CLOSED due to Hurricane Ian damage
A lesser-known but beautiful loop trail within Seminole State Forest, the Lower Wekiva Loop provides a long day hike or overnight backpacking trip on its 10.7-mile route.
Tracing the edge of both the Wekiva River and Blackwater Creek to where the waters merge, this loop never gets within sight of the waterways but lingers in spectacular palm hammocks in the lowlands.
In the floodplain, it showcases ancient trees and colorful wildflowers like the pine lily. Traversing the uplands, it offers a counterpoint of expansive views against the lush intimacy of the hammocks.
It is made up of both a portion of the Florida Trail and a white-blazed side trail. Built and maintained by the Florida Trail Association, it’s a fine example of trail craftsmanship.
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Length: 10.7 miles
Trailhead: 28.8196, -81.4287
Fees: $2 per person entrance fee
Land Manager: Florida Forest Service
Leashed pets welcome. Vault toilet and picnic pavilion at the trailhead, both part of the adjoining Bear Pond Recreation Area.
This loop is part of the Trailwalker program of Florida State Forests.
Bicycles and horses are not permitted on the Florida Trail, nor on the Lower Wekiva Loop except where it joins established roads.
A network of graded forest roads provides access to the interior of the forest, but may have puddles or soft sand in spots. See the forest map to determine where you can drive.
Seasonal hunting occurs in Seminole State Forest, so check on hunting dates in advance. Wear bright orange if you choose to hike during hunts.
Since hunting dates here are limited, hunters prefer that you stay out of the woods during those dates.
Backpackers must pay a an additional nightly fee for use of the three campsites you can reach along the Lower Wekiva Loop.
Bears are frequently seen in this area. We strongly urge you to bear bag or use a bear canister if you camp here.
From Interstate 4 exit 101C at Sanford, take SR 46 west for 5.2 miles. After you cross the Wekiva River, look for the entrance to Seminole State Forest on the right. Continue 0.3 mile along the forest road – stopping at the self-service kiosk to pay the $2 day use fee – to park on the left at the Bear Pond trailhead.
If you are backpacking and haven’t reserved a campsite in advance, pay for one and grab a permit at the kiosk that adjoins the entrance to the Florida Trail.
Follow the orange blazes past a hand-lettered sign with mileage estimates, walking along the Florida Trail beneath the pines and oaks.
After half a mile, the trail crosses a bridge over a creek in the deep shade of a hardwood hammock before it rises up and broadens to a grassy corridor. The creek is the water source for the upcoming campsite.
At 0.8 mile, you reach Shelter Camp with its large three-sided camping shelter and roomy camping area on the edge of the expansive scrub forest.
Past the shelter, the trail turns right and comes up to the junction with the Wekiva Springs Loop. Sign the trail register and turn right to follow the white blazes into the scrub, ideal habitat for the Florida scrub-jay.
A denser forest, sloping down to the Wekiva River, is off to the right. As the forest crowds in more closely on both sides and the trees become taller, you can see a bayhead on the right.
Passing a sand road on the left at the edge of the scrub, enter a tunnel under the sand live oaks. Trails created by wildlife lead into the woods towards the river floodplain.
You can see tall cypresses and palms outlining the meandering flow of the Wekiva River in the distance, but you can’t get there from here.
Coming up to another firebreak on the left, you find a fork in the trail. The cypresses along the Wekiva River are quite obvious from here. Keep following the white blazes as the trail heads downhill.
At 2 miles, pass an incoming trail on the left. Continue straight ahead as the trail descends under taller slash pines and loblolly bay.
The footpath hits a short rolling section – up and down, up and down – where sweetgum shades the trail. The low spots can become damp at times.
The trail clambers atop an old tramway, elevated above the surrounding understory. Looking off to the left, you see an expanse of pine savanna, with bowls of saw palmetto on both sides.
Dropping back off the tramway, it’s a steady descent down through pines and oaks to reach the first dense hardwood hammock along the river basin.
