A showcase for the colorful pine lily (Lilium catesbaei Walter), a threatened species that thrives in wet flatwoods, Pine Lily Preserve protects 409 acres in the Econlockhatchee River basin. Connecting directly to Hal Scott Preserve and Long Branch Preserve, it’s part of a much larger corridor for wildlife to roam north from the prairies of Osceola County. While the pine lilies bloom in late summer, there are always colorful wildflowers to be found in this preserve, particularly around the marshes and wet prairies.
Length: 4.3 miles in two trails
Lat-Long: 28.528594, -81.096171
Type: round-trip and loop
Fees / Permits: free
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs and bicycles are not permitted, but equestrians are welcome. There is a garbage can and a recycling bin at the trailhead.
Pine Lily Preserve is part of Orange County’s Green Place Properties
Follow SR 50 from Orlando or Titusville to Bithlo, west of SR 520. Turn south on CR 13. As you drive down it, it narrows to a small canopied road. You’ll pass Long Branch Preserve on the right before finding Pine Lily Preserve on the left. Be especially careful pulling into the parking area, as the pavement drops off steeply – take it at an angle. There is ample parking.
Starting at the trailhead kiosk – where you’ll find a map of the preserve and details about its inhabitants, walk towards and around the gate at the end of the parking area to a forest road that enters sandhill habitat. You’re surrounded by scattered saw palmettos and prairie grasses; longleaf pine towers overhead. You can hear the hum of SR 50 not far away, especially during the early morning rush hour. The trail markers, on posts, are discs – and not entirely consistent in color along the trails. Keep alert.
It’s not hard to follow this trail, however, as it’s broad and pleasant. The tawny grasses flanking the trail cup small spiderwebs filled with morning dew. The habitat transitions into pine flatwoods, tall slash pines that, by their spacing, might have been planted here decades ago. A dahoon holly shows off its deep red berries just in time for a dash of Christmas color. Behind it, the landscape slopes off into bayhead. At a quarter mile, the trail indents slightly into the woods on the left. Loblolly pine and loblolly bay are mixed into this forest as well. Laden with dew, spiderwebs sparkle in the early rays of the sun.
In a low spot in the trail, leaves of a flower in the lily family emerge from the damp spaces at the edges of the trail – not the pine lily, but perhaps a swamp lily. The forest crowds close on the left, but is expansive out on the right, where it sweeps south to meet Hal Scott Preserve. As the trail loses elevation, there’s an obvious change of habitat. Saw palmetto crowds closely on both sides of the broad forest road. We found a large hog trap on the right, put there by FWC to take care of feral hogs. As the trail continues to drop, it enters a floodplain with cabbage palms and cypresses overhead, and chunks of limestone in the understory. Gravel is laid across the trail in this area to enable the flow of water, a stream washing from north to south through this palm-heavy habitat.
Live oaks, their limbs laden with resurrection fern, knit a canopy above the trail as it gains elevation again. Look up, and you’ll see bromeliads – cardinal wild pine in bloom, explosions of red at the tips of these air plants. The path curves to the right, still a broad forest road. After a half mile, you reach the junction with the north half of the central loop in the trail. a trail marked with blue arrows. Turn left to start along this trail.
This is a footpath in the woods, a wilder place than the trail you’ve been walking so far, morning sun to your back as you walk down a corridor defined by saw palmetto. The trills of songbirds echo across the forest. A loblolly pine rises overhead. The treadway is a little rough underfoot, with gatorbacks and vegetation creeping into the footpath. The habitat on the left is peppered with floodplain trees and shrubs such as wax myrtle and loblolly bay, red maple and sweetgum.
A fragrant aroma rises from the pine duff under your feet. Don’t pay attention to the color of the trail markers, as you pass a yellow one on the blue trail as the trail curves to the right, a slow turn to face east again into the sun. Still tightly confined by saw palmetto and gallberry, the trail works its way past high bush blueberry as well, a scrubby flatwoods. The palmetto are just the right height for me to see over and note that they go on to the horizon on the left, the palmetto prairie so relived by Florida’s pioneers and yet so lovely when we hike through it.
After 3/4 mile, you emerge at the main trail again. Turn left on the broad path. Traffic noise is increasing, as you’re now drawing close to SR 520, one of the busier highways in the region. It doesn’t drown out the chatter of the squirrels – or the mockingbirds – as they fuss in the canopy. There’s a line of trees up ahead, perhaps delineating a creek. The slight dampness of the soil encourages plants you’ll find around pine lilies, including wild bachelor’s-button and St. John’s Wort, to bloom. Don’t be surprised to see longleaf pine in grass stage tucked in amid the prairie grasses along the trail’s edge.
Shade returns again, in small portion, as the forest canopy closes in overhead, dense with sand live oak and water oak. Tall saw palmetto, rising up on their roots, fill the gaps beneath. You find an unmarked junction with a cross trail going to the left. Continue straight ahead. Rising up again, the trail re-enters sandhill habitat with incursions of scrub. Lovegrass blooms in large mounds along this forest road, the delicate blossoms clinging to the morning drops of dew. There is a gradient of pines: fluffy longleaf, tall loblolly.
At 1.2 miles, there is a fork in the trail. Take it to the left, following the markers to begin an amble into sandhills and scrub with no distinct footpath, just trail markers heading into a hardwood hammock to a berm along a creek. The trail turns right to follow the creek, a few cypresses outlining the floodplain and cinnamon fern scattered across the pine duff. Look up, and you’ll see golden orb spider webs twinkling way above. It’s obvious this stream can flood right over its banks (which were likely created when this was a cattle ranch), as mounds of squishy sphagnum moss are pinched up along both sides of the footpath.
Given how overgrown we found it, in hiking season, this part of the trail may not be the easiest to follow through the tall grasses. Keep watching for the next marker. The trail pulls away from paralleling the creek, curving to the right in an open space overhung with dog fennel and shortspike bluestem. Look for another marker, under a pine tree, guiding you towards a stand of young pines.
At 1.4 miles, there is an “End of Trail” sign off to your left – I always find them humorous, making me think of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Did we not see people bushwhacking through the woods in search of wildflowers … or birds? The trail doesn’t truly end, you see, but curves back in on itself. Turn right and you’re back on the broad main path again. You complete the loop at 1.5 miles. Another hog trap sits off to the left.
As you return along the broad path, it doesn’t take long to be immersed in a grassy, open scrubby flatwoods with prairie grasses, including the grayish-green hues of chalky bluestem, very pretty in the sunlight. Passing the north trail again, continue a little ways forward to find the south loop starting on the left. Turn left to head down the tight corridor of shoulder-height saw palmetto with tall longleaf pines above, the panorama stretching off to the left until the oaks crowd in and form a canopy overhead at 2 miles. The trail drops down slightly, dark earth making up the footpath, a little mucky on the shoes. The density of the forest here might be hiding a stream feeding this rich earth.
While the corridor is a little overgrown – like the other half of the loop – it’s not difficult to work your way down it, pushing past palm fronds as the trail twists and turns through the forest, passing mossy banks where colorful fungi grows. In this density of undergrowth, the distant traffic noise can’t be heard over your footfalls in the crunchy leaves. When you emerge on the main trail, turn left. A small sweep of palmetto prairie is off to the left as you walk in the open sun, slender flat-topped goldenrod lending splashes of yellow in the foreground, the blazing red leaves of winged sumac in fall splendor standing out against the sea of green. Warblers sing from the limbs of the pines along the edge of this little prairie. Crossing over a gravel wash, you rise up into a corridor of oaks, and reach the gate at the trailhead after 2.7 miles.
You could stop here, of course, but you’d be missing out. The red trail heads south from this trailhead, too. Just follow the southern fenceline towards the road until you find it. There are several stobs in the pass-through to prevent ATVs from entering. Follow the red markers down the power line for almost a quarter mile. There, a cypress dome blocks southerly progress. A post with a marker points you into a sharp left to cross a marshy drainage area. It’s here you’ll find some of the nicest wildflowers in the preserve, in this drainage that flows out of the cypresses and into the prairie: the lilac-tinged blooms of lobelia, delicate yellow bladderworts, and the sticky crimson arms of carnivorous sundews among them.
Reaching a T intersection with a closed trail, turn right for a walk through scrubby flatwoods, a potentially soggy habitat with high potential for pine lilies. By 3 miles, you reach the next T intersection, where red trail markers point right, back towards the powerline. This time, however, you continue under the powerline and summit the roadbed of old CR 13, which I believe – but haven’t been able to confirm – is part of the original Cheney Highway that crossed the Econlockhatchee River in what’s now Hal Scott Preserve (the historic wooden bridge has been rebuilt at that crossing). Turn left.
No matter whether the roadbed was built in the 1920s or 1940s, or was a railroad bed from even earlier days, it stands up tall around the surrounding landscape, which means expansive views for you as you walk down it – and an easy walk it is. Red diamond markers lead you down the nicely shaded corridor. At 3.3 miles, a panorama of palmetto prairie and wiregrass stretches off to the horizon on the right. As the canopy of oaks closes in again, the old roadbed bisects a cypress dome, the interplay of light and shadow most delicate through the feathery cypress needles.
A jarring contrast happens at 3.5 miles, when the trail reaches a vast swath of cleared land with a canal running perpendicular to the trail. It seems out of place, an oddity, for what agencies are permitted, or encouraged, to build drainage canals these days? And yet, here’s a biggie. Perhaps it’s a reservoir of sorts. Still under construction, in fact, so following the red trail farther south towards Hal Scott Preserve isn’t possible. We did plunge southward across the canal zone only to dead-end at a gate leading to the back side of a large subdivision, Wedgefield, off SR 520.
The canal should be your turn-around point for now. It’s an easy and straight walk back through the cypress dome and up to the south end of CR 39, visible just through the trees. Turn right to head down the hill, and left at the next intersection. Within a tenth of a mile, make a left at the post with the markers to walk back through the scrubby flatwoods, following the trail back through the wildflower wetland and up along the powerline. You emerge at the trailhead parking area after 4.3 miles.
Explore the preserve
- Explore Pine Lily Preserve - Orange County's Pine Lily Preserve in Bithlo is a great wildflower walk in any season, since carnivorous plants are common in its bogs.
- Spiderwebs and fog - On a cool, crisp morning in Central Florida, fog billows in long streamers across rural landscapes. It's time to visit Pine Lily Preserve in the mist.