Weekend Backpacker: Tampa
A haven for the elusive Florida black bear, Rock Springs Run State Reserve also hosts many rare and endangered Florida species, as well as common armadillos and opossums. Wildlife abounds. Watch for gopher tortoises and scrub jays in the dry uplands; indigo snakes, river otters, sandhill cranes, and wood storks in the swampy lowlands along Rock Springs Run. Roughly 20 miles of trails wander through this 13,500-acre reserve, which is bordered on two sides by central Florida's most popular pristine canoeing streamsÂ—Rock Springs Run and Wekiva River. It's a patchwork of ecosystems, from thick hardwood hammocks to sand pine scrub, bayheads, and rolling farmland fading back into pine flatlands. Hidden within are historic features ranging from a Civil War.era graveyard to nine middens (shell mounds) built by indigenous tribes well before Europeans discovered Florida.
Take I-4 east through downtown Orlando to the Sanford exit, SR 46. Travel north on SR 46 approximately eight miles, passing both Wekiva Basin Geo Park and Seminole State Forest on your right. From the Wekiva River bridge, the park entrance is just under two miles. Rock Springs Run State Reserve is on the left and is bordered by a tall chain-link fence funneling migrating bears down into a special"bear underpass" built beneath SR 46. Driving time: two and a half hours.
Call (407) 884-2009 in advance for reservations for primitive camping. No pets are permitted at the campsite. Park gates remain closed between 8 a.m. and sundown; campers must register at the entrance. Approximately $2 day-use fee applies. Park closures occur during the fall hunting season; call for details.
Two loop trails of seven and eight miles each (stacked together like a figure eight) provide most of the trail network in the park. The Indian Mound primitive campsite sits near Rock Springs Run at the outer edge of the outermost loop, about seven miles from the main parking area. Bear bagging is a must. Water can be obtained from spring-fed Rock Springs Run, but be sure to filter it.
GUIDEBOOK AND MAPS
A simple map of the park's trails is available at the self-service registration kiosk at the park entrance. You can also purchase a detailed map, EC-2 Rock Springs Run Trail, through the Florida Trail Association; visit the website for ordering information.
Exploring Wild Central Florida contains a brief write-up with some practical information on this park. Orlando author and biology teacher Deborah Green gets into the specifics of tracking wildlife in the park in her book Watching Wildlife in the Wekiva River Basin, available at local bookstores.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication