Although I hiked Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve for the second time in January, this was my first new hike from the book in 2022. The weather was beautiful all day, but the hike itself was one of the least interesting, so far. The entire perimeter trail was a double-track for horses and hikers. The highlight here is definitely the trees.
A few days before this hike, my friend Olga sent me a text message asking me to pick a hike for the weekend. We had previous hiked the St. Francis Trail together and really enjoyed it. In August 2019 I had hiked Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve, but that day was hot and miserable due to horseflies. Back then I knew I wanted to hike it again during a cooler time of year. So I suggested this hike to Olga.
After I completed a morning hike at Maritime Hammock Sanctuary, I stopped to pick up lunch at Firehouse Subs, then drove back south to Turkey Creek Sanctuary Park. I ate lunch in my car before walking to the park entrance around 12:45 pm.
The weather was unseasonably warm during the last week of December, so I decided to complete two more hikes from the 50 Hikes book. I woke up early and made the long drive south to Melbourne. I began my hike around 10:00 am.
St. Francis Trail is in the far eastern side of the Ocala National Forest, just outside of DeLand, Florida.
Nearly all of my previous hikes from the book had been solo. My companion on this hike was my friend Olga. We started the hike around 10:30 am on an unseasonably warm December day. Olga was actually overdressed in jeans.
Orlando Wetlands Park is located in Christmas, Florida, which is east of Orlando. I arrived a little after 10:30 am. I accidentally brought my old, unusable, hiking boots, so I completed this hike wearing my Vans shoes. Fortunately, despite the park’s name, the trail was dry.
This was my first hike in 2021. Spring Hammock Preserve is a place I am very familiar with, having visited many times as a kid. The suggested route was only 3 miles on a flat trail. But I laced up my new waterproof Merrell hiking boots in case I encountered any wet places (I didn’t).
I set off down the road looking for a short parallel side-trail to the right. It didn’t seem to exist now, so I continued down the road to the trailhead instead.
The hike began a little after 1:00 pm on the Osprey trail, which was a wide and sandy trail where I encountered many other hikers.
I passed the Robin Trail on the right, intending to take that trail on the way back.
Just before the large pavilion, I took a left on a wooden boardwalk to explore a short side trail, as suggested in the book. The trail followed a small stream. Not far down this trail I heard a sudden rustling just ahead, so I had disturbed some animal. I wondered if it was an alligator. I never found out, but the possibility of it wasn’t unreasonable—as I would soon find out.
I hiked a short way down this trail until it was blocked by a fallen tree and seemed to be unmaintained beyond. I returned to the Osprey Trail and continued east.
Soon I arrived at the main point-of-interest on this trail: Question Pond (see photo, at top). This spring-fed pond usually has a hazy light-greenish-blue appearance. On this day it had another interesting feature: an alligator.
I watched the alligator for a bit and then continued down Osprey Trail. After a while I came to a broken boardwalk displaying a “BOARDWALK CLOSED” sign. The book said this boardwalk may be rebuilt soon, but it hadn’t yet.
Not far after I reached the end of the trail, clearly marked so with a sign.
On the way back I noticed a tall tree that I had missed, distracted by the view of trail’s end ahead. It looked like a storybook tree that might be home to elves or a portal to another land.
When I returned to Question Pond, the alligator was still there, floating nearer to the center. Again, I stopped to watch and photograph it.
When I came to the intersection of Robin Trail, I turned left to walk a short loop back to my car.
The trail followed the ridge next to a creek and ended at a railroad trestle. I climbed up the hill to have a look down the tracks.
I left the railroad tracks and walked back the way I came, looking for the side trail that would take me back to the start. I think I found the correct trail, but I missed an intersection somewhere along this section because I exited the woods in the wrong place, further to the west (next to the Environmental Center) that the map showed in the book. But my route was not significantly different.
Because I had plans to meet up with a friend later, I didn’t immediately stop for my traditional post-hike beer. Instead, I drove home, showered and changed, and drove to Beachside Brew Pub for beer and darts. I brought my copy of 50 Hikes so I could explain my ongoing challenge.
After a short drive from the Lake Proctor Wilderness Area, I arrived at the Geneva Wilderness Area around 11:30 am. I ate a quick lunch in my car before starting the next hike just before noon.
There were others approaching the trailhead with their dogs, so I quickly started down the trail ahead of them. This was going to be a short hike but I could tell that the trail was going to be crowded.
After less than ten minutes walking, the trail reached a lake with a fishing pier reaching out to the center. On the pier I stopped to have a look around and take photos (see first photo and above). The water was calm and clear. I noticed people waiting for me to finish, so I quickly headed back to the trail.
I continued on the Loop Trail which cut across a thin strip of land between the two lakes in the park. I stopped to take some photos of the larger of the two lakes, on the left of the trail (the lake the Loop Trail encircles).
Off to the left of the Loop Trail, a short side trail took me to an outdoor chapel. Here I explored a little before taking a short break in shade of the chapel itself.
