A Sarasota County preserve established as habitat for the Florida scrub-jay, Manasota Scrub Preserve immerses you in 145 acres of scrubby flatwoods pressed between the development pressures of the coast between Venice and Englewood. A large flatwoods pond in the middle provides a good birdwatching spot for early morning visitors. The 1.5 mile perimeter loop can be supplemented with a separate out-and-back hike to the far corner of the preserve.
Length: 1.5 miles
Type: loop with shorter options
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
From the junction of US 41 and Business US 41 south of Venice, drive south for 4.3 miles and turn right onto SR 776 (Englewood Rd). After 2.3 miles turn right on Manasota Beach Rd. The trailhead entrance is on the left after half a mile.
From the trailhead, an accessible boardwalk arcs over a low-lying area under the slash pines, emptying out at a picnic table and kiosk with map of the preserve. Brochures have interpretive information corresponding to markers along the trail route. The natural surface trail begins here, veering between pines and saw palmetto. After 400 feet you come to a T intersection. Keep left, passing the first marker “The Scrub” and then the second marker. At the next junction, keep right to start the loop, walking past bracken ferns beneath the pines. You’ll come to the first bench soon after. This is an open scrubby flatwoods with a broad view across the understory of saw palmetto and a smattering of slash pines scattered throughout the landscape. Wiregrass fills the small clearings between the saw palmetto on the right side of the trail. Look for armadillo holes and tracks in the sand. Passing some small mounds at a quarter mile, you can see the sweep of pine flatwoods off to the left and some houses beyond the western boundary of the preserve on the right. Blueberries grow in an area with a thicket of small scrub oaks.
Cross trails lead off to the left, connecting with the other side of the loop. Stay on the outer loop, which is closest to the western boundary of the preserve. As it heads towards a denser pine forest, as you reach a half mile you come up to the boundary fence. Turn left and follow the trail briefly along the fence line. The trail curves back inward into the preserve, passing a little depression – perhaps a sinkhole, perhaps a borrow pit – with what looks like a midden adjoining it, with bits of seashell spilling out. A large oak sits atop the mound. A small willow marsh on the right is flanked by cabbage palms. As the trail rises, you see more speckles of sea shells underfoot.
Reaching a junction with the other side of the loop, turn right and walk down along this trail briefly to reach a stile that marks another access point for the preserve. Turn around and come back along the same route – it’s worth the short walk for the pretty stand of pines on your right on the return trip. The forest off to the right is much denser, a mix of pine flatwoods with older oaks large enough to create their own microclimates with an array of ferns beneath them.
Passing the next bench, continue beyond the young slash pines growing in the understory under the palms to the next trail junction near a marshy area. Turn left to follow this loop around the wetland. It’s a wet prairie busy with bird life, dense with needlerush in the middle gleaming a golden-green and an outer ring of goldenrod adding another splash of color. A bench sits under a copse of oaks at 1 mile where you’ll find an interpretive sign about pine flatwoods. Mesic, or slightly wet, pine flatwoods are off to the right, with xeric, or very dry, flatwoods to the left. The trail has been relocated to the right away from a large slash pine for a short stretch before it continues its curve around the wetland past the cabbage palms.
At 1.1 miles, you reach the main trail again. Turn left. Denser pines sit off to the right, these ones with the largest and nicely shaped crowns. Look for gopher tortoise burrows in this area. By 1-1/4 miles, you reach a confusing junction with trails going to the left, right, and far right. We took the one in the middle, and it led to the property boundary near the preserve entrance. Turn left, and work your way back towards the kiosk. Or, take the trail to the left of middle, and it will get you back to the kiosk more directly. Exit via the boardwalk to complete the 1.5 mile hike.