Squeezed between subdivisions in the coastal town of Englewood, Oyster Creek Regional Park protects 250 acres of old growth slash pines, scrub, and pine flatwoods along the banks of Oyster Creek, a mangrove-lined tidal creek flowing into Lemon Bay. An extensive network of gentle hiking trails along with numerous access points from surrounding neighborhoods make this a popular getaway for locals, and an easy-to-find hike for visitors.
Length: 3 miles
Lat-Lon: 26.920316, -82.316149
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: near playground within view of trailhead
Dogs welcome. The Red Trail has a limerock bed under the pine needles, and the park says it is accessible. Although it’s a natural surface, it’s a nice solid surface that wheelchairs could probably manage with assistance. Bikes may use the Red Loop only from the Lemon Bay trailhead.
From Placidia Rd, follow SR 776 east. Turn right on San Casa Drive. The entrance to Ann Dever Memorial Regional Park is on the right. Follow the park road to the treeline in the back, and park in the parking area adjacent to the kiosk. There is also an entrance off Placidia Rd across from Cedar Point Environmental Park, just south of Lemon Bay High School. Bikes are permitted access to the Red Loop from this trailhead.
Your hike starts within view of a round pond with alligator warnings, but you immediately walk into the pine flatwoods to the west of the developed park and ballfield complex in Ann Dever Memorial Regional Park. This is the Green Trail, a broad shellrock path through scrubby flatwoods with patches of diminutive sand live oak scrub. Stunted, gnarled slash pines are the norm, with the scrub a perfect scrub-jay habitat for this region.
After a quarter mile, the trail makes a curve to the right into another habitat, an uplands flatwoods with a thick understory of saw palmetto. As it turns to the left you see a community through the woods on the right. Social trails lead to the neighborhood through the forest. Sand live oaks form a low canopy, just barely grazing the saw palmetto. There is a stile at 0.4 miles leading to a neighborhood on the right. The trail crosses a short boardwalk over a swale in the landscape, and rises back into pine flatwoods again with its scrubby understory.
At half a mile there’s a divergence of trails. An unmarked trail goes off to the left, while the Green Trail curves to the right and starts up a long boardwalk leading to a bridge high above Oyster Creek, a tidal waterway that connects to the Gulf of Mexico via Lemon Bay. It is lined with mangroves, and you can see clearly down into the water where needlefish are schooling. Large homes break through the natural cover on the far side of the creek. The bridge is long and curving, and tall enough that small boats can pass under it. In the mangroves are dead branches covered in shield lichen.
Leaving the bridge, you walk through thickets of wax myrtle covered in berries in fall. The close-cropped understory of saw palmetto has bracken fern peeping out from under it, and on the right is a shelter with a picnic bench under it. You’ve joined the Red Trail. Continue up to a trail intersection in the pine flatwoods at Marker B. This is the beginning of the loop at 0.8 mile. Continue straight ahead to start a counterclockwise walk around the loop.
At 0.8 mile is Junction C, where the Purple trail goes off to the left to make a small loop. Pine needles cover the hardened limerock surface laid down for accessibility. Jogging right, the trail continues down a long straightaway under the pines. The height of the saw palmetto mostly shields your view of the homes off to the right until you finally draw within view of their backyards. The trail begins to swing away from the homes. Songbirds flit between the trees. As long as you keep your gaze inward, away from the property boundary, you don’t notice the subdivisions crushing in on the perimeter of the park.
Passing Junction D for the Orange trail, there’s a moment of confusion as to which way the Red Trail goes. Keep right and you’ll see a gate out to the neighborhood before walking past tall grasses hiding a small prairie pond. Wetlands plants, including sea myrtle, creep into the understory mix. Grapevines drape over the wax myrtle. But a few inches of elevation change the habitat a few minutes later, with scrub oaks taking over the canopy as the forest once again shields the houses from view. You reach an interpretive sign about birding with a QR code on it at 1.3 miles.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of invasive species in this part of the park, including casearweed, rosary pea, and Brazilian pepper. At Junction F, a T intersection with the Purple Trail, we were shocked to see an interpretive sign for Brazilian pepper! Usually parks remove this troublesome invasive. The Red Trail turns right at this T intersection. Carolina wrens sing from their perches in the sand live oaks. The trail climbs into scrubby flatwoods where the oaks are heavily draped in Spanish moss. Coontie and wiregrass grow in the open understory. Scrub oaks create a nice middle canopy under the tall slash pines. Shiny blueberry and gallberry lines the trail.
When you see the back side of Lemon Bay High School – stadium lights and bleachers – you’ve reached the far end of the loop. A tidal creek is well hidden between the trail and the understory, and it doesn’t become obvious it’s there until you see mangroves to your right. Pass by an outdoor interpretive center with a stage tucked into the woods. The boardwalk just beyond, at Junction J at 1.8 miles, leads to the trailhead access on Placida Rd just south of the high school, across from Cedar Point Preserve. The boardwalk crosses an arm of Oyster Creek to get to the western trailhead.
Following the Red Trail as it curves east and away from the boardwalk, the footpath continues around the loop, now paralleling Oyster Creek upstream. Look off to the right and see how the pine flatwoods neatly merge into a line of mangroves along the creek. The pines are much taller on this side of the loop. The Orange Trail comes in from the left at 2 miles. Underfoot, the footpath is a heavy pine duff as you walk beneath the tall slash pines. Here and there you can see the line of Oyster Creek through the understory.
When the trail turns so you see a very large house ahead of you, you’re getting near to the end of the loop on the Red Trail. At 2.3 miles you complete the loop. Turn right to exit via another crossing of Oyster Creek on the long bridge and a walk back up the Green Trail.
As you cross the small boardwalk beyond Oyster Creek, notice a yaupon holly and a lone cypress. The swale is a small bog in an otherwise dry habitat.
As the trail nears the trailhead, you can see the plastic roofs of the playground. You complete the hike after 3 miles, walking past the kiosk to the parking area.