At the confluence of Pellicer Creek and the Matanzas River, Princess Place Preserve is a Flagler County park protecting the oldest homestead in the county, Cherokee Grove. In 1791, this land grant from the King of Spain was quickly planted in orange groves.
By 1886, it passed into the hands of Henry Cutting, who constructed an Adirondack-style hunting lodge on the shores of the Matanzas River using local materials—pink coquina, cedar trunks, and cabbage palm trunks. He also built Florida’s first in-ground pool, fed by an artesian spring. Cherokee Grove became a popular stop for New England socialites. After Henry died, his widow Angela married an exiled Russian prince. Together, they lived in Cherokee Grove, entertaining royalty in a royal setting, leading to the name Princess Place. The homestead became a park in 1993.
Location: Cherokee Grove
Length: Up to 5.2 miles in 4 trails
Lat-Long: 29.654000, -81.241431
Type: Loop and round-trip
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
In addition to a tour of the classic home and grounds, Princess Place Preserve has many miles of equestrian trails leading into adjacent Pellicer Creek Conservation Area, and kayaking opportunities throughout the marshes. The campground is one of the most beautiful on the coast, with some sites featuring their own docks. The park is open 7 AM to 6 PM daily. Contact them at 386-313-4020 for camping reservations.
Princess Place Preserve is south of St. Augustine and north of Palm Coast. From exit 298 on I-95 at US 1, head south 1.7 miles to Old Kings Road, on your left just after you cross Pellicer Creek. Turn left. Drive slowly along the dirt road, which briefly exhibits some pavement as you cross a bridge over I-95. You pass the Pellicer Creek Conservation Area sign. After 1.5 miles, turn left at the sign for Princess Place Preserve. Drive 1.3 miles on Princess Place Road to the park gate. Continue another 0.3 mile to the Red/Orange Trail parking area on the left to start your first hike.
Since my initial visit for 50 Hikes in North Florida, the trail system at Princess Place Preserve has continued to expand. Although many of the trails are open to equestrians, some of the shorter trails near Cherokee Lodge are hikers-only, and one, the OAK TRAIL (formerly the BLUE TRAIL) is now entirely accessible. I’ve returned several times over the years to see the changes in the trail system. Most notably, on our visit in September 2016, we found updated signage and trail names assigned to trails once called by their colors. Updates are below.
LONG LEAF TRAIL (2.0 miles)
Look for the entrance to the left past the equestrian trails. Look for the kiosk, which shows the map of the trail. Both the LONG LEAF TRAIL (former ORANGE TRAIL) and the EQUESTRIAN TRAIL (former RED TRAIL) begins after the gap in the fence. Starting as a broad grassy strip, it whisks you past open meadows, hardwood hammocks, and a freshwater marsh. There is a link to the HARDWOOD TRAIL in the longleaf pine forest.
After 0.7 mile, you reach the junction for the Long Leaf Loop, which expands the length of the Long Leaf Trail. Keep right at the bench. As you turn the corner, you immediately see Pellicer Creek, part of an extensive protected aquatic preserve, an important spawning ground for saltwater species such as mullet and blue crab. Across the channel is Faver-Dykes State Park. The trail curves to the left to parallel Pellicer Creek, providing open views across the broad expanse of marsh, and reaches an observation deck over the marsh at 0.9 mile.
When the Equestrian Trail and Long Leaf Trail part ways, stay with the Long Leaf Trail. It curves back around past a freshwater marsh and meets the other end of the loop. Continue back along the trail to complete a 2 mile hike.
Being an equestrian trail, the EQUESTRIAN TRAIL now continues across the entrance road and deeper into the preserve towards a set of campsites open to equestrians along the waterway, adding mileage across open expanses best traversed by equestrians. You can drive to the ARTESIAN TRAIL (former GREEN TRAIL) to get to the good parts.
HARDWOOD TRAIL (0.9 miles)
At the end of the peninsula past the Dock Sites, campsites with slips to launch a kayak or fish from a dock, the HARDWOOD TRAIL (former YELLOW TRAIL) sticks close to the edge of Pellicer Creek as it makes its way out to the end of the peninsula, offering fabulous views.
Slash pine dominates the canopy, and wildflowers burst forth in fall. Since the forest borders an estuary, expect soggy feet after a rainfall, since these are wet coastal flatwoods. The loop turns inland along a bayhead and hardwood hammock before emerging into a longleaf pine forest where it meets the Long Leaf Trail at a junction. Follow the Hardwood Trail back around the flatwoods to complete the loop and walk along the creek again to the trailhead for a 0.9-mile hike.
OAK/CREEKVIEW TRAIL (0.7 / 1.2 miles)
The kiosk for the OAK TRAIL (former BLUE TRAIL) is around the driving loop where you can visit Cherokee Lodge and its in-ground pool. Built in 1887, this lodge is the only period example of Adirondack Camp Style architecture in Florida, and well worth a visit, especially to relax on the rocking chairs overlooking the Matanzas River.
The CREEKVIEW TRAIL, a new addition to the trail system, provides a nice walk in the woods out to the edge of Pellicer Creek. It meets up with the OAK TRAIL, which is accessible, as it heads out to the point where you can see Faver-Dykes and the peninsula where the HARDWOOD TRAIL is located. Here, Stiles Creek and Pellicer Creek meet in a brackish estuary, where tides push the salt water in through thickets of black needlerush and smooth cordgrass.
The Oak Trail goes its own way back through the oaks, while the Creekview Trail sticks close to the creek – close enough it can flood on an extreme high tide. It provides access to the park road and a pretty view of the covered bridge over the creek before turning left to parallel the park road loop under the oaks back to the trailhead.
ARTESIAN TRAIL (1.1 miles)
The parking area for the ARTESIAN TRAIL (former GREEN TRAIL) is by the canoe put-in, but it can also be accessed from the campground. Numerous interpretive markers provide plant identifications, including the uncommon evergreen wild olive. Follow the green signs, which expand upon the original trail to the sulfuric artesian well by looping through the oak hammock surrounding it.
Other trails in the preserve include:
HOMINY BRANCH, 2.5 miles
LEGACY TRAIL, 0.6 miles
The various parts of the EQUESTRIAN TRAIL (former RED TRAIL) now add up to 6.8 miles