of East Central Florida
by Jim and Cynthia Tunstall
The cool-sand-between-your toes option: 50 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches in St. Lucie and Indian River counties that arguably offer the best hiking in the region. Access is easy (just about anywhere) and the trail length is entirely up to you. While some of the natural aesthetics are interrupted by condominiums, plenty of undeveloped areas remain, giving you a chance to see virgin coast and native species, such as endangered sea turtles, manatees and shore and sea birds.
Port St. Lucie
St. Lucie Inlet State Park, (561-744-7603), is another slight stretch, this one being about two miles south of the county line. In addition to 2 miles of Atlantic beach, the park has a 3,300-foot boardwalk that meanders through hammocks, live oaks, cabbage palms, wild limes, coco plums and paradise trees.
By the way, that skunk-like aroma that greets you comes from the shite stopper tree. This is another area popular with green, loggerhead and leatherback turtles that nest in the summer months.
The Blue Cypress Conservation Area offers a blister-raising 26 miles of trails through marshes, lakes and cypress swamps along the St. Johns River. Its a good place to see endangered snail kites as well as eagles, ospreys, limpkins and great blue and night herons.
Vero Beach Area
The Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area has 12 miles of trails through upland and wetland areas, again along the St. Johns River. Youll encounter dry prairies, hardwood swamps and freshwater marshes as well as white-tail deer, turkeys, sandhill cranes and the dreaded feral hogs. .
The Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area has two miles of trails and two loops that are wheelchair accessible. Its dotted with hammocks, wetlands and flatwoods and provides a home to 20 rare plant species, including whisk ferns, coral-root orchids and Simpsons stoppers.
The South Florida Water Management District, (800-432-2045) in Florida or (561-686-8800), provides 12 miles of trails at its Hickory Hammock site. The trail runs parallel to the Kissimmee River, mainly through uplands.
Remember, when it comes to water management districts, check before you land to make sure youre not arriving in the thick of hunting season.
Additionally, there is a nine-mile leg of the Florida National Trail along the Kissimmee River, eight miles west of Okeechobee on Hwy 70. Youll catch a glimpse of several species of wading birds and, possibly, some sandhill cranes eating in nearby pastures. If your thermostat starts boiling over, you can cool off in the river at the Hwy 70 bridge.
DeLeon Springs State Recreation Area,(904-985-4212), offers a 4.2-mile round-trip trail that meanders through a floodplain forest at an old plantation site.
Island State Park, (904-736-5309),
is unique in that its an inland park accessible only by ferry
or private boat. Located on the St. Johns River and Lake Beresford,
its calling cards include a three-mile trail that passes marshes and
a lagoon en route to an Indian shell mound and a replica of a 600-year-old
owl totem discovered here in 1955. Theres also an 80-foot observation
tower on one of the trail spurs.
For directions, call Florida
Any time you venture into a state forest (not a state park) or conservation area there's a chance of encountering hunters. Call or write in advance for hunting seasons as well as a detailed booklet on the districtís properties (P.O. Box 1429, Palatka, FL 32178-1429).
|A visitor perches for a bird's eye view of Tomoka State Park.|