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By Dawn S.

Florida hiking season is here! October to April tends to bring slightly cooler weather and the occasional cold front, ahh, a short relief from the heat. Here’s one of my favorite places to get outside for a little taste of the “Real Florida.” Just pick up an Escape campervan in Miami or Atlanta and go!

Spring Hammock Preserve

Soldiers Creek Park Florida Sign

Cross Seminole Trail

The Cross Seminole Trail is a paved biking/walking trail in Central Florida, north of Orlando. This recreation trail passes through the 1,500 acre Spring Hammock Preserve, a natural oasis in an urban area near Longwood, Florida, giving access to some short, but pristine hiking and mountain bike trails.

Soldiers Creek Trail Florida Bridge

Soldiers Creek Mountain Bike Trail

Also great to hike! This off-road one-way single-track loop travels along Soldiers Creek in both directions, crossing over it a few times. There are some man-made obstacles, bridges, and boardwalks. The main trail is only 1.3 miles, but there are some fun side trails to explore

One of these has you riding through the remains of a downed tree trunk as you return to the main trail. If you take the paved bike trail from Soldiers Creek Park towards Big Tree Park, you can access the Soldiers Creek MTB trail right before the bridge over Soldiers Creek.

Spring Hammock Preserve Cypress High Water Mark

Big Tree Park

Due to a road closure, the only way to currently access Big Tree Park (as of December 2018) is from the paved Cross Seminole Trail. Once there, take the boardwalk trail over the hydric hammock swamp to the 2,000-year-old bald cypress tree called Lady Liberty. It is large and impressive. It stands near the charred remains of an even larger tree, “The Senator,” a beloved 3,500-year-old National Champion Bald Cypress Tree that was destroyed by arson in 2012.

Yes, I cried the day I heard the news that The Senator had burned down. But you have to walk where these trees grow to appreciate their strength and endurance. It is a humbling experience to reflect on how they have withstood the hurricanes, fires, floods, and droughts through the centuries.

Spring Hammock Preserve Florida Hiking

Spring Hammock Trail

This is still very much a worthwhile place to take a walk in the woods, even though the last section of the Cypress Trail has sustained some hurricane and flood damage over the last few years. The boardwalk over the cypress swamp leading to the Lake Jessup overlook is closed as of December 2018, but plans to rebuild it are in the works. A year-end highlight for local fifth graders is to visit Spring Hammock Preserve’s Environmental Studies Center and then duct tape their shoes onto their feet to embark on the “mud walk.”

The hiking trails for the rest of us may have some mud but are usually high and dry with the help of some boardwalks and bridges. Expect to see large cypress trees, cabbage palms, mosses and rare ferns. You may also see snakes, lizards, or a pileated woodpecker. The main trail is a wide, grassy road, and passes a beautiful blue spring, and tannin-stained creek. It is a 2.5 mile out and back trail. Check the information board to see which trails are open during your visit, and don’t miss the short Hydric Hammock loop off to the left.

Soldiers Creek Trail Florida

When hiking in Florida, don’t forget:

  • Plenty of water
  • Sunscreen (apply it before and during your hike)
  • Insect repellant (I like Repel Natural Lemon Eucalyptus)
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Raingear
  • Map
  • Food/Snacks
  • Small First Aid Kit
  • Headlamp

Happy trails!

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