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One of the most scenic places to hike in the Orlando metro, Little-Big Econ State Forest offers a day hike loop best accessed from the Barr Street trailhead.
Named the Kolokee Loop after a turn-of-the-century railroad town along the Florida East Coast Railway, it’s along the Florida Trail and includes three trails.
Rugged and rooty in many places, the hike includes high bluffs and bridges, campsites along the route, and several benches for stops to savor the views.
Enormous alligators sun on river banks and in the swamps below the trail. Keep alert for raccoons in the trees and flocks of songbirds winging through.
It takes a 1.1 mile hike on the Florida Trail to the white-blazed Kolokee Trail, a 1.2 mile connector to the Flagler Trail.
Following the Flagler Trail a half mile to the Econlockhatchee River, you catch the Florida Trail’s most scenic piece along the river bluffs and river swamps back to your starting point.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 5.6 mile balloon loop
Trailhead: 28.687403, -81.159278
Fees: $3 parking at Barr Street trailhead
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Leashed dogs welcome. Insect repellent a must. Primitive campsites available at West Camp, must be reserved in advance.
The short portion of the loop that utilizes the Flagler Trail (from the east end of the Kolokee Trail to the Econlockhatchee River bridge) is multi-use.
An problem along this route is unauthorized equestrian use, obvious from holes knocked through bridge decks on footbridges not meant to carry the weight of a horse. Use caution.
From downtown Oviedo, follow Geneva Dr (CR 426) east towards Geneva. The trailhead is on the right not long after you pass Lockwood Blvd.
Starting at the Barr Street trailhead, follow the white blazes through a dense, humid hammock of cabbage palms and large live oaks festooned in resurrection fern.
Watch your footing, as it’s rooty underfoot. You reach the orange blazes of the Florida Trail after 0.2 mile. Turn left.
Cross the bridge over Salt Creek. The trail turns right and parallels the creek as it flows down to the Econlockhatchee River, ducking in and out of tunnels of shade before it reaches benches on the bluff.
West Camp starts to the left, paralleling the forest road, with the group campsite #1 nearest. Walk past the sign and look for the turnoff towards the river bluff.
Follow the Florida Trail along the bluff, where it offers views of the river between screens of vegetation. A memorial bench perches at one scenic point.
The trail turns towards the forest road again, rejoining it. Pass Sites 2 and 3, and a side channel flowing into the river that serves as a water source.
The trail leaves the forest road for the narrow footpath through the oaks, pines, and hickories along the bluffs, the river only visible down little social paths to the bluffs.
Beyond the LE-30 sign at 0.8 mile, the trail leaves West Camp and the pine forest for the lush humid hardwood forest that makes up most of the rest of this hike.
Passing what remains of the crossed palms in the ditch, you come up to the first in a series of many footbridges in this section. Many show age or damage, or both. Watch for holes in the flooring.
The trail becomes a sandy path in the hardwood forest, reaching the white-blazed Kolokee Trail at the LE3-32 sign at 1.1 mile. Turn left.
Cedars and oaks dominate the canopy, with the softly draped fronds of bluestem palm in the understory. Low spots cradle tannic waters.
During fall and winter, sweetgum and red maple sport autumn colors through the sparse forest canopy to the left, revealing floodplain swamps where cabbage palms thrive.
In a quarter mile, the trail reaches a collection of benches just before a bridge over a deep but narrow waterway. Oaks tower on higher ground, with more palm hammocks beyond.
The humidity created by the river and these floodplain swamps covers the tree limbs above in a soft fur of bromeliads.
The forest gets denser, closer, a tunnel in places, with palm fronds grazing you as you hike. Dark water creeps up to the edge of a low bridge along a cypress slough.
A floodplain is up ahead, with the start of a two-plank boardwalk evident. Follow it around the treed swamp and it leads to higher ground, the habitat transitioning to pine flatwoods.
Pass the LE-34 sign before the trail reaches the next bridge at 1.9 miles, a strudy short one built as an Eagle Scout project. Beyond it, the habitat becomes palm hammock.
Palms yield to pines. A paralleling forest road, a designated equestrian trail, is obvious to the left. The footpath may get mucky here. Pass under low-hanging oak limbs.
The next bridge is narrow and older. Not far beyond it, you see light up ahead, the habitat changing to sandhill.
At 2.4 miles, the white-blazed Kolokee Trail ends at a prominent intersection with the Flagler Trail. Two shaded benches flank the corners. Turn right at the Mile 6.5 marker.
Built as a spur off the Flagler Railroad over a century ago, the railbed sits above the surrounding floodplain swamps.
Pass a white-blazed turnoff on the left, a separate trail leading to forest headquarters.
The straightaway is deeply shaded and surprisingly brief. It ends above another bowl of swamp, the trail itself jogging to the left through a depression.
Cross a sturdy bridge and follow the footpath down to the right, between the old wooden piers of the railroad. The trail jogs left.
Dead ahead is another broad bridge, this one over the Econlockhatchee River itself. You meet the Florida Trail’s orange blazes here at 2.9 miles.
After taking in the river views from the bridge, backtrack and follow the orange blazes along the river bluffs past a bench. You cross a narrow bridge over a tributary soon after.
Oaks tower in this lush forest. The trail slips around a swamp covered in duckweed before passing the LE-40 sign, meandering into palm hammocks soon after.
One incredibly tall loblolly pine should catch your attention, between the girth of the blazed trunk and how it towers above the rest of the forest.
The trail edges to the river bluffs, with views through palm fronds and pine needles, before it reaches a bridge at the LE-41 sign at 3.4 miles.
Heading to the bluffs soon after, it affords both panoramas and a spot to scramble to a small beach where a live oak stretches far out over the water.
A sharp curve in the trail soon after provides a look at a curve in the river, where we saw alligators of enormous proportions sunning on the sandy shores below.
The trail makes a hard jog away from the river on bluffs above a vast bowl of swamp. Here, too, are massive alligators, fortunately well below the footpath.
Eventually the trail drops to water level, but it climbs quickly again, with sweeping views of the green-coated swamp. Turtles sun on logs.
Bromeliads deck the oaks and magnolias through the deeply shaded forest beyond the swamp. The trail affords another river view before it curves right to follow a tributary upstream.
Reach a long, high bridge just before the LE-42 marker. Pieces of the former bridge are scattered far below where the trunk of a cabbage palm arcs across the waterway.
Circling another swamp basin, the trail is crowded by bluestem palms. Pop out on a crumbling bluff where a relocation is in progress. As the river fluctuates, the sandy bluffs erode.
At 4.2 miles, the next bridge is old and tired but short. The sandy path leads to another great river view, this of a peninsula between a side channel and the river.
Amid hickories, oaks, and magnolias, loblolly pines tower once more as you near the LE-43 sign. Cedars form a screen behind which a bowl of swamp sits.
You close the loop after 4.5 miles, reaching the fork where you took the Kolokee Trail.
Continue straight ahead through familiar territory, across bridges and bluffs and past West Camp, to complete this 5.6 mile hike.
Learn more about Little Big Econ State Forest
A virtual walk in the woods on the Kolokee Loop
See our photos of the Kolokee Loop
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
One of the most beautiful hikes near Orlando is rugged, too: the Florida Trail atop bluffs above the Econlockhatchee River through Little-Big Econ State Forest.
Following a historic railroad route, the southern portion of the Flagler Trail provides a sometimes rugged, sometimes gentle offroad ride between Chuluota and Geneva.
Showcasing prairie ponds amid scrub on the edge of a pine flatwoods, Geneva Wilderness Area offers two loops of gentle paths on which to explore the habitats.