This is Hike #19 in the book 50 Hikes in Central Florida, completed on April 22, 2019.
This hike was supposed to happen on Easter Sunday but it was changed to the next day. The thought was the trail might not be as crowded on a Monday. This turned out not to be the case. The Black Bear Wilderness Area trail is a single loop trail of 7.1 miles near Sanford, Florida. It’s recommended to hike the loop clockwise, saving the best views for the last half.
All of my previous hikes from the book had been solo. My companions on this hike were A. and her dog Freida.
Soon after leaving the trailhead we came to the first boardwalk. This is where the loop began and we took the left-side trail. After a brief hike, we crossed a small bridge and then soon arrived at Boardwalk 14. (Because we were hiking the route “backward” the boardwalk numbers and mileage markers counted down.)
The trail took a slight right, then headed straight towards the western boundary of the park to where it meets the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park. Veering right again, the double-track equestrian trail followed along a stream to the left side. After about a half-mile, the trail became narrower as we climbed up to hike on a small levee. Walking the trail here was tricky with slopes, ruts, and tree roots. We took a brief rest on the bank of the stream where we saw wading birds and examined many large snail shells. We continued along the western edge of the park, crossed Boardwalk 13, and reached the St. Johns River. At this northernmost point, we turned right again to hike beside the river.
Here we began to look for alligators along the bank of the river, which was separated from us by a small canal. Shortly after Boardwalk 12, I spotted a very large alligator partially hidden in the bushes about 30 yards away to our left. I backtracked a few feet up the trail to take a few photos and point it out to A.
Hearing our voices, the gator turned its head to look directly at me. Not knowing how deep the stream was between us and the gator, we moved quickly up the trail as to not provoke him to come after us or the dog. After putting a little distance between us and the gator, we stopped at a bench for lunch.
After lunch, we continued down the scenic trail between the river to our left and a cypress marsh to our right, crossing Boardwalks 12 through 10. I photographed several types of colorful wildflowers here.
Soon after, we spotted a less-intimidating animal sunning itself on a fallen palm tree.
This scenic part of the hike followed the bends of the St. Johns River with several boardwalk crossings affording clear views of the water (see photo, at
We had one scare when Freida waded into the shallow canal and we had to chase and call her to come back to the trail, hoping she did not encounter a hidden alligator. Just when we thought we might have to go in after her, she bounded out covered in mud and debris.
Nearing the end of our walk along the St Johns River, we spotted our second alligator. This one was much smaller but also enjoying the sun on a grassy bank across a wider and deeper canal. A large wading bird (possibly a Limpkin?) was perched on a log nearby, unfazed by the small gator’s proximity.
At the northeast corner of the Wilderness Area, we turned right onto the Boardwalk 2 bridge which afforded a view straight down the canal. Here we did pass several other hikers enjoying the river views.
We left the river and hiked inland towards the trailhead. Shortly before reaching Boardwalk 1 we saw this bit of amusing nature graffiti. Can you spot the lizard in this photo?
(Hint: The figure’s left arm is reaching towards the lizard.)
We crossed Boardwalk 1 and walked the short entrance trail back to the trailhead, reaching the end of our 7.4-mile hike in exactly four hours.
This hike was, by far, my favorite of the six I have done from the book. The day provided sunny weather, interesting trails, scenic views, dangerous and harmless wildlife, colorful wildflowers, and excellent company. Although we didn’t encounter any black bears, I highly recommend Black Bear Wilderness Area.