Providing a different take on the uplands around Charlotte Harbor, the Old Datsun Trail at Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park meanders through an area once covered in vegetable farms – the historic Miles School of Practical Agriculture and Free School for Truckers, circa 1905. You’ll hardly believe it today, with the size of some of the oaks along this 1.7 mile hiking loop.
Location: Punta Gorda
Length: 1.7 mile
Lat-Long: 26.851145, -82.022075
Bug Factor: moderate to annoying
From I-75 exit 161, head west on CR 768 for 1.3 miles, which becomes CR 765 (Burnt Store Rd) just before crossing US 41. Continue another 2.7 miles to the trailhead entrance on the right.
Pick up a trail map at the kiosk and follow the trail to the right, guided by arrow signs. You step over a gopher tortoise burrow as you walk along the footpath. At the T intersection, turn right. The purple blooms of spiderwort and bright pink puffs of sensitive brier peep up from the tall grass as you enter the cabbage palm flatwoods.
Slash pine makes up the high canopy, with cabbage palms and scattered oaks below. The loop starts at 0.2 mile. Turn right. As you walk, notice how the ground seems to be furrowed beneath the vegetation—signs of the former vegetable farms that occupied this land. The footpath can be a bit indistinct, but the arrow markers are well-placed so you don’t lose your way.
At the T intersection with a jeep trail, turn right. As you skirt an oak hammock shrouded in deep shade, the trail curves to the right. Turning left past a thick slash pine, the trail passes a bench under the shade of the live oak hammock and continues into a dense palm hammock. Off to your left, beyond the trees, you can see a large freshwater marsh with yellow cannas and marsh mallow clustered around the edges. The footpath may be damp as you round a corner past the marsh.
In a palm hammock, the trail cuts a corridor through the thickening understory of saw palmetto. The trail makes several sharp turns through the flatwoods before entering another palm hammock. Passing a bench at 0.8 mile, the trail turns to the left. A dark waterway lies off to the right as you catch a glimpse of the wetlands far to the left. You cross a bridge over a sluggish stream draining the wetlands, continuing past another bench in the shady palm hammock. Take care as to where the trail goes, as some of the markers are missing. The path twists and curves between the cabbage palms, turning sharply left.
You reach a bench at 1 mile. The trail continues through a string of cabbage palm hammocks, alternating stretches of open sun with deep shade. Twisting and winding in and out of the hammocks, the trail passes another bench. At 1.4 miles, the jeep trail you’re on continues straight, but the hiking trail turns to the left into an oak hammock. At the T intersection, turn left. Keep right at the fork, leaving the jeep trail for the mowed path. A few moments later, you finish the loop. Continue straight to return to the parking area. Make sure to turn left along the path when you see a paved road in front of you. Reaching the parking area, you’ve completed a 1.7-mile hike.