Hike The 10 Best Nature Trails in Central Florida

May 08, 2019

The Best Hiking Trails Near Central Florida For Scenic Hiking, Day Hiking, or Longer Hikes | Best Places in Florida For Hiking
By Rich Weidman


  • Little Big Econ State Forest (Kolokee Loop)

  • Orlando Wetlands Park

  • Black Bear Wilderness Area

  • Spring Hammock Preserve

  • Econlockhatchee Sandhills Conservation Area

  • Disney Wilderness Preserve

  • Hal Scott Preserve

  • Black Hammock Wilderness Area

  • Tibet-Butler Preserve

  • Lake Proctor Wilderness Area

  • Split Oak Forest


Hike the 10 Best Nature Trails in Central Florida

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” - Edward Abbey

Less than an hour or so from Orlando’s world-famous theme parks such as Walt Disney World Resort and bustling entertainment complexes like Disney Springs lies the “real” Florida – a variety of spectacular nature preserves, wilderness sanctuaries, county parks, state forests and conservation areas where you can immerse yourself in the natural world and escape from the distractions of civilization for awhile (with the exception of getting some great Instagram-worthy photos, that is!). To beat the sweltering heat and humidity (as well as pesky mosquitoes!), the best time to hike the nature trails of Central Florida is between the months of October and April. Regardless of the time of year, remember to always pack plenty of water, sunscreen and mosquito repellant as you embark on your Central Florida hiking adventure (and make sure to consult the official websites associated with each of the hikes below for any safety precautions associated with that particular hiking trail). Without further ado, here are the 10 best nature trails in Central Florida:


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1 | Little Big Econ State Forest (Kolokee Loop) | Established by the Florida Legislature in 1994, the approximately 10,279-acre Little Big Econ State Forest near Geneva features the 5.2-mile Kolokee Loop, one of the most scenic nature trails in Central Florida. A highlight of the Kolokee Loop is the section that winds high above the Econlockhatchee River (“Econlockhatchee” being a Muscogee word for “river of many mounds”), which empties into the St. Johns River. The Kolokee Loop (the name “Kolokee” derives from a former 19th-century railroad town in the area) also encompasses a small portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail (aka the Florida Trail), which winds for approximately 1,300 miles through the Sunshine State from Big Cypress National Preserve to Gulf Islands National Seashore. In addition, the Kolokee Loop features a segment of the Flagler Trail, an old railroad bed that once served as the Okeechobee Branch of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. The Econ River itself has been designated an Outstanding Florida Waterway. Wildlife that can be viewed along the Kolokee Loop include alligators, bald eagles, gopher tortoises, sandhill cranes, Sherman’s fox squirrels, gopher frogs, deer, wild turkeys, roseate spoonbills, wood storks and more. Named as one of the country’s most family-friendly hikes by the American Hiking Society, the Kolokee Loop at Little Big Econ State Forest can easily be reached via the Barr Street Trailhead on Geneva Drive (aka County Road 426). A $2 parking fee is required. Just up the street lies the 180-acre Geneva Wilderness Area, which offers a scenic 1.8-mile loop trail. Trail Difficulty: Moderate

WHERE: 1350 Snow Hill Road, Geneva, FL 32732 | WHO: (407) 971-3500

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2 | Orlando Wetlands Park | If your goal is to totally immerse yourself in Florida wildlife, few Central Florida wilderness areas compare to 1,650-acre Orlando Wetlands Park, an immense man-made wetland opened in 1987 near Christmas (about 27 miles east of downtown Orlando) to treat reclaimed water and serve as a wildlife habitat. With more than 18 miles of berms and nature trails, Orlando Wetlands Park provides habitat for over 220 bird species (year-round residents include bald eagles, limpkins and red-shouldered hawks), as well as an estimated 1,700 alligators in addition to snakes, river otters, turtles, white-tailed deer, bobcats and foxes. Highlights of Orlando Wetlands Park include beautiful Lake Searcy, the 2.5-mile Birding Route and 30-foot-tall Oyler Overlook, which provides spectacular views of the surrounding wetlands. Guided tram tours are available (see the official Orlando Wetlands Park website for details). Orlando Wetlands Park is immensely popular among birders, so you will want to get there early before the parking lot fills up. More than 8,000 visitors descend upon Orlando Wetlands Park on the third Saturday in February each year for the lively Orlando Wetlands Festival (the 2020 event is set for Saturday, February 15, 2020). Trail Difficulty: Easy

