Circling one of Oscar Scherer State Park’s notable water features, Lake Osprey, the wheelchair-accessible Lake Osprey Trail – the park’s newest trail, opened in 2010 – offers a natural surface exploration of the uplands surrounding the artesian-spring-fed waters. Birding is excellent, especially in the early morning hours. The many benches along this path make it easy for anyone to enjoy some time outdoors, no matter their ability to walk very far.
Length: 0.4 mile (extend with non-accessible but gentle spur walk to 1 mile)
Lat-Long: 27.174977, -82.462284
Fees / Permits: state park admission
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: at trailhead
Swimming is permitted in Lake Osprey at the small beach near the nature center. It’s fed by an artesian spring, so the water doesn’t stagnate. A bathhouse sits near the parking area. Canoe and kayak rentals are available at the South Creek Picnic Area, where a put-in is located.
From I-75 heading northbound, take exit 195, Nokomis / Laurel, and follow Laurel Road west 3.2 miles to US 41. Turn right and head north 2.5 miles into Osprey. The park entrance is on the right just after you cross South Creek. If you’re driving south on I-75, take exit 200, Venice/Osprey. Continue 3.8 miles west on FL 681 to US 41. Drive north on US 41 for 1.7 miles; the park entrance is on the right. Drive down the main park road to the Osprey Lake Picnic Area and nature center.
Start your walk by heading from the Lake Osprey Picnic Area through the Nature Center. These permanent displays are managed by volunteers from the Friends of Oscar Scherer State Park. Taking the time to look around inside, you’ll get a better perspective on the relevance of this state park – lands protected to preserve the habitat of the Florida scrub-jay, which is rarely found south of this area – its wildlife, and its habitats. Walk out the back door of the center towards the lake, and take a right. Ignore the signs calling you towards the Green Trail to the right, and follow the beaten path around to the sign for the “Lake Osprey Trail.” While it says that the trail is only 0.3 mile long, my GPS came up with 0.4 looping around back to the parking area. We’ll extend that walk a little with a side trip, which is not wheelchair accessible.
The footpath is made of crushed shells lined with plastic wood beams, meandering into the shady spaces above the spring-fed lake, which is ringed with cattails. You hear the squeak of squirrels and the flutter of sparrows in the trees. Just out of sight of the nature center, you come up to the first bench, in the shade of the hardwood hammock. Spanish moss drapes overhead from the live oak limbs, and sunlight filters through the palm fronds. American beautyberry is putting out its berries for the season. Through the palm fronds on your left, you get a nice view of the lake and its swimming beach. Water is bubbling up in the middle of the lake, which is bubbling up in the middle thanks to aerators to keep it moving. On this side of the lake, you are welcome to fish – sunfish, channel catfish, and bream swim in these waters.
There’s a spot ahead where it looks like the trail used to continue straight ahead, but it is now blocked off by a fence. The Lake Osprey Trail curves to the left instead, offering more views of the lake. A campfire circle is off in the woods to the right, and picnic table with space for a wheelchair on the left, overlooking the lake.
At a quarter mile, a park road leads off into the woods to the right. This is where you can extend today’s hike by going off the accessible trail and heading down the park road. It’s a shady journey back along the forest road to where the group campsite is located, as well as the access point to the Legacy Trail from the North Trail System. While not actually part of the Lake Osprey Trail – nor is it technically a trail, but an unpaved park road – this round-trip spur can add another easy half mile to your walk.
On the way out along the road, the terrain on your right is deeply shaded and undulating, a river bluff hammock shaped by the ongoing erosional forces of South Creek, which creates its own cool microclimate as it meanders through the heart of the scrub and scrubby flatwoods. You only see glimpses of the creek from the road – although the group campsite and its restrooms are obvious – but it’s worth following this walk out to where you can see it, along the Legacy Trail. Access to the Legacy Trail is just beyond the ending loop of the road, on the right. Bicyclists whiz past quickly, so stay to the right and turn right when you step on the pavement. Walk down a little ways to the bridge over South Creek, where a railroad trestle still crosses, for a pretty view. Returning back the way you came to the Lake Osprey Trail, you’ve walked three quarters of a mile.
The trail continues its curve around the lake, with open scrub off to your right, past the park road. The lake views, and opportunities to spot birds, are best on this side, since you can see both the scrub habitat and the sweep of the lake.
Notice the old bridge down the slope? Go ahead, clamber on down to it. It’s a bit unexpected to be watching a waterfall in South Florida, but here you are. An artesian spring with a distinctly sulfur smell arises on the hillside above Lake Osprey – no doubt drilled there many years ago – and tumbles down the hillside through a natural webbing of dried sulfur and vegetation into the lake. The view you get depends on the fork you take. The accessible path loops around the bubbling spring itself, while the not-so-accessible one, which crosses the bridge, sticks closer to the lake and crosses the waters on a bridge before scrambling back up through the vegetation on the far side.
Paths merge, and continue their circumambulation around Lake Osprey up to the bathhouse and swimming area. When you reach the nature center, turn right to head out to the parking area. If you still have time and it’s not too hot, take some time to enjoy the South Creek / Lester Finley Trails closer to the park’s entrance before you go. The longer trail systems in the park (North Loop, Green Trail) are best saved for cooler weather.