At lush Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, the Bella Vista Trail leads through a shady maritime hammock of red bay, southern magnolia, and cabbage palms. Its 1.8-mile Timucuan Loop explores the patchwork of habitats along this sliver of barrier island, including coastal scrub and the northernmost extent of mangroves along the Matanzas River. You’ll see a little of old A1A, too, which is open for bicycling.
Length: 1.8 miles
Lat-Long: 29.632757, -81.208425
Fees / Permits: $5 per car entrance fee
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: At visitor center
The park is along the west side of A1A, south of Marineland and 4.1 miles north of the Hammock Dunes Bridge at Palm Coast. Drive in on the park entrance road and park by the Bella Vista trailhead on the right. A kiosk and map are at the trailhead.
Begin at the trail head and hike to the first trail junction, the start of the Timucuan Loop. Turn right to hike through the maritime hammock, under live oaks, southern magnolia, cabbage palms, and cherry laurel. Look for wild coffee in the shade of the underbrush; you’re at the northern extent of psychotria nervosa, which has glossy green leaves and sports crimson coffee beans each fall.
Cross old A1A under an arching red bay before returning to the shade of the hammock. Overhead is canopy of live oaks, and on the forest floor is coontie poking up through drifts of leaves. As the trail rises slightly, saw palmettos fill the understory, and the trail passes through a scrub of spindly bluejack oaks and gnarled sand live oaks no more than 15 feet tall.
Next is an older, taller hammock of American holly and red bay, and at 0.5 mile you’ll encounter an immense slash pine. A tall mound of duff encircles the tree, created from years of accumulation of pine needles at its base.
The trail continues back into the oak scrub, where the saw palmetto takes on a silvery blue hue from the salt in the air. The prevailing sea breeze sculpts the branches of the live oaks.
Next, enter an open, windswept scrub, the habitat of the Florida scrub-jay. The last scrub-jays were sighted here in 1990, and it’s suspected that red-tailed hawks caused their demise. Lyonia and saw palmetto make up dense thicket up to seven feet high. The trail turns left, returning to the shaded maritime hammock.
At 1.1 miles, cross old A1A again, entering the forest between two stone pillars that once served as a gateway to the plantation. The trail soon curves left to parallel the Matanzas River. At 1.2 miles, a short spur trail on the right leads to the river’s edge, ending in a salt marsh full of black needlerush. Passing boats send waves into a sandbar covered with black mangroves.
Back on the main path, continue to walk under the arched limbs of red bay trees. The trail makes a sharp left into a grassy corridor and passes a sugar hackberry with its mottled warty gray bark. Beds of sword ferns thrive in the shade of the live oaks. The loop ends at 1.7 miles. Continue straight ahead to the trailhead and the end of your hike.