WHERE: 25155 Wheeler Road, Christmas, FL 32709 | WHO: (407) 568-1706

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3 | Black Bear Wilderness Area | A rugged hiking trail that winds through rather rough and uneven terrain, the spectacular 7.1-mile loop trail at 1,600 Black Bear Wilderness Area in Sanford in northwest Seminole County features 14 well-constructed boardwalks along the way. A portion of the nature trail runs along the St. Johns River, which at 310 miles long is the longest river in Florida. Wildlife commonly spotted in the Black Bear Wilderness Area include white-tailed deer, alligators, river otters, bobcats, hawks, turtles, owls and pygmy rattlesnakes. If you’re lucky, you may even spot an elusive Florida black bear (approximately 4,000 black bears roam Florida today, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). Note: Only more experienced hikers should attempt to hike the entire remote trail at Black Bear Wilderness Area and make sure to come prepared with a good pair of hiking shoes, plenty of water and bug spray for the lengthy excursion. Other scenic Central Florida hiking trails that present opportunities for Florida black bear sightings include the 10.2-mile trail at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka and the 12.3-mile trail at Rock Springs Run State Reserve in Sorrento. Trail Difficulty: Strenuous

WHERE: 5298 Michigan Avenue, Sanford, FL 32771 | WHO: (407) 665-2211

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4 | Spring Hammock Preserve | A true hidden gem, 1,500-acre Spring Hammock Preserve (once known as “Devil’s Bend”), which lies adjacent to the Cross Seminole Trail and across the street from Soldier’s Creek Park (home to Seminole County’s Environmental Studies Center), takes hikers on a 3-mile nature trail through a diverse wilderness of pine flatwoods, upland mixed hardwoods, hydric hammock and floodplain forest. Don’t miss the opportunity to get a photo op at the scenic Question Pond along the way. Unfortunately, the boardwalk leading to Lake Jesup that once offered great views of ancient bald cypress trees has been closed off indefinitely. Spring Hammock Preserve is home to the legendary Mud Walk, “a rite of passage for Seminole County fifth-graders,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. Nearby lies Big Tree Park, which features a recently renovated boardwalk that takes visitors to “The Senator,” the remnants of a 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree that was tragically lost to a fire in 2012. Big Tree Park also features “The Phoenix,” a clone of The Senator planted in 2013, and “Lady Liberty,” a 2,000-year-old bald cypress tree that lies just down the boardwalk from The Senator. By the way, Big Tree Park was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929. Trail Difficulty: Easy

WHERE: 2985 Osprey Trail, Longwood, FL 32750 | WHO: (407) 665-2211

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5 | Econlockhatchee Sandhills Conservation Area | Nestled on 706 acres just east of the University of Central Florida, Econlockhatchee Sandhills Conservation Area offers a beautifully diverse 3.2-mile nature trail that winds through varied terrain, including sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, oak hammocks and cypress swamp. Wildlife that call Econlockhatchee Sandhills home include gopher tortoises, wild turkeys, armadillos, raccoons and white-tailed deer. Just up the road from the Econlockhatchee Sandhills Conservation Area lies another quality hiking destination worth checking out at the 240-acre Econ River Wilderness Area, which offers more than 3 miles of trails. Trail Difficulty: Moderate

WHERE: 15227 Lake Pickett Road, Orlando, FL 32820 | WHO: (386) 329-4404

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6 | Disney Wilderness Preserve | Don’t expect to find monorails, animatronic animals or Mickey Mouse ice cream bars here! A mitigation project established in 1992, the 11,500-acre Disney Wilderness Preserve in Poinciana is actually owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy, whose stated mission “is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.” Hike the red-blazed, 2.5-mile Wilderness Trail and take the short 0.75-mile extension for a spectacular view of scenic Lake Russell. The Disney Wilderness Preserve, which once served as the site of a cattle ranch, also features the white-blazed 0.5-mile Harden Trail and the 3.6-mile Yellow Trail. The Preserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including scrub jays, bald eagles, red-cockaded woodpeckers, wood storks, crested caracaras, sandhill cranes, gopher tortoises, eastern indigo snakes, wild turkeys and Sherman’s fox squirrels. Note: Hikers must first register at the Information Center before setting out on the nature trails at Disney Wilderness Preserve. Trail Difficulty: Moderate

