Notable for its namesake, a live oak more than two centuries old that split down the middle and still lives, Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area encompasses more than 2,000 acres.
In the 1990s, it was set aside as a mitigation bank for habitat to offset the sea of development that now creeps up to its western border.
It is an open prairie landscape, dotted with lakes and ponds and oak hammocks, a habitat mix perfect for the sandhill cranes that reside here.
With cross-trails and unmarked trails rambling across this vast landscape, there are many ways to hike through Split Oak Forest. The loop trail system provides several different ways to see the park.
We put together a circuit of 6.4 miles on the perimeter trail. Since the centerpiece of the park is the Split Oak, you’ll want to hike the northerly trails first.
Get out and hike this one soon. Sadly, Split Oak Forest is at risk of having a major highway forced through it and concerned citizens are fighting it. Learn more here.
A future reroute for the Florida Trail has been blazed through Split Oak, but does not connect to the thru-trail.
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Location: Lake Nona
Length: 6.4 miles
Trailhead: 28.353333, -81.210917
Address: 10525 Clapp Simms Duda Rd, Orlando
Restroom: At adjoining Moss Park
Land manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife
Open sunrise to sunset. No dogs or bicycles permitted.
Equestrian access is available via special permit via Moss Park on Saturdays only. Call for details.
Friends of Split Oak Forest leads regular group hikes through the preserve, check their website and Facebook page for details. Link at bottom of page.
To get to the main trailhead from the Orlando International Airport, go east on SR 528 (The Beeline) for 2.5 miles to CR 15 (Narcoossee Rd) and turn south. Follow CR 15 south for 7 miles. Turn east onto Clapp-Simms-Duda Rd. Go east 1.5 miles to the trailhead parking lot on the right.
To drive to Moss Park, which provides an alternate entrance to this preserve, take exit 13 on SR 528 (Beeline Expressway), just east of the Orlando International Airport. Turn south on CR 15 (Narcoossee Road). Drive 2.8 miles to Moss Park Road. Turn left, and follow Moss Park Road 4.5 miles until it ends at the park entrance. Continue along the main park road towards the camping area. The trailhead is on the right across from the campground.
Pick up a trail map at the kiosk. Walk from the trailhead into the shade of the live oaks, and turn left at Marker 2 to follow the North Loop.
Notice the FNST sign and orange blazes? A future segment of the statewide Florida National Scenic Trail now crosses the preserve, although it doesn’t connect to the main trail yet. You’ll follow it for a while.
At a quarter mile, turn left to stay with the orange blazes, rounding an oak hammock. The landscape opens into scrubby flatwoods, with a cypress strand obvious in the distance.
A half mile later, turn right at Marker 4, staying with the orange blazes. Walk past a very large oak near a culvert.
At Marker 5, turn left. The trail enters a forest of tall longleaf pines and laurel oaks. Cinnamon ferns rise from the thick cover of needles on the forest floor.
Meet the blue-blazed Lake Loop at 1.2 miles. It’s here you leave the orange blazes. Turn left and walk into the pine forest. The trail winds between saw palmettos into a stand of laurel and live oaks.
Passing a forest road on the left you come to the Lake Hart Spur. Take a peek down it to see if you can see the lake.
If the lake waters are high, the trail will be flooded. It ends in the marsh. Return back to this junction and stay on the Lake Loop.
After you walk through a grove of ancient live oaks, you come to the Bonnet Pond Spur at 1.9 miles.
Follow it to the left to reach an observation deck overlooking this beauty spot. Return back to this junction and stay on the Lake Loop.
At a curve, the Split Oak is off to the right. Take a walk over to it to see the unusual cave-like trunk.
Interestingly, this is not the only split oak in this forest. Keep alert and you may count a half-dozen trees with their trunks splayed like this. This is the oldest and largest one, however.
Just past the Split Oak you reach the next junction with the Lake Loop at Marker 11 at 2.4 miles. Turn left to stay on the perimeter of the preserve.
After another quarter mile, the trails meeting at this open area make a triangle around a large oak that looks like it’s been fenced in on purpose by a line of pine trees.
The Swamp Trail heads off to the left towards Moss Park. It often floods, so don’t take it unless you are headed to Moss Park, or if you are birding in the marshes.
That’s the direction that the Florida Trail goes, following its future route north along the the Swamp Trail into Moss Park.
At 3.3 miles, meet the North-South Cross Trail. If you want to make a short hike out of this loop, turn right and you’ll be back to the trailhead after 4.2 miles.
Otherwise go straight ahead to stay on the perimeter loop.
Cross a culvert at Marker 18. The forest road becomes deep soft sand, difficult to traverse.
When you reach Marker 19, turn right. The curve leads back into the pine flatwoods.
By 4.1 miles, the trail comes up to the perimeter fence of the preserve at Marker 21.
Turn right to follow the boundary. A bayhead swamp may overflow into this area, making for a mucky wade at times.
Just past Marker 23, look for a short trail on the right to an observation deck over a sawgrass marsh after 4.4 miles.
It’s a beauty spot along the South Loop, and a nice place to take a break since you can sit down.
After passing several unmarked forest road intersections, you meet the orange blazes of the Florida Trail at 5 miles.
Here, it’s coming in from the left from the south end of the preserve, although it doesn’t yet connect to anything south of this preserve. You’ll follow orange blazes for the rest of the hike.
Be alert for a sharp right to stay with the orange blazes a quarter mile after you meet them, walking out of the sandhills and into the pine flatwoods.
A half mile later is a beautiful tunnel of sand live oaks that stretches into the distance.
At 6 miles, the trail curves out of the oak hammock and pops out into an open prairie. Watch for sandhill cranes.
You can see the next several trail markers and and activity at the trailhead in the distance.
At the north end of the prairie, pass a large FNST sign and the entrance sign, completing the 6.4-mile loop.
See our photos of Split Oak Forest
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Providing access to the floodplain forest along Lake Mary Jane, the Green Trail is one of two separate trails through the 550-acre Isle of Pine Preserve.
Creating a loop through upland habitats perfect for gopher tortoise survival, the Blue Trail is one of two separate trails through Isle of Pine Preserve.
At Hal Scott Preserve, enjoy vast prairies and seepage bogs, the Econ River, and camping under a live oak canopy—all within minutes of the Orlando International Airport