Was De Leon Springs the Fountain of Youth? History relates that when he sailed to Florida in 1513, Ponce De Leon visited a spring.
To get there, he “ascended a large river, passing through two small rivers and three lakes, whence we came to a great boiling spring which the Indians call ‘Healing Waters’.”
The waters bubbling into Spring Garden Creek have been a centerpiece of history for centuries, and are the starting point for adventure at a park well known for its pancakes.
Built and maintained by volunteers of the Florida Trail Association, the Wild Persimmon Trail gets you into the park’s wildest corner.
For more than half the hike, the trail slips along the edge of a swamp forest with waters that ebb and flow with the St. Johns River.
Full details on this hike are in 50 Hikes in Central Florida
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Location: De Leon Springs
Trailhead: 29.136952, -81.361309
Address: 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd, De Leon Springs
Fees: $4-6 per vehicle
Restroom: Nearest one is at the swimming area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset daily. Leashed pets welcome along the trails. Insect repellent is a must. Expect wet feet along this loop.
The Old Spanish Sugar Mill and Griddle House is open 9-5 weekdays, 8-5 weekends (serving until 4), closed Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The town of De Leon Springs is just north of DeLand on US 17. From US 17 in De Leon Springs, turn west onto Ponce De Leon Boulevard. Follow it 0.8 mile. The entrance to De Leon Springs State Park is just after the railroad crossing.
Once you’re past the ranger station, make the right to drive down to the small parking area behind the changing house at the swimming area. This is the closest place to the trails for hikers to park.
Getting to the trailhead for the Wild Persimmon Trail means walking in on the park’s paved nature trail, a throwback to its tourist attraction days.
As you walk through this oak hammock with its statuesque live oaks, you might spot a barred owl in the canopy. Planted azaleas bloom in the understory in spring.
A side trail leads to “Old Methuselah,” a bald cypress estimated to be nearly 500 years old, one of the ancients of the forest.
You reach the well-marked trailhead for the blue-blazed Wild Persimmon Trail after 0.3 mile. The dry start of the trail under the oaks is deceiving.
While we could find no current interpretive brochure for this hike, the markers from long ago persist. Marker 5 is at the beginning of a long stretch of bog boardwalks.
The trail reaches a bench at 0.8 mile, with more boardwalks beyond as it enters a hydric hammock dense with cabbage palms.
Deep shade and clouds of mosquitoes are normal the deeper the trail continues into the floodplain.
A mile in, the trail crosses a bridge over a picturesque stream with sand banks. The stream vanishes into the forest.
The loop portion of the hike starts after 1.4 miles at a bench. Continue straight ahead to stay on the floodplain side of the loop.
Habitats shift from swamp to oak hammock and back again as the canopy overhead rises with the height and age of the oaks and palms.
Bromeliads grow thickly on the oaks. Underfoot, the footpath is muddy as as the trail dances in and out of the hydric hammock.
Just past a bench at 1.9 miles, there are puddles across the footpath, the low spot in the forest.
Where it is drier, fungi flourishes in the leaf litter and on rotting logs. The thick, arching limbs of live oaks break up the angular feel of the cabbage palm trunks.
A panorama of oak and palm hammock wraps around the trail in every direction, even straight up.
Reaching Marker 10, the trail leaves the influence of the swamp, swapping the beauty of the hammock for uplands that were once farmed.
The grove of wild persimmons for which this trail is named is just beyond the marker in the open area. Their small orange fruits are very astringent, but sweeten as they ripen.
A grassy aisle through the young forest, the trail skirts around older live oaks and along colorful stands of sweetgum.
Watch for blue blazes as the understory opens up. Past an “Exit” marker, there are the remnants of a former primitive campsite, including benches and a picnic table.
Returning to the floodplain forest, the trail reaches a bench at Marker 13 after 3 miles, completing the loop.
Turn left to backtrack through the palm hammocks and over the bog bridges, reaching the trailhead for the Wild Persimmon Trail at 4 miles, and the parking area by 4.4 miles.
Learn more about De Leon Springs State Park
See our photos of the Wild Persimmon Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Six miles of trails meander through wide open spaces preserved for wintering waterfowl at 21,500-acre Lake Woodruff NWR along the St. Johns River.
One of Central Florida’s most scenic and easy-to-follow day hikes, the 7.9-mile St. Francis Trail traverses the southeastern corner of the Ocala National Forest
On Hontoon Island, the Indian Mound Nature Trail leads you through a ancient forest to an ancient midden on the edge of a vast swamp floodplain.