pine scrub into oak scrub, where the oaks are laden with ball moss and lichens speckle their trunks.
Some false narrow trails lead off into the woods, but the wide trail is the main trail. You pass signs marking off mileage along the way.
Arriving at a four-way intersection after a half mile, you’ll see a grassy path to the right and an uphill path to the left. Go straight ahead, as the sign indicates.
The trail drops down into a mix of pines and loblolly bay. You can see places where it could get wet underfoot at certain times of year.
A wall of saw palmetto banks a curve in the trail as you approach the observation deck over the marsh that edges Lake Lizzie.
From the end of the deck, you can see the lake glimmer in the distance.
What’s more interesting are the wildflowers right near the marsh overlook boardwalk, including bright purple bladderwort rising out of inky waters.
Leaving the marsh overlook, take a right to continue around the loop. You’ll come across another boardwalk, this one right under the trees.
It’s not along the shoreline, so it was likely built when the water was higher in the marsh. The surrounding habitats seem dry.
By the looks of it, water levels haven’t been high in a very long time. Loblolly bay trees hug the shoreline, providing shade for ferns.
The trail rises up atop the ridge again, and the habitat transitions to oak scrub.
Ignore the unmarked side trails until you see one leading into an open area to your left.
This is the sand bowl, an interesting formation that shows off the ancient dunes in the midst of the sand pine scrub.
Heading downhill, the trail quickly comes to the end of the loop at the four-way intersection at 1.2 miles.
You’ve been here before so you should recognize the landmarks.
Turn right to take the main trail back out to the parking area, ascending through the sand pine scrub along the way.
Learn more about the trails of Lake Lizzie Conservation Area
See our photos from the Marsh Loop
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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Ancient live oaks provide a tightly knit canopy over the 0.9-mile trail system at Lake Runnymede Conservation Area, a 43 acre urban preserve.