At Lake May Reserve, Lake County’s acquisition of 136 acres of former orange groves and the habitats that surround them have blossomed into an easy-to-access place to hike.
We discovered it while making regular drives past it as the trailhead was being established, and finally stopping to take a look after a year’s worth of activity led to a place to park and restrooms.
The kiosk at the trailhead describes the trail as 2.4 miles long, but that includes all the connectors in the middle.
We walked the outer perimeter to make a 1.8 mile loop, hitting the high points of this surprisingly diverse preserve.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.8 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.872393, -81.629878
Address: 36300 County Road 44A, Eustis
Restroom: At the trailhead
Land manager: Lake County
Open dawn to dusk. Pets are not permitted.
From downtown Eustis, follow SR 19 north to CR 44 at the traffic light with Publix and Winn Dixie shopping centers on either side. Turn right. Drive 2.2 miles east, passing the entrance to Trout Lake Nature Center before the road becomes CR44A. Continue another 1.4 miles, passing through the Estes Rd traffic light. Soon after that intersection, the road curves. Watch for the trailhead on the left immediately after the blueberry farm entrance on the right.
Deciding on a counterclockwise loop around the perimeter, we started out in planted pines that opened up into a scrubby area with prickly pear cactus.
As the preserve had newly opened, the landscape seemed a bit worked over and torn up, probably from the removal of unwanted trees.
We followed orange posts with brown arrows on them, which led us into a climax sandhill forest with lots of laurel oaks.
About a half mile in, we came across a Lake County interpretive markers for red blanket lichen, and clusters of deer moss across the forest floor.
Florida rosemary entered the picture as the habitat transitioned into a sand pine scrub, with reindeer lichen growing on bright white sand.
Emerging at an old orange grove above Lake May, we had an option for a return trail along the lake at 0.8 mile but stayed on the perimeter trail instead.
It was the right choice. The hillside below the old groves provided nice panoramas of the lake.
The trail continued into a hardwood hammock where older saw palmetto dominated a portion of the understory.
Where it transitioned into an oak hammock, Spanish moss hung in thick draperies overhead.
Popping out into an open scrub, we were delighted to see one massive Florida rosemary dominating the middle of this sandy spot.
Nudging close to the property line and close to the highway by 1.4 miles, the trail stayed in the shade of the hardwoods above the lake.
Now and then, we could see the blue waters through the oaks and palms. Panoramas opened up again after we crossed a bridge in the woods.
Rounding an old shed from the former grove, the trail provided one more glimpse of the lake before heading uphill.
Returning to the scrubby former citrus grove, we saw where gopher tortoises had burrows in several spots.
Closing the loop, we made a right to exit to the parking area, completing a 1.8 mile hike.
See our photos of Lake May Reserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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