JANUARY 2020 UPDATE: We were disappointed to discover the boardwalk section of the trail system at Lake Mills Park closed off. No signage indicates when it will be rebuilt or reopen. The remainder of the park’s trails and campground remain the same.
One of Seminole County’s prettiest county parks, Lake Mills Park perches along the southwest shore of Lake Mills, where a hardwood swamp dominated by tall cypresses provides a focal point for a series of boardwalks that showcase its beauty.
Snuggled into the saw palmetto and oaks, the campground is especially inviting, and the park is always busy with families enjoying the modern playground, big picnic pavilions, and lakefront on which to fish or launch a kayak.
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Length: 0.8 mile loop
Address: 1301 Tropical Ave, Chuluota, FL
Fees: free unless camping
Restroom: at the picnic area
Land manager: Seminole County Parks
The park is open 8 AM to dusk. Those staying in the campground can roam the trails before and after hours. It’s a gorgeous setting for tent camping beneath a canopy of live oaks.
From downtown Oviedo, head east on CR 419 for 6.2 miles, passing through Chuluota. Turn left into Lake Mills Rd and drive 0.3 miles to Tropical Avenue. Turn left. The park entrance is on the right. Make a left at the T inside the gate.
Follow the park road around to the left, in the opposite direction from the campground, until you get to the last large pavilion that sits off by itself with a long strip of parking along the park road.
As you leave the parking area, you’re surrounded by the elements of a county park: scattered picnic benches, the picnic pavilion, restrooms off to the left, and a large fenced-in playground complete with a climbing wall and bouncy dinosaur.
Take a left past the playground to walk down to the lake. You can see a slight hint of its shimmering waters beyond the grand live oaks shading the picnic area, oaks more than 150 years old.
Crossing over the fitness trail that works its way through the park, continue the wander down the slight incline to see the lake. If you turn around, you can see where a trail meanders into the forest, where resurrection fern spills down a large live oak.
The trail system is a network of small trails meeting up within the swamp, so there are many ways to access it, which you’ll do a little farther down by the lake’s edge. Reaching a boardwalk, follow it out to the observation deck.
You’ll sometimes find anglers with their lines in the water from the observation deck, which overlooks a cove along 500-acre Lake Mills. It’s a sweeping view, where buttonbushes dangle over the water’s edge.
The ivory-yellow blooms of American lotus slowly undulate on the gentle waves of the lake. A snowy egret picks though the shallows. At the bases of the tall cypress, just beyond the water line, royal ferns grow in profusion.
Leaving this beauty spot, make a left. There are two trees straight ahead of you, a cypress and an oak, tangled up in each other’s embrace. You immediately come up to the first boardwalk. Turn right.
Although the signs say “Slippery when wet,” the Lake Mills boardwalk is nice and dry, carrying you over a hollow filled with ferns. Beside the boardwalk runs a creek with clear, slightly tannic water and a sand bottom.
Mounds of royal ferns cluster along its shores, along with copious amounts of poison ivy. Poison ivy climbs up the towering cypress, mimicking the leaves of the hickory trees. Being on the boardwalk keeps you out of harm’s way.
There are many benches and observation platforms along the boardwalk. You reach the first at a quarter mile, where you can look up and marvel at the height of the cypresses overhead. At the T intersection, make a left.
An observation platform sits right over the creek at this point. It’s an appealing place to sit and watch leaves drift past while lizards and skinks scurry over the fallen logs. A sweet scent in the air means something’s in bloom.
At the next T intersection, turn right to follow the creek upstream. Sunlight dapples through the deep shade of the canopy above. Ferns flourish in this damp environment, filling the understory with a diverse mixture of species.
A large deck beneath a massive cypress tree provides another overlook on the creek. Passing the next bench, you cross over the creek.
To the left, a tree arches over the creek as it flows out of a dense thicket of bayhead swamp, the waterway lit by a patch of sun where turtles stretch out for warmth on a sandbar.
There are interpretive markers along this section of the trail, but no guide to help you discern what they mean. Marker 6 is in front of a grapevine, marker 5 in front of a cypress tree.
What’s more important is what follows it on the right, a nice patch of swamp honeysuckle. It’s the only member of the rhododendron family in Florida that blooms during the summer months, and it is fragrant. It attracts colorful tiger swallowtail butterflies.
With the honeysuckle a backdrop to the transition, the boardwalk rises out of the swamp and into a scrub forest before emptying out into the campground next to Campsite 9 after 0.4 mile. This is the best access point for wheelchairs.
Turn around and retrace your steps back downhill along the boardwalk, crossing over the creek again and passing the deck. Lizards use the railing as their own personal speedway, zipping past you. At the T intersection, turn right.
This is an older section of boardwalk. Here, away from the creek, the water flow is sluggish, swampy beneath the dense forest canopy.
The boardwalk swoops around several bends, facing an open space ahead as you draw closer to the lake. Past a towering cypress on the right, the mounds of royal fern are especially showy.
The boardwalk emerges at the edge of the lake, with the park boundary marked by a fence on the right. Turn left and enjoy the view as you walk down what was one of the original roads in the area, which you can tell when you cross the old concrete bridge over the creek. Clusters of ginger – not native, but pretty – nestle up again the flowing water. Citrus trees flank the waterway.
A generation ago, the hills around Lake Mills were covered in citrus groves, now replaced by houses. There is an excellent view of the lake where the creek enters it, a spot favored by wading birds as they watch for fish darting out of the outflow.
By 0.6 mile, you’ve completed the loop back to the original boardwalk you started on. For a slightly different perspective on the swamp, turn left and walk back upstream along that boardwalk. At the T intersection, turn right.
From this boardwalk, you can better see the line of big cypresses that you’ve been walking through. Clusters of ferns grow high off the swamp floor, showing how deep the water can get.
The boardwalk ends along the edge of an outdoor classroom tucked into the pine forest. Soon after, you can see the picnic shelter in the distance, and you emerge within sight of the playground.
When you come to a T intersection and see the playground in front of you, turn right. Make the immediate left to walk back to your car, completing the easy 0.8 mile walk.
Our video from our most recent hike on the Lake Mills Park boardwalk
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
3.9 miles. Enjoy the natural beauty of habitat diversity along a scenic segment of the Florida Trail connecting Chuluota Wilderness and Bronson State Forest
One of the lesser-known trails of Little Big Econ State Forest, Culpepper Bend leads you to a panorama where the Econlockhatchee River meets the St. Johns River
Along its 9.4 mile route, the Florida Trail through Seminole Ranch and southern Bronson State Forest provides an unexpected array of botanical delights