Just upriver from Lake Monroe in Sanford, Lake Monroe Conservation Area is far larger than it appears.
It includes all of the St. Johns River floodplain marshes you can see from SR 415, up and down the river.
More than two decades ago, we first explored the old ranch roads and newly blazed trails across this often-soggy landscape, and took a tour by airboat.
Along the edges of the river basin are impressive old-growth palm hammocks with ancient live oaks. Middens along the water’s edge have faded from memory.
Nearly 95% of this preserve is under water almost all of the time. But across the remaining uplands, a network of recreational trails provide access.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 12.8 miles in three trails
Trailhead: 28.819711, -81.184547
Address: 615 SR 415, Osteen
Restroom: At Beck Ranch Park
Land manager: St. Johns River Water Management District
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome. Insect repellent recommended for mosquitoes and ticks.
Check hunt dates before you visit. Deer hunting generally spans Nov and Dec, prime hiking months. Wear bright orange if hiking during any hunting season.
Trails here will flood when the St. Johns River rises. Turn back if you encounter flowing water on any of the trails.
From Interstate 4, take exit 101C, Sanford. Head east on SR 46 into Sanford, and pay careful attention to the road joining and leaving US 17-92. Reaching the light at SR 415, turn left. Follow SR 415 north for 2.5 miles, crossing the St. Johns River Bridge into Volusia County. The main trailhead at Brickyard Slough is the first turn on the right, just inside the gates for Beck Ranch Park. The Kratzert Trailhead is 0.6 mile west of Beck Ranch Park along Reed Ellis Rd. Lemon Bluff access is north off SR 415 off Lemon Bluff Rd.
About the Preserve
More than ten thousand acres of cattle ranches once fronted the northern bank of the St. Johns River, extending right out into the marshes of the river floodplain.
To protect water quality along the St. Johns River basin, the state and Volusia County bought out the ranches over many years. The Osteen and Beck ranches were the largest ones.
Surrounded by the conservation area, Beck Ranch Park is a 25 acre Volusia County Park that interprets the former ranch while providing trail access, picnic areas, and restrooms.
The trails on the east side of SR 415 are popular with equestrians, since a large trailhead accessed through Beck Ranch Park has plenty of room for horse trailers.
Hikers have three other access points to trails in the preserve, including a trailhead along Reed Ellis Rd and an access point along Lemon Bluff Rd that may be gated to cars.
Being in the river floodplain means even the slightly-higher preserve easily floods, particularly along Brickyard Slough.
Cattle still roam freely through the preserve on a lease agreement. Signage warns you where they are and to leave gates as is.
Since cattle can be dangerous to hikers and cyclists, use caution when hiking and don’t approach them.
On the Kratzert Tract off Reed Ellis Rd, the Kratzert Trail is a 1.6 mile hiking loop constructed more than two decades ago.
It tunnels into the heart of the palm and oak hammocks along the floodplain ridge, showing off their beauty.
Soon after acquisition, the ranch road out to Brickyard Slough was blazed with red diamonds, and remains a popular equestrian trail.
As we discovered hiking it, not only can it flood, but it has stretches of deep soft sand. The oak and palm hammocks along it are beautiful, however.
A primitive camping area is provided not far from the end of the trail in a nicely shaded spot.
The trail ends at a beauty spot in a palm hammock along the slough, with a shelter to sit and relax in before the return trip.
From the Brickyard Slough trailhead, the round trip out to the river and back is 4 miles.
In the northeast corner of Lake Monroe Conservation Area, the Yellow Loop was built and is maintained by a local Boy Scout troop.
Along it is a group camp used by Scouts and others. This corner of the preserve is home to a small Florida scrub-jay population.
A walk-in gate at Lemon Bluff Rd on a connector to the loop nets a 4.3 mile hike. If the gate is open you can park in the parking corral.
A yellow-blazed connector trail ties this trail to the red-blazed Brickyard Slough trail for a 6.2 mile round-trip and loop from the Brickyard Slough trailhead.
We discovered a back gate at Beck Ranch Park that appeared to allow access to the Yellow Trail as well. From here, the hike to, from, and around the loop would be 4.7 miles.
The trails of Lake Monroe Conservation Area are open to off-road cyclists. Our experience is that they are too rooty (Kratzert) and too wet / sandy (Brickyard Slough) for a pleasant ride.
However, there is a paved side path along SR 415 that provides a unique perspective on the preserve. You can join it from the Brickyard Slough trailhead in the front of Beck Ranch Park.
Heading south to the river, it reveals the expanse of the marshes of Brickyard Slough to the east, which host masses of swamp sunflowers blooming in early fall.
The bike path goes under the highway and follows its own dedicated lane on the west side of the bridge over the St. Johns, with even better views up along the Kratzert Tract.
Following the bike path north along SR 415, it passes along the entire extent of the upland part of the conservation area, with access to Lemon Bluff Rd to reach that trailhead.
It also continues all the way to Osteen, where you can connect to the lengthy East Central Regional Rail Trail, which crosses SR 415 on a showy bridge.
While both boaters and paddlers are welcome to explore the marshes of this conservation area, there is no put-in for either on the north side of the river.
Instead, it’s necessary to put in at Cameron Wight Park off SR 46 (5502 Old Geneva Rd, Sanford)where the highway crosses the river’s connector to Lake Jesup.
The grassy islands are quite tall through this part of the river and it has many mazy cutoffs between the put-in and the landing at Brickyard Slough. Navigational aids are a must.
Groups may contact the District about use of the camping area off Lemon Bluff Rd. It has a pitcher pump and a portalet. The site must be reserved in advance.
Individuals are welcome to camp at the established primitive camping area near the end of the Brickyard Slough trail. Sites here are first come, first served.
See our photos from Lake Monroe Conservation Area
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Just east of Osteen, Hickory Bluff Preserve provides a 1.5-mile loop to a bluff of notable size along a scenic stretch of the St. Johns River
An unearthly glowing bowl in shades of green, the centerpiece of an ancient forest at Green Springs is surrounded by gurgling streams and the trails that follow them
On a mile-long loop in grassy prairies along Lake Jesup, enjoy palm-framed panoramas of the open prairies along the lakeshore