One of the mysteries of the St. Johns River is its salt lakes, fed by pockets of prehistoric salt water less than ten miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
At the northern end of Seminole Ranch Conservation Area, this easy-to-follow trail leads to an observation tower.
To the north, it provides a panorama across Loughman Lake, one of the larger salt lakes draining towards the river.
To the south, the wetlands extend to Salt Lake. A hint of salt air is on the breeze.
Lined by marsh on both sides, the causeway provides an excellent spot for birding.
Look for flocks of glossy ibis, darting chimney swifts, and the yellow-crowned night heron.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.4 miles round-trip
Land manager: St. Johns River Water Management District
This hike is halfway between the Ellis Lake Trail access at Lake Loughman Rd and the Puzzle Lake trailhead. The gate is signposted. Park nearby but don’t block the gate.
Expect wet feet in low-lying spots. Keep alert for alligators and snakes.
From Interstate 95 exit 223, Mims, drive 4.2 miles to Hatbill Road. Turn left at the sign for Lake Loughman. Drive 1.3 miles south on Hatbill Rd to the parking area off to the left, next to a gate. Do not block the gate.
Use the gap adjoining the trail sign and gate to access the forest road leading to Snake Creek Levee.
This grassy road leads through a palm and oak hammock to meet the vast floodplain between the salt lakes.
The cove on the right is showy with sunflowers during the October bloom, with marsh mallows during the summer.
The levee extends to the distant tower, hardly a speck on the horizon as you start out across the expanse.
Grassy underfoot, it is wet wherever it is low. Avoid the red ant mounds hiding in the grass.
One unique crossing enables airboats to cross the levee without tearing the levee open or roughing up their hulls.
Depending on river levels, the water on both sides may lap close to the high point of the levee.
We got our feet wet in several low marshy spots, including one where the water flowed across the width of the levee.
Watch the open water of Snake Creek for alligators. We saw a rather large one as we approached the tower.
It ducked underwater, always a good thing. Alligators can sun on the levee, so be prepared for encounters and don’t get too close.
After 0.7 mile, you reach the observation tower. It forms a bridge over the strong flow between Loughman Lake and Puzzle Lake.
Between the two towers, the bridge offers a fabulous panorama of these salt lakes.
The trail became impassable shortly beyond the second tower because of the amount of water across it.
However, when that levee is dry, you can continue across it to connect to the trail system at Salt Lake WMA.
Otherwise, return the way you came. The walk seems shorter on the return trip.
Another fringe of wildflowers grows close to the palm hammock shoreline on the right as you return to the edge of the marsh.
See our photos from the Snake Creek Levee Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
At the northern end of Seminole Ranch Conservation Area, roam 8.4 miles along the marshy eastern shore of Puzzle Lake, part of the St. Johns River system.
Spanning nearly 8,000 acres between Salt Lake, Lake Loughman, and South Lake, Salt Lake WMA is a popular birding and fishing destination with many miles of trails
On this 1.5-mile loop atop a scrub ridge in the southeast corner of Buck Lake Conservation Area, watch for a flash of blue- Florida scrub-jays are found here.