Built by the Indian River chapter of the Florida Trail Association, the scenic portion of this well-established footpath was part of the statewide Florida Trail.
That changed by 1999, when levees across the St. Johns River floodplain were broken to enable free flow of the river, shifting the Florida Trail route to a roadwalk.
Expect a wonderland of botanical beauty along this 4.7 mile loop, truly one of Florida’s best hikes to enjoy the splendor of palm hammocks.
Located in the lesser-known portion of Tosohatchee WMA, the scenic eastern side of this loop remains dry as long as the river is within its banks.
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Length: 4.7 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.373904, -80.904310
Land manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife
Leashed dogs welcome. Day use only. Plan for mosquitos and possible wading.
NOTE: Camping is no longer permitted along this loop.
From Interstate 95, follow SR 520 west across the St. Johns River. Watch for the first turnout lane on the left after crossing the river bridges. The trailhead is behind a gate in a tall fence that makes it always look closed. Open the gate and close it behind you.
Leaving the parking corral at the “Trail” sign, veer southeast along the white blazes, which immediately dive into a palm hammock.
It’s a jungle-like corridor, the footpath densely fringed by palm fronds. Resurrection fern swarms over oaks and palms.
Blazes can be tricky to spot. Since the footpath is not well worn, it’s easy to end up off-trail following an animal track if you don’t keep watching for the next blaze.
In a tenth of a mile, leave the corridor of palms to enter mesic pine flatwoods with mixed loblolly and slash pine. Cars zoom by within earshot along SR 520.
Emerging onto a firebreak paralleling the highway, watch for a double blaze beyond a wetland where blue flag iris blooms in March.
The trail makes a sharp right into a palm hammock and jogs left at a quarter mile, entering a much denser palm hammock with uneven soil underfoot.
Pass a patch of lowbush blueberry around 0.4 mile before proceeding along a corridor defined by tall pines and cabbage palms.
Turning away from the highway, the trail makes a soft right towards a hammock of very large live oaks and cabbage palms, quickly immersing in this showy habitat.
Live oaks are draped in ferns and bromeliads. Goldfoot fern spikes from cabbage palms, and colorful American beautyberry attracts the eye with its purple berries.
Entering a virtual maze of cabbage palm trunks, the deeper you get into the hammocks, the smaller you feel.
By three-quarters of a mile the trail runs along the edge of a large marsh, a foopath through mucky ground, rich black earth underfoot.
Wax myrtle crowds the trail but peeps of red and orange are visible in winter in the coloration of red maple leaves.
Leaving the wetland, walk through another palm hammock with a grassy forest floor and come to a large spreading live oak.
To the left is an ephemeral wetland. The trail passes under thick grapevines that look like snakes hanging from the live oak.
Approaching a broad, duckweed covered canal, keep alert for alligators. The trail turns right, leaving the highway noise behind as it heads south.
Pass a cabbage palm with a 90° bend in its trunk as the trail enters another lush palm hammock.
In the shade of the palms and oaks, circle a wetland where a marsh is colored with the blooms of duck potato.
A little more sun filters through the canopy at a mile where the trail emerges into a corridor of cabbage palms.
The trail twists and turns through palm hammocks before opening into a wonderful montage of oaks, resurrection ferns, and cabbage palms.
Walking atop a soft surface of pine duff by 1.4 miles under a stand of tall skinny young slash pines, it’s a reminder that not all of this forest is old growth.
In the 1930s and 1940s the region between Jim Creek and Taylor Creek was heavily logged for cypress and pine.
In the transition to the next tall stand of palms, notice the shorter, stubbier palms in the understory. They seem common along the St. Johns floodplain.
After this hammock of fuzzy palms, the trail moves on to a hammock with a very high canopy of live oaks.
By 1.7 miles, the trail zigzags between a maze of palm trunks. There are alternate trails leading away from the main footpath so keep an eye on the white blazes.
Over the next quarter mile there is a break in the palms with glimpses of the riverine habitat beyond. Beyond, trail burrows deeper into the palm and oak hammocks.
Masses of mushy spaghnum moss rise from the footpath, an indicator of how wet this portion of the trail can become.
Cardinal wild pine grows at eye level. Fungi and ferns and bromeliads and lichens thrive. Look for giant air plants overhead.
The trail follows a corridor between cabbage palms and saw palmetto under the oaks, broader and straighter than any of the footpath so far.
It then makes a sharp left into a dense palm maze, dwarf palms enrobed in fuzzy green carpets of moss.
This is a quiet spot, silence broken only by airplanes overhead. Patches of sky are visible above.
Cypress knees appear by 2.5 miles, signaling you’re drawing near to Taylor Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River.
Emerge from the palms at a picnic table with a trail junction. A sign indicates a side trail, once the Florida Trail thru-trail to Deseret Ranch.
Follow the side trail to see the scenic floodplain of Taylor Creek and its ancient cypress trees. The trail keeps narrowing.
Coming to a T intersection at 2.8 miles, turn left at the double blaze to head down a tight corridor fringed by saw palmetto under the oak canopy.
Approaching the creek, the rougher and muckier the terrain becomes, with cypress knees jutting out of the footpath.
Blazes lead into the cypress swamp to a sign “Taylor Creek Trail End” at 2.9 miles. It might be underwater.
Return the same way you came. At 3.3 miles, reach the picnic table in the clearing and turn left.
From this former campsite, the trail continues habitats unlike the hike thus far, reaching a forest road.
Follow a broad walkway through mesic pine flatwoods, the understory filled with gallberry and saw palmetto. A floodplain forest parallels to the east.
A stand of silver-tinged saw palmetto near a sign at 3.6 miles, marking where the trail turns to the right along with the forest road.
Through this next stretch, notice the gentle elevation gain and colorful wildflowers like milkweed and candyroot.
Surrounded by scrubby flatwoods with tall grasses, the trail passes an ephemeral wetland at 4.1 miles.
After a curve to the left, the sounds of traffic from SR 520 start filtering in. Rounding the second curve, keep to the far right.
The footpath hugs close against the saw palmetto. Use the hard-packed shellrock of the forest road to cross a drainage from another ephemeral wetland on the right.
As the pine flatwoods yield to a mix of cabbage palms and pines, the broad forest road rounds a wetland with a core of willow and red maple.
Emerge at the cable gate and the trailhead after 4.7 miles.
Learn more about Tosohatchee WMA
Protecting more than 30,000 acres of the St. Johns River floodplain near Christmas, Tosohatchee WMA is a place to immerse yourself in the grandeur of old Florida and its bounty of botanical beauty.
See our photos of the Taylor Creek Loop
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Florida Trail, Tosohatchee
Bridging an immense expanse of pine flatwoods bisected by floodplain forests, an 11-mile segment of the statewide Florida Trail crosses Tosohatchee WMA.
Hidden Pond Preserve
Putting together several loops providing perspectives on pine flatwoods, prairie, swamp, and a showy pond, Hidden Pond Preserve offers a very enjoyable 1.9 mile hike.
Tosohatchee White Loop
A botanically-rich immersion into Tosohatchee WMA, the White Loop combines the Florida Trail and the White Trail for a hike of nearly 11 miles.
A 20.2-mile circuit on forest roads by bike provides a unique perspective on this 31,000-acre preserve along the St. Johns River floodplain in Christmas.