A Hike in the Chuluota Wilderness | Florida Trail
On the Sunday of the short weekend in Florida, I went on a hike with Sandra of Florida Hikes and Kate Dolamore, an artist friend in central Florida I’ve gotten to know the last couple of years. I wanted to hike on a section of the Florida Trail that was new to me, a piece in the Bronson State Forest that was in the process of being re-routed when we hiked in 2011. During our hike we had to road walk a large chunk of this section. So, after breakfast with some of the crew from Billy Goat Day at the Townhouse Restaurant, I met up with Sandra at the Joshua Creek Trailhead, so we could hike a section she had recommended for my final day in Florida.
If you are wondering how on earth to pronounce Chuluota, it’s Chew-lee-o-tah. You can get some background information here about the history of the town and the meaning of the name.
I told Kate to meet at the Chuluota Wilderness Trailhead on Curryville Road while I met up with Sandra at the Joshua Creek Trailhead where she would leave her car and I’d shuttle us back to the CWT and meet Kate. Considering it had been 9 years since I had been in this particular area of Florida it took me a few minutes on the drive between trailheads to realize where I was at—the roadwalk Chris and I had done between the Orlando Wetlands Park and Chuluota! You could see faded orange blazes on the poles and memories of that post-rain walk that turned into a beautiful afternoon came back to me.
Kate was already at the trailhead when we arrived and she was scoping out little scenes along a side trail. Kate is known for taking a lot of macro shots of insects and fungi—she moves slow and takes her time poking around! After everyone had their packs situated we took off down the trail through the Chuluota Wilderness.
Florida rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides) scrub.
Having Sandra along for the hike was basically like having your own personal tour guide for the Florida Trail! It was great to hear what she knew about this section but to also hear about other goings on surrounding the FT. At the same time I was also trying to get to know Kate a bit since this is the first time we’d met in person! And actually, this weekend was the first time I’d met Sandra in person as well, and after hiking with both it felt like I’d been friends with them for forever!
We set off down the trail late morning. It had been slightly chilly in the morning but the days were warm, just like the Florida I know in winter! I was thankful I’d brought my hat because the traverse across the rosemary scrub had been quite open and exposed. While it wasn’t a summer sun beating down, the reflection of winter sunlight off the sand was a bit blinding.
Along the way we noticed several off-road trails and two-tracks that the FT crossed several times. This area looked ripe for exploring off the FT as well!
Christmas lichen with an orange blaze. Sometimes Christmas lichen can be shaped like a blaze and in the distance you might mistake it for an actual blaze!
Sandra led the way, stopping to get new beta on the trail as we hiked and taking photos along the way. I joked with her about that and well, because she is pretty much the authority on trails in Florida it is pretty much in her bones to always be scouting and get new information to update her website!
When we left the rosemary scrub the trail turned into an oak/saw palmetto scrub that was just gorgeous to walk through. I was in heaven!
The trail then began sloping downward slightly and we entered into a floodplain forest that would eventually lead to the floodplain itself. This scene reminded me of Texas! In Texas this would be dwarf palmetto instead of saw palmetto or cabbage palms mixed with the hardwoods. I thought it was funny that I was stopping and saying that it looked like Texas when typically when I see a scene like this in Texas I say that it looks like Florida!
Kate peering around for something tiny to photograph.
Ah, the floodplain was beautiful—my kind of place to be! I wouldn’t have minded jumping off and walking around to poke around a bit! Unfortunately that wasn’t the goal of this hike.
We left the wetland area for a trail along a fenceline. Checking out the map for this, the line is also the Orange county/Seminole county line and the boundary for the Chuluota Wilderness area. Kate and Sandra were photographing a ground orchid here.
After a short break here we continued our way south along the trail.
We’d managed to keep our feet dry up until we passed into the main area of Bronson State Forest, the previous floodplain included, due to the nice boardwalk through it. This time we managed to meander our way around the edges of this soggy area that was growing some beautiful moss.
Soon we intersected a blue blaze that I think Sandra said would take you out to the St. Johns river floodplain.
And then it was back into uplands again, this time through a burned pine scrub that might have been slightly too burned!
Our next wetland crossing was at Buscombe Creek, another lovely area that was ripe for exploration with the fascinating plants living around it.
Soon we came to the Joshua Creek campsite which was a rather lovely spot and not terribly far from the Joshua Creek trailhead, if you wanted a short overnight in the woods.
The fern lined Joshua Creek shortly after the campsite.
I knew we were getting close to the end of the hike once we crossed Joshua Creek but I wasn’t ready to leave. I had to, though, to make time to pack up and get to the airport in time to return my car and get on my flight home. But I really could have kept on hiking.
And then we found the blue blaze to the trailhead and our hike was soon to be over.
We shuttled back to the Chuluota Wilderness Trailhead and got a photo of the three of us together. It was a wonderful hike and a great way to cap off the short weekend. It really made me miss Florida so much more. I’ve officially been out of the state for 10 years now—longer than I lived in it—and most of the time it feels like yesterday and not a decade. Driving back to the airport afterwards, it felt like I could easily just turn off the highway and drive into the ‘burbs to our house and get ready for the work week instead of flying back to Texas.
This is a screen shot of our path via what my Garmin watch tracked. Do check out the trail info here for the hike. If you need a good snippet of what the Florida Trail is like and are in the Orlando metro area, I would recommend this section!
Thanks Sandra for being game to hike with me and guiding us down the trail and thanks to Kate for coming along and meeting a fellow internet nature nerd!
And of course I’ll have another post to follow-up with that includes flora and fungi–I don’t think I took any fauna photos this time around. You know me and my too many photos! So, another post will follow soon!
Ha! Just wait until you see my photo of the great Texas palmetto bird! It’s extremely rare — I’m sure no birder has seen it. For that matter, no one else may have seen it. (How’s that for a tease?)
It looks like a wonderful day. It’s always fun to have a knowledgeable someone around!