One of the closest trail systems to Florida’s Turnpike, Oakland Nature Preserve showcases 128 acres of natural shoreline on Lake Apopka.
It is Florida’s fourth largest lake and, like Lake Okeechobee, one that has undergone dramatic change due to human intervention.
Part of the purpose of this preserve is to educate visitors about the damage done to Lake Apopka and how it is slowly being corrected. Volunteers help with this mission.
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Length: 2.1 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.554992, -81.639834
Address: 747 Machete Trail, Oakland FL 34760
Restroom: at the Environmental Education Center
Land manager: Town of Oakland
Open daily sunrise to sunset. No dogs or bicycles permitted on trails. Stay on marked trails.
The Jim Thomas Environmental Education Center is generally open Mon-Fri 9-4. Sometimes the center is busy with school groups.
From Florida’s Turnpike exit for Clermont / Winter Garden (SR 50), go east less than a mile to the first road on your left. There is no light or blinker, so it’s tricky to cross traffic. There is a “Post Office” sign here.
Follow this road, Tubb St, to its intersection with SR 438, Oakland Avenue. Turn left. Continue less than a mile, turning right at the sign for the nature preserve. Proceed through the front gate and follow the preserve road around to the parking area.
The trail system at Oakland Nature Preserve is in three parts. Enjoy it in pieces or as one hike. Of these, the boardwalk is the most compelling destination.
Lake Apopka Boardwalk
Winding out to Lake Apopka, the Lake Apopka Boardwalk is the showcase of the preserve, offering immersion in the floodplain forest and dramatic views along the lakeshore.
Start your hike by leaving the parking area to walk down to the first segment of boardwalk, which quickly settles into the floodplain forest. Look over the railing to see netted chain ferns in the ripples of the water.
The boardwalk ends abruptly at dry ground with a bench. The Green Trail goes off to the right to loop into an oak hammock. Explore it on the return trip. Keep to the concrete path to the main boardwalk.
The broad boardwalk winds gently through the floodplain forest. Red maple and lobolly bay rise from the inky waters. Reach the first rain shelter after a quarter mile.
Passing a second rain shelter, note the remnants of the ancient cypress that once lined this lake as the trail curves past an enormous stump. The horizon of Lake Apopka is near, beyond a large patch of pennywort.
Winding beneath draperies of Spanish moss, the boardwalk ends at a large covered pavilion along the open waters of Lake Apopka at 0.6 mile, offering outstanding views.
Returning the same way, reach the Green Trail after a mile. It loops off to the left at a sign “Bird Watching Area.” Keep left to walk along the marsh edge. Wild citrus hang low with fruit.
Passing an outdoor classroom, the trail comes to a picnic grove under the oaks, shaded by a grandfather oak. It turns to follow the fence line.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Antelope, ibex, or emus may be browsing along the fence on an adjacent wildlife preserve, Briley Farms.
There are stops with benches to watch the animals. The Green Trail reaches an intersection with itself right after the gazebo. A right returns to the boardwalk. Stay with the fence to reach the parking area.
At 1.3 miles, walk through the parking area uphill to the Environmental Education Center and look for the orange-tipped post that starts the Uplands Trails.
This mazy network of short trails roams through the sandhills, connecting to the West Orange Trail, a major bicycle corridor.
There is no right or wrong way to explore. Highlights in this area include a pine flatwoods, a small cabin, and a sandhill restoration area. There is a large shelter where the trail system meets the West Orange Trail, with benches and a water fountain.
Yellow-tipped posts lead downhill steeply towards a sinkhole and the sandhill restoration. At the junction of yellow and orange, a bridge crosses a small fern-filled waterway.
At the orange and blue marker, follow the blue blazes back up to the Environmental Education Center. Stop and visit with the forest animals, visit the displays, or relax in a rocking chair. Then amble back to the parking lot to wrap up your 2.1 mile hike.
A slideshow walkthrough of the Lake Apopka boardwalk at dusk
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
On a 1.7-mile loop, Crooked River Preserve showcases a wide variety of habitats in a short hike on the northernmost extent of the Lake Wales Ridge in Clermont
As longleaf pine reaches for the sky, the rolling hills of Lake Louisa State Park near Clermont return to their forested roots