I rejoined the main Loop Trail where many hikers and mountainbikers were walking, riding, and resting. I passed them and continued south, past a small canal. This was the end of the shady half of the hike. Also the last of other people, as it turned out.
At the southern end of the Loop Trail I emerged into an open and sunny area with a wide and sandy trail. For the next few hundred yards it was very hot and very hard walking in the thick, soft sand. At the junction of the Flagler Trail, I turned left to continue around towards the lake. There was a marked (detour) trail to the right—which wasn’t in the 50 Hikes book—so I continued straight to the lake.
At the lake the trail was flooded, so I skirted along the far right side of the trail trying to stay on dry land. I had to jump a few puddles of water and did get my shoes wet once. Just past the flooded trail, the detour trail rejoined the main trail and I realized I could have avoided the flooded section. No real harm done! I might let the authors know so they can update their book, however.
The trail followed the lake shore and provided views across to the chapel where I had rested earlier. This section was also very sunny and hot with no shade.
Past the lake, I soon arrived at the Ed Yarborough Nature Center. On the right side, there were man-made houses for both bees and bats. I took a rest and enjoyed reading about them. Unfortunately, it seemed there were no bees at home and I also did not see any bats in the middle of the day.
I was hot and thirsty and nearly done. There was just one short section of trail left, passing through a gate, and along a sandy road back to the trailhead. This 1.9-mile hike took just over an hour to complete. The temperature at the end was 89°F.
I returned to my MINI, which was parked in the shade in its own little corral. I ate another sandwich before leaving the park just after 1:00 pm.
My drive home would take me near Sanford, so I planned to have my post-hike beer at one of my favorite local breweries, Wop’s Hops. In the parking lot I changed my shirt, socks, and shoes. Inside I ordered a pint of their Tipsy Trip C American Wheat Beer and found a table in the restaurant side of the building. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday neither of the owners, Greg and Pete, were there. Even so, it was a cold and refreshing way to reward myself for finishing two hikes from the book in one day.
Lake Proctor Wilderness Area is located in east Seminole County, less than an hour drive from Daytona Beach. This was the first of two hikes on this day, so I arrived early around 9:15 am.
From the trailhead I followed the Red Trail north, passing the Orange Trail and the Blue Trail. I intended to hike those trails on the way back.
The Red Trail was a wide, shady trail and a perfect start to the day.
Just before reaching the northern end of the Red Trail, I spotted a smooth white rock with the words “CATS UK” and a smiley painted on it. I assume it is from the Painted Rocks Game, but I did not try to look it up. I took a photo and left it where it was.
At the northern intersection of the trail, I turned right and began the Red Trail Loop. When the trail split, I turned left to hike the loop clockwise. Almost immediately a blaze on a short post sent me into a bushy area with no clearly marked trail. I followed it around as best I could until I found another blaze on a post where it rejoined the normal trail.
I continued through some tall scrub on a winding trail before coming into a clearing and arriving at a shelter. I perused the posted information while resting and drinking some water. Soon I was heading around the western point of the Red Trail Loop.
Suddenly I heard voices behind me and wondered how someone might have caught me so soon after leaving the shelter. However, I arrived at a wide, sandy cross-trail where I saw three people on horseback approaching. I stopped and stood still to let them pass, although the lead horse did flinch a bit on seeing me. I briefly chatted with the riders as they passed and then continued on my way.
The day was heating up and after a bit more hiking through the scrub, the book told me to follow the power lines road back to the top of the loop. This section was hot and sunny. But soon I reached the top, turned left, and walked toward the Blue Trail, passing the end of the Red Trail.
Now on the Blue Trail, I came to another rain shelter. Again, I stopped to read the poster and have a few swigs of water. I knew that from here, most of the remaining trail was shaded and the most scenic of the hike.
I hiked south and soon arrived along the shore of Lake Proctor. Patches of open, glassy water were broken up by groups of lily pads. A few structures could be seen on the opposite shore. It was very quiet and peaceful.
The Blue Trail meandered along Lake Proctor, approaching the shore several times. At one point a short side trail cut through a field of tall flowers where several butterflies floated around me. Here there was also a Hydrologic Data Collection Site for the St. Johns River Water Management District.
The Blue Trail left the lake and ended at the Red Trail where I turned right. Very quickly I reached the Orange Trail and turned right, hiking back towards the lake.
Near the southern end of Lake Proctor the Orange Trail passed through the Eastbrook Wetlands, named for the local school.
The Orange Trail curved partway around the southern tip of the lake where I took my last glimpse (and photos) before walking the last section to reach the Read Trail again.
Back on the Red Trail it was only a few minutes more until I hiked out around 11:20 am. The hiked lasted exactly two hours.
I wanted to get some minor work done on my car in Merritt Island, so I scheduled it early in the morning so that I could fit in one of two Titusville hikes from the book. I arrived at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary a little before noon. Before finding the trailhead, I took a moment to have a look at a gopher tortoise living in an enclosure in the middle of the parking loop.