In the most accessible corner of the thousand acres that make up Lake Lizzie Conservation Area in Osceola County, the Marsh Loop is an easy-to-follow 1.7 mile hiking-only loop connected to a maze of multi-use trails. Despite its name, it isn’t very marshy: it’s mostly about the scrub.
Location: St. Cloud
Length: 1.7 miles
Fees / Permits: Free
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: at the trailhead
Lake Lizzie Conservation Area is open dawn to dusk, and is managed by Osceola County.
The trailhead is just US 192 on Old Melbourne Rd to the east of St. Cloud at 6495 Old Melbourne Hwy, St. Cloud, FL 34771
As we pulled off US 192 onto Old Melbourne Highway, I 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,” I 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. I hadn’t been back since that happened.
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 reminscent of the world’s largest sand pine scrub forest in the Ocala National Forest. 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, and that was my only dislike on this hike: the tread of a bulldozer tore deeply into the sand for a longer portion of the footpath than seemed necessary.
As you lose 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, and 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 this viewpoint, 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 much higher in Lake Lizzie. By the looks of it, it hasn’t been this 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. Be sure to turn right to take the main trail back out to the parking area, ascending through the sand pine scrub along the way.