Protecting 475 acres of marshlands, prairie, and scrub forest near the community of Geneva, Lake Proctor Wilderness Area is one of the best places in the region to see sandhill cranes. They gather in the marshes along the lake’s edge, sometimes building nests and raising their young. The trail system at Lake Proctor provides several linked loops, enabling you to explore a variety of habitats for a mile, or two, or up to six.
Length: 4 miles
Lat-Long: 28.726650, -81.099167
Type: loops and balloon
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate
Open dawn to dusk. Trails are shared with off-road cyclists and equestrians.
From Sanford, follow SR 46 east to Geneva. Just beyond the intersection of SR 426 and SR 46 at the traffic light in Geneva, keep alert for the trailhead parking area on the left.
Starting off from the kiosk on the red-blazed trail, it’s a pleasant walk down a broad corridor flanked by saw palmetto and shaded by a hammock of sand live oaks with colorful gardens of lichens growing on their trunks and limbs. You come to a fork very quickly with an orange blazed trail. Keep right.
Making a slight left turn, the trail passes under tall longleaf pines within a sea of saw palmetto.This is a narrow corridor of oak scrub, transitioning into sand pine scrub with tall sand pines. Coming to a junction with the orange trail at 0.3 mile, continue straight ahead on the red trail. The habitat is now firmly sand pine scrub, with myrtle oak and Chapman oak in the understory. At the junction with the blue trail, continue straight as the trail loses its shady canopy to the open nature of the scrub. The trail heads down a very long corridor with lots of crunchy myrtle oak leaves underfoot.
As the trail narrows, it’s surrounded by young sand pine, soft and fluffy but not tall enough to cast much shade. Emerging into a stand of longleaf pines, you face a very old sand live oak with limbs reaching out in all directions. The rattling cries of the sandhill cranes echo across the marshes. At what looks like a junction, a marker urges you left.
Down a scrub corridor, the trail makes a sharp left and reaches a T intersection, the junction of blue and red trails, at an interpretive marker at 0.9 mile. Turn right. As you emerge under a powerline, follow the red marker to the right down this utility easement. At 1 mile, the trail quickly turns left and goes back into an oak scrub. The air traffic you hear overhead is from the Sanford International Airport, which is not far as the sandhill crane flies.
Crossing an unmarked trail, continue along the path outlined by the red trail markers. Entering a pretty patch of hardwood hammock, you notice the air cool down almost immediately. As you exit back into the scrub, you can hear the peeps and chirps of frogs as the trail works its way towards a depression marsh at 1.3 miles. It’s a beauty spot, edged by saw palmetto.
Scrambling up a slight bluff, the broad trail emerges back into the scrub. Off to the left there is a corner of a fence line. The trail continues to the right. This section of the red trail may be a little tricky to follow. Keep alert to the red markers, especially wherever you encounter intersections. A seafoam-colored lichen, old man’s beard, dangles from the crooked limbs of a rusty lyonia like stiff, dyed streamers of Spanish moss.
You reach a covered rain shelter with a map (complete with “You Are Here”) at 1.5 miles. Get your bearings here. Despite the temptation to follow the narrow trail, continue along the red trail, which follows the jeep road away from the shelter. The red trail comes up to a fork along the road; take the left fork to return into the forest.
At the next junction, the yellow-blazed Scrub Loop heads off to the left towards a bayhead, a marshy area with loblolly bay trees. This trail is an optional add-on for a perimeter hike. While it immerses you into even more of the scrub habitat, a large portion of its length is spent following the property line along a fence, which isn’t particularly scenic but may be worthwhile for birding.
Continuing along the red blazes, you enter scrubby flatwoods. At the second junction of red and yellow blazes, turn right. Winding through the diminutive scrub, the trail crosses an access road. The scrub is regenerating through this area, and new interpretive signs have been put in place. Continuing uphill over an access road, there’s a nice view of a wet prairie, where sandhill cranes may be wading. A bench sits within sight of a stand of bleached tree trunks, memorializing pines that lost their battle to pine bark beetles.
Paralleling the powerline, the red blazes finally meander beneath it to a marker that ushers you to the left. The red blazes lead back to the parking area. However, the highlight of this trail system is the walk along Lake Proctor, and it’s in the opposite direction. Turn right and walk up the powerline, past the red trail to the right and up to the junction on the left. Continue left, headed back to the main trail junction at 2.6 miles. Continue straight, following the blue markers as the trail drops down towards the lake through the pine forest. At the next rain shelter, the crossroad of many unmarked trails, follow the blue markers to the left.
You have your first glimpse of Lake Proctor through the trees as the trail gently descends to the edge of this large, shallow wetland, more wet prairie than lake. A side trail leads right down to the edge, where leopard frogs sing in the shallows. What you see is just one little arm of the lake, which the trail now rambles along, beneath the longleaf pines and Southern magnolia, which release sweet scents from their dinner-plate-sized blooms each May.
At 2.9 miles, the trail swings right to work its way around a tall wall of saw palmetto, and you soon have the lake in your sights again. Lily pads drift across the placid surface. Meandering past a depression marsh, the trail makes its way back to the lakeshore at a spot with an interpretive sign and bench. Saw palmetto rises up on its trunks, stretching up above the trail, as you hear sandhill cranes kicking up a fuss not far ahead. After another short jaunt along the lakeshore beneath loblolly bay trees, the trail emerges at another marshy arm of the lake.
Leaving the lakeshore past an ephemeral pond, the blue trail meets the red trail at 3.3 miles. Turn right. At the picturesque oak just a little ways down the trail, bear right to walk along the orange trail, the shortest of the loops. It makes its way quickly down to the marsh edge, where a sign “Eastbrook Wetlands,” claims the spot for a local school. A tall slash pine has a deep slash in its trunk, a catface speaking to the turpentine industry that was once an important part of the local economy. At 3.7 miles, a bench provides a beautiful view of this long arm of Lake Proctor. The trail makes a sharp left. The sound of traffic increases and the forest grows denser as you draw closer to the trailhead, walking uphill through an oak hammock. Keep to the right as you return to the red trail, and you emerge at the trailhead after 4 miles.