Fed by a trickle of hidden springs through lush hammocks of cabbage palms, Spring Hammock Preserve in Winter Springs is a natural gem along the shoreline of Lake Jesup. While two-thirds of its 1,500 acres are swamp, its trails guide you into its depths to view botanical wonders like record-setting ancient bald cypress trees, rare cuplet fern, and the largest stand of tulip poplars we know of in Florida.
While we’ve written about this preserve in many of our books, the trails have radically changed in recent years. Only our newest guidebook presents an accurate picture of the preserve right now. For details on what has changed since 2013, see our article Changes at Spring Hammock Preserve.
Location: Winter Springs
Length: 3 miles
Lat-Lon: 29.271983, -82.056583
Type: loop on a network of trails
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: on weekdays
Land Manager: Seminole County Natural Lands, 407-349-0769
Open sunrise to sunset. The park gates close at dusk. Restrooms adjoining the Environmental Studies Center are closed on weekends. Restrooms are also available across the street at the ballfields of Soldier Creek Park.
From Interstate 4 exit 98, Lake Mary/Heathrow, drive east on Lake Mary Boulevard for 1.6 miles to Longwood–Lake Mary Road. Turn right and continue 2.5 miles to where it ends at Ronald Reagan Boulevard. Turn left at the light and make the first right onto General Hutchinson Parkway. The entrance to Big Tree Park – which is also part of Spring Hammock Preserve – is on your right.
Continue down General Hutchinson Parkway through Spring Hammock Preserve to the traffic light at US 17-92. Turn left. After 0.8 mile, make a right at the light onto FL 419. Drive 0.6 miles to the preserve entrance at Osprey Trail, on the left across from the ball fields at Soldier Creek Park. Enter the gates and park in the lot along the road just past the Environmental Studies Center parking area.
0.0 > Leaving the parking area, follow the trail into the woods at the Pine Pavillion sign to dig into a corner of the trail network of twisty windy little trails near the Environmental Studies Center. When you get to the pavilion, loop around it past the Azalea Trail sign.
0.1 > Follow the Azalea Trail to the next intersection and turn left. Pass the Cinnamon Fern Trail sign and keep going.
0.2 > You reach an old interpretive sign about Tulip Poplars. Look up. The tall tree behind the sign IS a tulip poplar, a species you are more likely to see along the Appalachian Trail than the Florida Trail. But as you pass the tree, you also pass a very old Florida Trail sign. The Florida Trail used to ramble through the woods here instead of following the paved Cross Seminole Trail. Look off to the right: the tall trees surrounding the trail are more tulip poplars. Turn left.
0.3 > Passing the kiosk with map along the paved trail (map is not up-to-date and QR code doesn’t work), turn off the Cross Seminole Trail to head into the woods on the Osprey Trail. The width of a road, it’s beautifully canopied by a mature forest. Pass a blocked-off bridge to the Magnolia Trail.
0.4 > The Robin Trail goes off to the right. Continue straight ahead. This used to be the location of a loop boardwalk around an ancient cypress tree.
0.6 > You can see the Mud Walk pavilion up ahead as you pass by a boardwalk on the other side of the ditch that parallels the Osprey Trail. The bridge leads to what remains of the Magnolia Trail. We followed it a little ways in to enjoy the short boardwalk and the lush surroundings, where needle palm thrives. Don’ t wander past your ability to backtrack, as the trail no longer goes through and isn’t blazed. We did find an old Magnolia Trail sign along the route.
0.8 > After a quarter-mile diversion on the Magnolia Trail, return to the Osprey Trail and ramble past the Mud Walk pavilion. A set of stairs leads to the water, the better for students to wash mud off their shoes. You pass the first bridge to the Hydric Hammock Trail, which has been abandoned. If you cross it, which we did, you come face to face with a TRAIL sign pointing right and left, and a lot of mud. Best to leave this unmarked area to the school groups.
0.9 > The second bridge to the Hydric Hammock Trail is to the left. To the right is the boarded-over entrance to the Cypress Tree Boardwalk, one of two boardwalks the county plans to restore.
1.0 > If you’re lucky, Question Pond will be a shimmering blue spring. It’s a beauty spot surrounded by cabbage palms in this hydric hammock. But if the water levels in Lake Jesup – and this surrounding swamp on its shoreline – are high, the water in the pond will be brown. Continue down the Osprey Trail after a stop here. Vegetation starts crowding in from both sides.
1.2 > At a sharp curve in the Osprey Trail, the OT-01 sign marks the location of the new planned boardwalk out to the old fishing pier on Lake Jesup. You can use this as a turn-around point, or add on another 0.4 mile with a walk to the end of the Osprey Trail by the boarded-over boardwalk to Lake Jesup. Why bother? If the trail isn’t flooded, it’s worth the walk to see the ancient cypresses rising above the forest.
1.4 > The Osprey Trail ends near Soldier Creek and the end of the abandoned Lake Jesup boardwalk and the abandoned Limpkin Trail. Look left to see the cypresses towering over the rest of the floodplain forest. Return back the way you came.
2.2 > After passing Question Pond, the bridges, and the Mud Walk pavilion, make a left on the Robin Trail. It’s a narrow tunnel through dense vegetation, rising up out of the floodplain area into upland forest.
2.4 > Where this bench overlooks Soldier Creek, you can see why the Limpkin Trail was abandoned. It used to be behind the bench. The waters have reclaimed the shoreline. Scramble up the small embankment up ahead to cross the paved Cross Seminole Trail. Continue into the woods on the opposite side. The trail starts following the bluffs of Soldier Creek, offering one of the nicest pieces of footpath in the preserve for the next quarter mile.
2.6 > Enjoy views of Soldier Creek from atop the bluffs. You will encounter wooden structures placed here by mountain bikers. Back in the 90s, this was the Florida Trail route, which continued upstream along Soldier Creek all the way to US 17/92. When you see the railroad bridge in a clearing up ahead, make a right to join the Primary Trail, staying in the woods.
2.7 > At the four-way junction, the trail on the left leads to a water fountain at the Environmental Studies Center. Continue straight ahead, passing several more trail junctions with signs.
2.8 > At the Azalea Trail sign, turn right. Turn left onto the Cinnamon Fern Trail. It can be a little squishy underfoot but it does lead you past some tall cinnamon ferns. Turn right onto the Pinewoods Trail and follow it out to the park road.
3.0 > Return along the grassy shoulder of the paved road to reach the parking area.
Accurate as of December 2017, with future planned additions shown (Lake Jesup Boardwalk and Cypress Boardwalk restoration, in pink)