Weekend Backpacker: Orlando
Rare virgin pine flatwoods and a 900-acre virgin cypress swamp are the cornerstones of this wilderness park, located halfway between Orlando and the Atlantic coast. Ghostly, draped in garlands of thick gray Spanish moss, the virgin cypress forest along Jim Creek is thought to be the largest remaining stand of cypress left uncut in the state. In the pinewoods near Beehead Ranch, marvel at the tall slash pines, some of which are up to 250 years old. Although the woods were ravaged by wildfire a few years ago, many survivors remain, and the forest understory remains intact, providing perfect conditions for berry bushes. Springtime is prime time for berry picking, with abundant blueberries and blackberries coming into season around mid-May.
Armadillos and raccoons are common sights, but bird lovers will enjoy spotting some of the large raptors that call this forest home Â— osprey, bald eagles, and swallow-tailed kites. But be careful where you step Â— you might flush a flock of wild turkey!
Tosohatchee Loop Trail from Beehead Ranch South, 12 miles. Follow Beehead Ranch Road to its end; park at the Beehead Ranch parking area, near the old hunter's cabin and the park's best stretch of virgin pine. Primitive campsites are at Tiger Branch Camp, four miles in, or at Whetrock, 8.5 miles south on the loop.
Take SR 50 east into the town of Christmas. Watch for signs; the turnoff is to the right. About an hour driving time from downtown.
Sign up at the self-service kiosk. Florida state park day-use fee applies.
A simple but free map is available at the self-service kiosk. The Florida National Scenic Trail Map 23, Tosohatchee, covers this region and can be purchased via the Florida Trail Association; visit their Web site for an order form.
The sand access roads within the park can be difficult for some vehicles to use. Four-wheel-drive is recommended. Water is often scarce and should be packed into your campsite; pack all garbage out.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication