Exploring the far corners of Savage Christmas Creek Preserve means being willing to get your feet wet.
It’ll happen often while traversing the floodplains and bayheads where Christmas Creek rises to flow towards the St. Johns River.
Fortunately, on a counterclockwise ramble along this loop, it eventually ends up on higher ground for the return trip.
The last 0.9 mile of the trek is shared with the East Loop, which you can intertwine this hike with to extend it by walking the perimeter of the preserve.
There are also numerous options to shorten or reconfigure this hike by using cross trails or skipping side loops.
You can skip the side trips on the Yellow/Green and Green Loops for a 3.8 mile hike, or add on the Blue Trail for a 4.8 mile hike.
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Length: 4.6 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.557349, -81.030192
Address: 11046 NW Christmas Rd, Christmas
Land manager: Orange County
Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs and bicycles not permitted.
A picnic table is provided at the trailhead, which also has ample room for horse trailers. Equestrians welcome.
From the intersection of SR 50 and SR 520 in Bithlo, drive east 3.6 miles along SR 50 to SW Christmas Road (which is before Fort Christmas Road) on the left. Turn left and follow Christmas Road for 1.8 miles to the trailhead on the left.
Start from the main trailhead off NW Christmas Road. This forest road is the connector to the overall trail system, which consists of a series of marked loops.
This first section of trail can get wet, as evidenced by puddles in the deep divots of the road.
Yellow and purple wildflowers draw your attention across the scrubby flatwoods landscape. In fall, look for particularly tall feathery pink sprays of blazing star.
Newly painted orange blazes designate a future section of the Florida Trail, and they peel off the forest road within 0.2 mile, near a bat box.
Stay on the forest road. It is the Orange Trail, so named for the orange round markers with arrows on them. Rather than blazes, that’s what marks trails through this preserve.
After a quarter mile, you reach the first trail junction. The Yellow Trail comes in from the left, with an “End of Trail” sign to the right. Continue straight ahead on the Orange Trail.
The understory beneath scattered pines is wiregrass and saw palmetto, with quite a sweeping view off into the distance to the right.
The forest to the left is denser, with sand live oak rising up from saw palmetto.
At the next junction, a firebreak comes in from the left and the landscape begins to get scrubby. Footing is difficult any time these forest roads are disked for fire management.
The trail curves through pine forest and becomes wetter underfoot. There are deer tracks and racoon tracks in the mud.
Spiders weave bowl-like webs close to the ground, sparkling like cups of ice in the morning dew.
By 0.6 mile you reach a T intersection where the Orange, Yellow, and Green Trails meet. Turn right to follow the green and yellow-blazed Tarflower Trail.
This side loop is as broad as a firebreak and has wood chips strewn across its surface. The trail curves to the left and enters a thicket of pond pine. It’s damp underfoot.
Coming up to the bottom of the loop, continue straight ahead. Loblolly bay, dahoon holly, and wax myrtle intrude into the footpath, explaining the growing wetness – a bayhead swamp.
Surrounded by ranchland, you can hear cows in the distance. Although the forest road continues straight ahead, there’s an “End of Trail” sign at 0.9 mile.
Turn left. A broadly mown swath of grass leads into the pine flatwoods, where tarflower may be seen in bloom during the summer months.
At 1 mile, the trail makes a sharp left turn, following a mown path through the thickets beneath the pines. The trail curves to the left and you return to the bottom of the loop.
Turn right to exit the Tarflower Loop. When you reach the junction of the Yellow, Orange, and Green Trails again, continue straight.
It’s still a difficult surface to walk on, with wood chips and pine duff atop the roughed-up forest road.
The trail curves to the right before rising up into scrub forest, where low bush blueberries and gopher apple provide opportunities for gopher tortoises to grab a meal.
At the next T intersection, turn right to start the red-blazed Dragonfly Loop. Deer tracks are everywhere in the firm sand underfoot. Sandhill cranes cry out in the distance.
The next arrow is at a spot pointing away from where you think the trail might go off to the left but it doesn’t. This forest road gets wet underfoot, with flowing water in places.
At the next junction, continue straight down the median of the forest road. Sundews thrive in this soggy portion of the trail.
Follow the curve of the trail around the wetlands. Candyroot grows profusely in this damp environment, along with low grasses.
As the trail rises up a little, the pine flatwoods are dotted with loblolly bay. At a dense stand of lovegrass at a T intersection, the Red Trail turns left. You’ve walked two miles.
The trail curves through another area of standing water in these wet flatwoods, but enough gravel has been laid on the forest road that you may not get your feet wet, depending.
Where the trail rises in elevation a little, the understory is once again very thick with vegetation.
As you cross an old firebreak, a marker points out that you should continue straight ahead. The ground gets firmer as you gain elevation. A cypress swamp is obvious in the distance.
At the next T intersection, the trail turns left, still blazed in red. Uplands are ahead, with sand live oaks and colorful wildflowers.
By 2.5 miles you reach the cross trail inside the Red Loop, which comes in from the left. Stay on the outer loop by continuing around the curve.
Cypress domes sit off to the right amid the open pine flatwoods. The saw palmetto is over shoulder height on the left as you walk through the open prairie.
You see a large communications tower off to the right. After passing an indistinct trail to the left, you come up to the junction with the Yellow Trail at 3 miles. Turn right.
A bench provides a place to rest in the shade of the oak hammock before the trail emerges in more open scrubby flatwoods.
Goldenrod grows profusely along the trail’s edge, and you see a cypress dome off to the right.
Young longleaf pines have staked a claim in the white sands among the prairie grasses and St. Johns Wort.
As the sand gets softer underfoot, you come to a confusion of trail junctions at 3.3 miles.
The Yellow Trail, meant for equestrian use, goes straight ahead towards East Orange District Park on SR 50. The Green Trail turns left. Follow the Green Trail.
The trail winds into the scrub forest, past tall saw palmetto and diminutive forest perfect for Florida scrub-jays.
The green hiker medallions point you down this footpath through the scrub. Rusty lyonia thrives through this area, as does prickly pear.
The footpath ends all too soon, at 3.7 miles, joining the Yellow Loop at a T intersection. A thick stand of blazing star accents the prairie on the left. Turn right.
Follow the Yellow Trail north from this intersection for a direct return to the trailhead. In the next quarter mile, you may see orange blazes and blue markers pointing to the right.
When you see the Blue Trail, you can take that as an alternate route, joining the orange blazes to follow the preserve perimeter on what we’ve described as the East Loop.
Otherwise, stick with the Yellow Trail. It’s broad and pleasant, sticking with the high ground so no more wet feet.
It climbs up a scrub ridge and leads you under a majestic canopy of sand live oaks before it comes to a final junction with the Red Trail.
Keep right. Enjoy the walk through the open longleaf pine flatwoods, where the songs of birds drift on the breeze.
Returning to the trail junction at the start of the hike, you seal the loop.
Passing the incoming orange blazes at the bat box a few moments later, continue around the best through the flatwoods to the trailhead for a 4.1-mile hike.
Discover more hiking routes at Savage Christmas Creek Preserve
See our photos of the West Loop, Savage Christmas Creek Preserve
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