Ancient cabbage palms rise overhead, some of their rootballs smothered in sphagnum moss waist-height. Glossy, dark-leaved needle palms are scattered throughout the understory, which can get soggy.
Amid the palms, a bridge crosses an ephemeral stream that flows out to the Wekiva River. After making a sharp curve, the trail heads deeper into the hammock before returning to the pine savanna.
By 3 miles, you’ve entered a scrub. An incursion of pine flatwoods merges the habitats into scrubby flatwoods. The trail heads downhill. In summer, pine lilies bloom in a wet prairie.
The next descent of the trail is towards the floodplain of Black Water Creek, which flows into the Wekiva River. Reaching an old forest road, the trail turns right. Follow the white blazes.
At 3.7 miles, a blue-blazed side trail leads to Pine Lily Camp, an appealing, well-shaded nook in the forest. It was our destination for our very first backpacking trip together, a beauty spot. No water is available, so haul it in with you if you camp here too.
Past the campsite, the trail follows a boardwalk paralleling the forest road. In springtime, blue flag iris bloom in this wetland. You pass a trail going off to the right.
Keep alert as you walk down this straightaway, since the trail leaves it at a sharp left at 4.4 miles—and an unmarked path keeps going straight ahead.
Loblolly pine surrounds you. Blueberries and bear scat edge this narrow corridor, and there are many bromeliads overhead, enjoying the humidity of the high canopy in this hammock near Black Water Creek.
Crossing another bridge over an ephemeral stream, you’ll see large live oaks in this hammock. The corridor becomes broad and comfortable enough to walk three abreast, although it is not a forest road.
In the winter, you can look off to the right and see the floodplain forest of Blackwater Creek through the lower canopy.
Your surroundings transition from the palm hammock into pine flatwoods with a more open understory. A small floodplain swamp sits off in the forest to the left. The trail re-enters a vast pine flatwoods.
The trail ascends into a mixed pine-palm flatwoods to reach a major trail junction at 5.1 miles. The yellow-blazed equestrian trail here leads south to East Spur Road.
It’s an alternative – the original route we scouted with trailmaster Tom Regan – to reconnect with the Lower Wekiva Loop at the trail at the 2 mile mark, for a 8.8-mile hike.
To complete the full loop, which uses the Florida Trail as its return to Bear Pond, keep following the white blazes.
Continuing along the edge of the flatwoods, the trail comes to a T with the Florida Trail at Main Grade Rd after 6.9 miles.
A quarter mile north is Blackwater Camp and Blackwater Creek, if you want to make a detour up there to see the creek in all its glory. The loop hike otherwise turns south here.
Watch for where the Florida Trail leaves Main Grade to continue through wet flatwoods to its west. After crossing Main Grade, you enter a sweeping panorama of pine-dotted prairie.
A sharp right turn sends the trail through prairie and scrub. You cross graded East Spur Road at 8.5 miles, walking into a longleaf pine restoration area.
Pines yield to scrub forest as you pass a prairie panorama to the west. This young scrub is ideal for Florida scrub-jays, which you may see flitting past in a blur of blue.
After 9.9 miles, you close the loop at the mailbox holding the trail register at the start of the Lower Wekiva Loop. Walk straight ahead into Shelter Camp.
Continue along the orange-blazed Florida Trail, which narrows before it crosses the bridge over the creek. It’s another half mile to the Bear Pond trailhead, where you complete your hike after 10.7 miles.
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
Nearby Parks and Trails
Other parks and trails connecting to this route or within an easy drive nearby.
North of Orlando, Black Bear Wilderness Area in Sanford offers some of the best wildlife watching in the region on its loop along the St. Johns River.
Tubing down Rock Springs Run is why most folks show up at Kelly Park, but the Kelly Loop Trail is a nice dry way to see the waterway and wildlife.
Trail Map (PDF) Hunt Dates Official Website