A riverine aquatic preserve encompassing both floodplain forests along the Wekiva River and upland woodlands, Lower Wekiva River Preserve protects over 18,000 acres.
It’s a significant chunk of land in a region where development has crept up to the river and buried some of its significant tributaries.
Most of it is set aside not just for rainfall but for wildlife. It is a stronghold for the Florida black bear, which we’ve seen in its backcountry.
Hikers can explore by land; paddlers by water. All excursions now start at Katie’s Landing along the Wekiva River.
Resources for exploring the area
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Trailhead: 28.82843, -81.41155
Address: 262 Wekiva Park Dr, Sanford
Fees: $3 per vehicle
Restroom: At Katie’s Landing trailhead
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed pets welcome.
Accessible restrooms and parking but no accessible river access or trails.
From Interstate 4 exit 101, Sanford, follow SR 46 west 5.2 miles. Turn right on Wekiva Park Dr at the circle before the Wekiva River bridge. Continue 1.2 miles to the entrance to Katie’s Landing on the left. The Fechtel Tract, which can only be accessed via a gate code, is off SR 44 in Pine Lakes, southwest of DeLand on the west side of the St. Johns River.
About the Park
When the SR 46 trailhead closed and earthmovers leveled a swath of sandhill forest to create the Wekiva Parkway, it was disheartening.
The Sandhill Nature Trail had been a favorite destination, and served as part of the Florida Trail. That access point and trail closed when parkway construction commenced.
Visitors to the preserve now access both hiking and paddling from Katie’s Landing. The 4.5-mile Red Loop heads into the woods from the opposite side of State Park Rd.
Given the press of subdivisions and roads from all sides, animal sightings are common: herds of deer, flocks of wild turkeys, and Florida black bears have all been spotted here.
At the end of Wekiva Park Rd, trammeled paths lead deep into the forest but they are not marked. Some are used by local equestrians.
Friends who’ve wandered into that dense floodplain have gotten lost bushwhacking. Stick with trails shown on park maps while exploring the preserve.
Katie’s Landing is an end point for a 10.4-mile go-with-the-flow paddle on the Wekiva River Paddling Trail.
Paddlers can continue downriver from Katie’s Landing to access to Black Water Creek and the Wekiva’s confluence with the St. Johns, but marshes and islands make navigation tricky.
Katie’s Landing offers picnic tables near the Wekiva River along with paved, accessible parking and restrooms.
A more secretive destination within the preserve is the Fechtel Tract on the west shore of the St. Johns River.
A former ranch, it has 26 miles of trails for equestrian use, and a horse barn and primitive camping for equestrians.
Call the number above for a gate code for access and to arrange camping. Camping fees are $5 adult, $2 children, free for horses.
A quiet path leads through sandhill, scrubby and mesic flatwoods, providing opportunities for bird watching among a vivid backdrop of seasonal flowers.
A leisurely float downriver from Wekiwa Springs provides paddlers an immersion in the beauty of a Wild and Scenic River teeming with wildlife.
A virtual walk in the woods at Lower Wekiva Preserve State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
With nearly 50 miles of trails and roads for hiking, biking, and equestrian use, Seminole State Forest offers surprising panoramas and bubbling springs north of Orlando.
Explore the Wekiva River and Black Water Creek floodplains on this lengthy loop hike in Seminole State Forest
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.