WHERE: 2700 Scrub Jay Trail, Poinciana, FL 34759 | WHO: (407) 935-0002

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7 | Hal Scott Preserve | Encompassing more than 9,500 acres and located just a few miles east of bustling Orlando International Airport, Hal Scott Preserve offers three loop nature trails: White Trail (4.3 miles), Red Trail (6.1 miles) and Yellow Trail (6.3 miles). The multiuse hiking trails at Hal Scott Preserve are also available for bicycling and horseback riding (leashed pets are welcome as well). Encompassing several miles of the Econlockhatchee River, Hal Scott Preserve is also home to an amazing variety of wildlife, including gopher tortoises, river otters, bobcats, bald eagles, red-cockaded woodpeckers, sandhill cranes and eastern indigo snakes, as well as rich assortment of butterfly species such as the Florida Dusted Skipper and Little Metalmark. In addition, according to the Florida Trail Association, the Preserve is “rich in history” and Timucuan Indian mounds have been discovered here during archaeological excavations. Trail Difficulty: Moderate

WHERE: 5150 Dallas Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32833 | WHO: (386) 329-4404

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8 | Black Hammock Wilderness Area | The 700-acre Black Hammock Wilderness Area, which is located near Lake Jesup in Oviedo features a 4.5-mile nature trail that includes two scenic boardwalks as it winds through a variety of habitats, including mixed hardwood swamp, sand pine scrub and pine flatwoods. Wildlife that call Black Hammock Wilderness Area home include white-tailed deer, bobcats, barred owls and eastern hognose snakes, among others. The only slight drawback to Black Hammock Wilderness Area is the rather miniscule parking area, which holds a maximum of about five cars, so arrive early to get a spot. After you complete your hike at Black Hammock Wilderness Area, consider stopping by the Black Hammock Adventures complex on the shores of Lake Jesup for a juicy cheeseburger and ice-cold beer at the Lazy Gator Bar. Black Hammock Adventures is also home to the Black Hammock Restaurant, Orlando airboat rides, gift shop and marina (and you’re bound to see a few alligators swimming around during your visit!). Trail Difficulty: Moderate

WHERE: 3276 Howard Avenue, Oviedo, FL 32765 | WHO: (407) 349-0769

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9 | Tibet-Butler Preserve | A welcome oasis amid the urban sprawl along State Road 535 in western Orange County, the family-friendly Tibet-Butler Preserve offers several distinctive nature trails, including Fallen Log Crossing (0.54 mile), Osprey Overlook (0.13 mile), Tarflower Loop (0.49 mile), Screech Owl Trail (0.11 mile) and Pine Circle Trail (0.86 mile). The Osprey Overlook offers a great view of Lake Tibet, where eagles, osprey and hawks can often be spotted soaring high above. Note that the 1.08-mile Palmetto Passage has been closed indefinitely due to severe flooding. Ideally located just a few miles west of Walt Disney World Resort, the 438-acre Preserve is also home to the Vera Carter Environmental Center, which offers interactive nature displays, as well as a butterfly garden and small gopher tortoise habitat. Trail Difficulty: Easy

WHERE: 8777 Winter Garden-Vineland Road, Orlando, FL 32836 | WHO: (407) 254-1940

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10 | Lake Proctor Wilderness Area | The diverse trail system at 475-acre Lake Proctor Wilderness Area in Geneva includes a red-blazed loop trail (2.6 miles) and three side trails: orange (0.45 mile), blue (0.6 mile) and yellow (1.6 miles). Hikers make their way through a number of diverse habitats, including pine flatwoods, sand pine scrub, sandhills and bayhead swamp. Wildlife that call Lake Proctor home include sandhill cranes, gopher tortoises, red foxes, white-tailed deer and wood ducks. Another quality hiking opportunity in Geneva can found at the 300-acre Lake Harney Wilderness Area with its two loop trails totaling 2.4 miles. Trail Difficulty: Moderate

