Protecting more than 1,300 acres of uplands in a region where development has swarmed across the natural landscapes, Oscar Scherer State Park is a stronghold for the Florida scrub-jay, a colorful species found only in Florida. Opened in 1956 near Venice, the park began as a bequest from Elsa Scherer Burrows in memory of her father Oscar, who invented the process to dye shoe leather. There are two separate trail systems in the park, encompassing more than 12 miles of hiking, both accessible from the nature center at the Osprey Lake Picnic Area. The linear South Creek and Lester Finley Trails are part of the South Trail System, and are the only trails that shy away from the heart of the scrub—the better to showcase the blackwater stream that flows towards the Gulf of Mexico.
Length: 1.9 miles
Lat-Long: 27.175656, -82.461132
Fees / Permits: state park admission
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: at the nature center and midway at the picnic area
These are the only trails designated “Foot Traffic Only” within the park, and leashed dogs are welcome. While this hike is described from the nature center, you can also park at the South Creek Picnic Area to hike an easterly round-trip on the South Creek Trail, and a westerly round-trip on the Lester Finley Trail, an important consideration for those with limited mobility, as the Lester Finley Trail is fully wheelchair accessible and has numerous benches along its short length. Canoe and kayak rentals – and a put-in – are also available at the South Creek Picnic Area.
For more information: Oscar Scherer State Park
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
Start your hike at the Osprey Lake Picnic Area, home to the park’s nature center. Here in the town of Osprey, the lake is one of the places you may see these regal raptors flying off with a fresh catch. From the parking area, walk past Shelter 2 and through the picnic area towards the creek to find the trailhead sign for “South Creek Nature Trail.” The narrow footpath leads you under the shade of sand live oaks along the shoreline of this sluggish blackwater stream.
After 0.2 mile, you reach the campground access road. Cross it, and continue down the trail on the other side, winding through a corridor of saw palmetto. This is an interpretive trail, so watch for signs and for changes in the flora as the habitat transitions into scrubby flatwoods, with silk bay and Chapman oak good indicators.
Drawing close to the creek, the trail offers a view of an island dense with giant leather ferns. Be cautious of low overhanging sand live oak limbs. After 0.4 mile, the trail reaches an observation platform along South Creek. During the summer months, it’s possible to spot manatees browsing in the shallows.
Keep right at the fork in the trail. You’ll walk along a natural levee and across a bridge into the South Creek Picnic Area. The South Creek Nature Trail ends here after 0.5 mile. Continue your walk through the picnic area, past the restrooms and canoe launch, to find the start of the Lester Finley Trail, with a trailhead kiosk at the far end of the parking area for the picnic area.
A barrier-free trail, the Lester Finley Trail has a hard-packed wheelchair-accessible natural surface that leads you along South Creek, offering a variety of scenic views from the shade of the forest. You can see the transition of creekside vegetation into mangroves—it’s not all that far to the Gulf of Mexico! An observation deck and fishing pier are at 0.7 mile, another good spot for manatee watching. Press the button on the “Ranger–in-a-box” for interpretive information. You’ll encounter quite a few of these along the trail. Interpretive markers are keyed to a trail guide you can pick up at the trailhead. A native plant garden attracts colorful butterflies. At the fork in the trail, keep left. Walking out of the shade of cabbage palms, you see sea oxeye in bloom—another indicator of the creek’s increasing salinity as it nears the Gulf.
The trail loops around back to the fork. Stay on the main trail at the “FVA” sign to continue paralleling the creek, now heading upstream. Once you return to the Lester Finley Trail trailhead, zigzag across the South Creek Picnic Area again to find the “South Creek Nature Trail” sign. You’ve hiked 1.4 miles. Retrace your steps along this shady path, taking the time to savor the views and the breeze from a different direction, and a few moments on the observation deck to watch for birds and manatees. Crossing the campground road at 1.8 miles, continue along the creek back to the Osprey Lake Picnic Area, completing a 1.9 mile walk at the parking area.