Atop a dry ridge north of Brooksville, Perry Oldenburg WEA was Florida’s first state wildlife area created to mitigate the destruction of gopher tortoise habitat.
Over two decades later, you’re unlikely not to see a gopher tortoise here. In fact, many burrows are along the trail, so avoid stepping in any.
If you walk softly, you will likely see the tortoises out grazing in the grasses and gopher apple.
The Nature Trail loop is blazed blue. The linear Florida Trail – which crosses the preserve and links to Withlacoochee State Forest in both directions – is blazed orange.
Resources for exploring the area
Disclosure: As authors and affiliates, we receive earnings when you buy these through our links. This helps us provide public information on this website.
Length: 1.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.614771, -82.331909
Address: 13489 Government Rd, Brooksville
Land manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Open daily from dawn to dusk. As this is a wildlife preserve, no hunting or dogs are permitted, and the trails are only open to hikers.
No camping. No bicycles or equestrians are permitted.
From Brooksville, follow US 41 north for 5 miles, passing Snow Hill Road. Turn right on Deer Run Rd. Follow it for 1.3 miles to where it makes a 90* left turn and becomes Government Road. Don’t make the turn. The trailhead is straight ahead down a narrow track. There are two parallel tracks: take the one on the right, which is marked by a sign for the preserve.
From the parking lot, walk over to the kiosk through the gap in the fence. Walk up the trail to the right, which joins an old two-track.
Starting off in the open, the trail meanders through a small hammock of live oak, where masses of deer moss carpet the leaves like seafoam.
An open meadow stretches off to the left. The trail reaches the boundary fence, then takes a sharp left into the shade. Tall goldenaster sways above the white sand.
As the trail jogs to the right, you’ll start seeing the sand post oak, with its distinctive scalloped, thick, leathery leaves.
These oaks only thrive in poor sandy soils, such as those of the Brooksville Ridge.
A more common oak is the water oak, with its fat wedge-shaped leaves. It lives as comfortably on the sandhills as it does in the swamp hammocks.
Within a few feet are some turkey oaks, another resident of sandhills and coastal hammocks. Turkey oak rarely grows taller than thirty feet.
The ends of the deeply lobed leaves look like a turkey’s foot. Young longleaf pines compete for space with the oaks.
The open understory beneath the oaks hosts greenbrier, American beautyberry, and beargrass.
A spiky relative of the yucca plant, beargrass is another species with a preference for the dry sandhill habitat.
Where you see a disturbance of sand – white and beige mixed together – expect to find a gopher tortoise burrow.
Emerging from a long corridor of turkey oak, you walk under a power line after a half mile of hiking.
Follow the trail into a dense oak forest with a grassy, open understory. Watch for the blazes on the oaks and pines; it’s easy to lose the trail if you don’t pay attention.
A cluster of oaks stands guard next to a huge gopher hole. Joining a large, spreading sand post oak and a turkey oak is a pin oak, with long, sharp-toothed leaves.
Reaching another jeep trail at 0.8 mile, turn left down a corridor lined with live oaks, turkey oaks, and young longleaf pines. Sandhills yield to pine flatwoods.
Where the longleaf pines dominate the forest, notice the change in the understory.
Blueberries take root in the acidic soil, as do winged sumac. Just beyond a young southern magnolia tree, a massive longleaf pine rises from the forest.
It’s more than one hundred feet tall, and at least four feet in girth.
As the elevation drops slightly, saw palmettos crowd under spreading live oaks with long branches that dip and twirl and form corkscrew patterns.
Bright patches of red blanket lichen – in red, pink, and shades in between – liven up the dark, furrowed trunks.
The trail opens back up into the power line crossing at 1.1 miles, jogging slightly left.
Blue blazes are now joined by the orange blazes of the Florida Trail into a dense oak hammock.
Leaves crumble underfoot and puffs of deer moss decorate the forest floor between the clusters of saw palmetto.
At 1.3 miles, follow the trail under grand old live oaks. Mind the sharply pointed leaves of the American holly trees on the left.
Passing through a thicket of muscadine grapes, the trail emerges out into an open, grassy prairie with a sinkhole pond. Turn right.
The trail keeps to the ecotone between forest and prairie, following a sweeping curve. You may spot sandhill cranes browsing in this wide open space.
The Nature Trail loop ends after 1.5 miles, within sight of the trailhead.
The orange blazes of the Florida Trail continue out the entrance road along Deer Run Rd to connect hikers with the Colonel Robins tract of Withlacoochee State Forest a mile west.
Follow the linear Florida Trail to the east trailhead of Perry Oldenburg WEA
See our photos of Perry Oldenburg WEA
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
The southernmost concentration of ancient longleaf pine in America, the Big Pine Tract of Chinsegut WEA is also the second largest contiguous tract of old-growth longleaf pine in Florida.
For a dip into primordial wilderness along the Withlacoochee River, walk the Hog Island Nature Trail at Hog Island Recreation Area in Withlacoochee State Forest