In rural southern Volusia County, Palm Bluff Conservation Area is a popular destination for equestrians and trail runners.
One of three designated trails on the property, the Red Trail loops through a variety of habitats while making two passes over Deep Creek, a tributary to the St. Johns River.
A bridge crosses the creek on the south end, though the north end may require wading depending on the time of year.
A group campsite near the trailhead can be reserved online to spend a night among chirping frogs and fireflies.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 7.6 miles
Trailhead: 28.888678, -81.139198
Address: 1275 SR 415, Osteen, FL 32764
Land managers: St. Johns River Water Management District
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome. Free-range cattle may be encountered.
Palm Bluff Conservation Area is located along SR 415 in southern Volusia County, 1.9 miles north of the intersection with Howland Blvd in Deltona, north of Osteen.
Passing through a fence gap at the trailhead, follow a white-blazed path carpeted with pine needles for 0.3 mile before turning right onto a forest road.
Tannic waters flow under the trail as it crosses a cypress swamp, reaching a unique gate in 0.2 mile.
Pushing a lever sideways opens the gate, leading to an area where cattle may be encountered.
After a short trek of a couple hundred feet though loose, bright white sugar sand, turn eastward onto a wide pathway.
The beginning of the loop trail is marked by a red diamond atop a post adjacent to a small bench.
To check the water level of Deep Creek at the beginning of the hike, continue straight for 1.7 miles to the creek, otherwise turn right to start the loop counterclockwise.
Heading southward, a grass-covered corridor slices though a vast landscape of saw palmettos stretching out in every direction.
Robust longleaf pines extend from a sea of green, having survived flames that regularly sweep across this fire-dependent habitat.
Fetterbush and coastal staggerbush flourish alongside the trail, covered with small bell-shaped pink and white flowers in the wintertime.
Underfoot, minuscule carnivorous plants dot the forest floor.
Crimson-hued sundews trap insects with sticky tentacles that curl towards the center of the plant when they sense movement.
Butterworts with tiny white and purple flowers use their tacky leaves for a similar purpose.
Continue for 0.7 mile before turning left to follow a straight, grassy road to the east for half a mile. Cross a low area where water flows slowly under the trail through a rock-lined culvert.
The forest becomes denser while unnaturally low areas alongside the road allow for an intriguing mix of pine and young cypress trees.
In a half mile, the trail emerges at a broad clearing for high-tension powerlines.
Red blazes lead the way down the utility easement for 1.2 miles, dipping in and out of the woods before crossing a former pine plantation, then delving back into pine flatwoods.
Cabbage palms and oaks slowly increase in number while approaching Deep Creek, where a large wooden and metal bridge spans the dark water.
As the trail reaches the far end of the loop and turns northward, the habitat changes dramatically.
Weaving alongside Deep Creek within a floodplain forest, palms are the predominant feature, forming a thick shady canopy.
Reaching an intersection with the Yellow Trail at the five-mile mark, turn westward towards Deep Creek.
If you follow the yellow blazes, the Yellow Trail is a separate loop accessible only at this point. It adds an optional two miles to the hike before returning to this spot.
For this hike, stick with the red blazes. In a tenth of a mile, the creek comes into view, where it can be determined if the rest of your hike will be with wet feet.
The depth and breadth of the water is dynamic, sometimes small enough to jump over, other times knee-deep or higher.
On the other side, a large clearing is the only remaining indication that a hunting cabin once stood alongside the creek.
Trailside benches offer places to rest as the pathway weaves through a dense oak hammock towards the end of the loop.
As the trail ascends from the floodplain, pines become prominent again in an area that is slowly returning to a natural state from previous agricultural uses.
Pitcher plants border the trail alongside palmettos and tall golden grasses.
After crossing under the power lines, the red blazes continue for a half mile before completing the loop.
From this point, follow white blazes northward, reaching the trailhead in another 0.6 mile.
Learn more about Palm Bluff Conservation Area
A virtual walk in the woods on the Red Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
An easy sample of habitats found across the 3,300 acres of Palm Bluff Conservation Area, the White Trail offers a short loop through the Deep Creek floodplain.
Restoring a ranch back to natural habitats takes time, but brings to life the natural beauty of these soggy habitats in the Deep Creek basin near Lake Ashby
With marshes brimming with swamp sunflowers and old-growth forests along natural ridges, Lake Monroe Conservation Area protects the St. Johns River north shore at Osteen