WHERE: 920 State Road 46, Geneva, FL 32732 | WHO: (407) 665-2211

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BONUS | Split Oak Forest | A spectacular 2,000-acre scrub forest managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Split Oak Forest faces possible destruction under a proposal to extend the Osceola Parkway right through the middle of this treasured wildlife and environmental area. In response, a grassroots organization called Friends of Split Oak Forest has been initiated with the main goal of “protecting Split Oak Forest for the future.” In the meantime, Split Oak Forest, which shares its northeastern boundary with Moss Park, offers nine miles of hiking and horseback riding trails through swamps, marshes, pine flatwoods, hammocks and scrub habitats. Wildlife species that can be viewed here include bald eagles, indigo snakes, Sherman’s fox squirrels, gopher frogs, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, Florida scrub jays, sandhill cranes, alligators and gopher tortoises, which have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Trail Difficulty: Moderate

WHERE: 10525 Clapp Simms Duda Road, Orlando, FL 32832 | WHO: (407) 254-6840

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HONORABLE MENTION


Bear Creek Nature Trail

1535 Winter Springs Boulevard

Winter Springs, FL 32708

Distance: 0.9 mile

Trail Difficulty: Easy

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Enchanted Forest Sanctuary

444 Columbia Boulevard

Titusville, FL 32780

Distance: 3.1 miles

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

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Flat Island Preserve

2388 Owens Road

Leesburg, FL 34748

Distance: 3.7 miles

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

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Green Springs Park

994 Enterprise Osteen Road

Deltona, FL 32725

Distance: 1.2 miles

Trail Difficulty: Easy

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Hidden Waters Preserve

2010 Abrams Road

Eustis, FL 32726

Distance: 3.4 miles

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

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Hontoon Island State Park

2309 River Ridge Road

DeLand, FL 32720

Distance: 3 miles

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

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Isle of Pine Preserve

14032 Lacebark Pine Road

Orlando, FL 32832

Distance: 2.5 miles

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

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Kelly Park

400 E. Kelly Park Road

Apopka, FL 32712

Distance: 2.75 miles

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

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Lake Jesup Wilderness Area

5951 S. Sanford Avenue

Sanford, FL 32773

Distance: 2.7 miles

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

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Lake Lotus Park

1153 Lake Lotus Park Road

Altamonte Springs, FL 32714

Distance: 1.3 miles

Trail Difficulty: Easy

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Lake Runnymede Conservation Area

4600 Rummell Road

St. Cloud, FL 34771

Distance: 0.9 mile

Trail Difficulty: Easy

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Oakland Nature Preserve

747 Machette Trail

Oakland, FL 34760

Distance: 1.5 miles

Trail Difficulty: Easy

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Pine Lily Preserve

1401 S. County Road 13

Orlando, FL 32833

Distance: 3.5 miles

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

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Twin Oaks Conservation Area

2001 Macy Island Road

Kissimmee, FL 34744

Distance: 1.9 miles

Trail Difficulty: Easy

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Wekiwa Springs State Park

1800 Wekiwa Circle

Apopka, FL 32712

Distance: 10.2 miles

Trail Difficulty: Strenuous

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Orlando Hiking Trails Aren't The Only Trails!



Ready to hit the trail on an offroad adventure? Or maybe you're just coming back from one and need a quick breather? Once you've had your fill of Florida day trips and things to do in Orlando off the beaten path, try hitting another kind of trail with these breweries near Orlando on the Ale Trail! No matter what kind of natural getaway you're looking for, Central Florida is a great place to hit the trail and discover the beauty of the great outdoors! Feeling the call of the wild in a big way again? Check out some great Florida agritourism activities, learn more about sea turtle nesting season in Cocoa Beach, discover some hidden offbeat hangouts in Orlando, or get lost in a Florida cornmaze, before braving the escape rooms of I drive! Whatever your taste for adventure - we've got you covered right here on our travel blog!



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