Part of a 1,400-acre watershed encompassing wetlands that flow out of Lake Ashby towards the St. Johns River basin, Wiregrass Prairie Preserve is a wild and rugged place in a distinctly rural setting. This hike explores the southernmost of the three loops within the preserve – the Yellow Loop – the only one with a trailhead accessible by passenger car. It guides you into the namesake of the preserve, a pine savanna with an extensive wiregrass prairie, one of the showiest habitats in the region.
Length: 3.3 miles
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate to high
Parking is limited. The road is narrow and a bit rough to get here.
A shout out to my friend Jennifer for helping to make this hiking trail happen!
Wiregrass Prairie Preserve website
From Interstate 4 exit 108, drive east on DeBary Avenue; after 1.9 miles, it crosses Providence Road and becomes Doyle Avenue. Continue 5.9 miles to SR 415. Turn right. Make the third left onto New Smyrna Boulevard. Turn immediately left on Florida Avenue / Osteen-Maytown Road. Follow it through the small village of Osteen. Continue 5.7 miles to Pell Road. Turn left. Follow Pell Road for 4.1 miles. It becomes a dirt road and passes a fire tower. Turn right onto Rudman Road, an unpaved one-lane track through a farm. Continue 1 mile to the trailhead on the right.
Starting from the map kiosk at the parking area, follow the yellow markers atop white-tipped posts down an elevated grassy berm. This long straightaway follows a fence line with an adjacent ranch. Rest assured this is not the scenic part of the trail, but a necessary connector to lead you to the loop. Making a gentle left away from the fence at 0.3 mile, the trail enters former pastureland replanted with longleaf pine. Goldenrod lines both sides of the footpath, and you see cypress domes off to the right.
You come to the intersection with the loop portion of the trail at a bench after 0.6 miles. Turn right. The trail continues to parallel a fenceline but there is a change to natural habitats. Crossing over a stream that runs through a culvert, you see pine flatwoods off to the left, high and dry, with an understory of saw palmetto. Ranchland, open pine savanna with cypress domes, stretches off to the right. The forest road that the trail follows marks the ecotone between habitats. By 0.8 mile you’re past the open prairie and into denser longleaf pine forest. Water gathers in puddles and ruts along either side of the trail. The land on the far side of the fence is classic Central Florida cattle country, with clumps of saw palmetto and longleaf pines.
The trail makes a sharp left away from the fenceline at 0.9 mile. A flock of turkeys gathers beneath the longleaf pines. An eye-catching display of the silvery-blue tinged saw palmetto stands out among the standard green variety. At 1.2 miles, you leave the berm and enter the prairie, with a wall of pines and oaks to the right and an expanse of longleaf pine savanna to the left. The wall of trees becomes a bayhead swamp deliniating the edge of the savanna. Making a sharp bend to the left, the trail immerses in the prairie’s wide open spaces, which are dense with wiregrass, the namesake of the preserve, and other delicate grasses. Yellow stargrass adds a tinge of color to the landscape, along with fleabane and the feathery arcs of blazing star, which blooms in a showy display each fall.
Around 1.5 miles, a stand of pond pines grows near the bayhead, distinctive with its tousled-looking needles, some protruding from the trunks themselves. There are also excellent examples of the different stages of longleaf pine: grass, when it can be mistaken for wiregrass; candle, when it shoots up quickly and starts sprouting branches; and full-grown of various sizes. Pass a gopher tortoise burrow on the right just as the trail swings right, leaving the prairie behind for denser pine flatwoods.
At the T intersection, take the trail to the right, following the marker arrow. If it’s rained recently, you may encounter soggy spots in the footpath, some ankle-deep in places. Entering a denser, older pine savanna, the trail comes up to the next junction at 1.6 miles. Passing an unmarked trail on the left, continue straight ahead. The trail splits around a clump of saw palmetto and an arrow encourages you to keep right at this junction. The next junction defines another loop in the trail system. Turn right. A line of cypresses marks the horizon on the right as you emerge into another pine savanna. Keep left at the marker, and the prairie opens up again around you, providing sweeping views across a grand and beautiful landscape. As the trail curves to the left, it offers even better views. The saw palmetto is short – only one or two feet high – so as you cross this panoramic landscape, you can see trail markers in the distance.
At 2.2 miles, you reach a junction with a trail coming in from the left. The marker points in that direction, so turn left to leave the prairie, heading for the treeline. This portion of the trail is a bit rougher than the rest, with deer tracks leading through muddy spots. Turn left at the T intersection, where you may find sabatia – a bright pink wildflower – in bloom. The trail follows the fenceline, with a view to the left of the prairie that you just crossed. Stay to the left at the next fork. A cypress dome rises behind the pines as you come to the end of the prairie. It can be wet underfoot where the cypress swamp drains across the trail beneath the longleaf pines. Keep watching for the next marker as you work your way through this patchwork of puddles.
Passing a trail coming in from the left at another drainage area, you complete the upper loop after 2.6 miles. Rejoining the main trail, watch for the second turn to the right, which is blazed with orange markers. Dog fennel grows tall between the pines and the saw palmetto along this short corridor, which emerges at the first junction with a bench, completing the overall loop. Continue straight ahead, following the grassy berm you came in on, to complete the hike after 3.3 miles.
|0.6||bench at trail junction|
|1.7||unmarked trail on left|
|2.6||end upper loop|
|2.7||bench at trail junction|