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 the preserve is swamp, it contains botanical wonders like record-setting ancient bald cypress trees, rare cuplet fern, and the largest stand of tulip poplars we know of in Florida.
A network of trails and boardwalks once showcased the majestic cypress. However, over time, as those boardwalks were damaged and hydrology changed, they were closed down and boarded off.
Since this was once one of the most compelling places to hike in the Orlando area, we are frustrated at how many of the trails in this outstanding preserve have been abandoned.
Most of the boardwalks through the floodplain that led to the ancient cypress have been allowed to collapse or have been removed. While new ones have been promised, none have yet appeared.
While we’ve visited dozens of times and written about this preserve in many of our books, the trails have radically changed in recent years. Only our newest guidebook – 50 Hikes in Central Florida (Third Edition) – presents an accurate picture of the preserve right now.
For details on what has changed in the preserve since 2013, see our article Changes at Spring Hammock Preserve.
Disclosure: As authors and affiliates, we receive earnings when you buy these through our links. This helps us provide public information on this website.
Location: Winter Springs
Length: 3 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.271983, -82.056583
Address: 2985 Osprey Trail, Longwood, FL
Restroom: across the highway at Soldier Creek Park
Land manager: Seminole County Natural Lands
Open sunrise to sunset. Park gates close at dusk. Leashed dogs welcome.
From Interstate 4 exit 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.
Leaving the parking area, follow the trail into the woods at the Pine Pavilion 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. Follow the Azalea Trail to the next intersection and turn left. Pass the Cinnamon Fern Trail sign and keep going.
After a quarter mile, 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.
As you pass the tree, you also pass a very old Florida Trail sign. The Florida Trail used to ramble through the woods of the preserve instead of following the paved Cross Seminole Trail.
At the pavement, look off to the right. The extremely tall trees lining the trail are more tulip poplars. Turn left.
Passing a 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, the Osprey Trail is canopied by a mature forest. Pass a blocked-off bridge to the Magnolia Trail.
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. This boardwalk has been abandoned.
The Mud Walk pavilion is up ahead. But first, take the bridge on the left to what remains of the Magnolia Trail, which was once a lush loop through the floodplain. The loop has been abandoned.
After a short out-and-back on the Magnolia Trail, return to the Osprey Trail and ramble past the Mud Walk pavilion. Pass the bridge to the Hydric Hammock Trail, which has been abandoned.
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.
At times, Question Pond will be a shimmering blue spring. But if the water levels in Lake Jesup are high, the water will be brown. Continue down the Osprey Trail after a stop here. Vegetation starts crowding in from both sides.
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 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 seeing the ancient cypresses rising above the forest.
At 1.4 miles, 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 ancient cypresses towering over the rest of the floodplain forest. Return back the way you came.
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.
Where the 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 to cross the paved Cross Seminole Trail (and the Florida Trail) at 2.4 miles. Head into the woods on the opposite side.
The trail follows the bluffs of Soldier Creek, offering one of the nicest pieces of footpath in the preserve for the next quarter mile. When you see the railroad bridge, turn right to join the Primary Trail.
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.
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.
Return along the grassy shoulder of the paved road to reach the parking area, completing this 3 mile hike.
See our photos of Spring Hammock Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
For the broadest panorama along the south shore of Lake Jesup, follow this mile-long loop through lush oak hammocks and open prairies in a rural corner of Sanford
On a mile-long loop in grassy prairies along Lake Jesup, enjoy palm-framed panoramas of the open prairies along the lakeshore
In this wilderness area along the shores of Lake Jesup, plunge right in for a hike through a parade of wetland wildflowers in the St. Johns River floodplain