Weekend Backpacker: Orlando
Clear springs emerge from shark-tooth-studded limestone. Blackwater streams move sluggishly under yawning laurel oaks. From flatwoods to sand-bottomed runs lined with tall palmettos, the Seminole Forest Wildlife Conservation Area offers 21 miles of backpacking trails meandering through almost 20,000 acres. Like Rock Springs Run State Preserve across the road, this area serves as home to the Florida black bear. Judging by the scat found along its trails, the bear find this section of blueberry-strewn wilderness quite to their liking. You may also see the Florida scrub jay or stumble across a patch of hooded pitcher plants in the swampy lowlands. Thirteen distinctly different forest communities cluster along the pristine Wekiva River, providing a weekend's worth of biodiversity.
From Orlando: I-4 east to the Sanford exit, SR 46. Travel north on SR 46 approximately five miles, passing the Wekiva Basin Geo Park. After crossing the Wekiva River, the park entrance is on your right. Driving time: 30 minutes.
As a backpacker, you can park outside the gates at SR 44 and 46 and hike in for free. A $2 per car State Forest Use permit is required for drive-in access; self-service day-use fee pay stations are located at both entrances.
The Florida Trail Association maintains the trails in this area, including the Cassia segment of the Florida Trail. Map 21, Cassia, with detailed information on water sources and camping, is available through the Florida Trail Association; check their Web site for ordering information.
Four primitive campsites and a wooden shelter serve hikers along the trail system; these sites are open to backpackers only. Additional primitive campsites, located near the forest roads and shared by folks enjoying a little hunting or fishing, must be reserved in advance; a small user fee applies.
Hiking trails are closed during hunting seasons; information is posted on closures at the main entrance on SR 46, where the Florida Trail climbs up and over a stile into the park.
Orlando author and biology teacher Deborah Green covers the state forest's wildlife in her book Watching Wildlife in the Wekiva River Basin, available in local bookstores.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication