Both Orlando Wetlands Park and Seminole Ranch Conservation Area are great places to hike. Since they are adjacent properties, I wanted to hike a loop that would take me through both the forest trails in Orlando Wetlands, link with the Florida National Scenic Trail and return me through Seminole Ranch.
This 5.89 mile route turned out to be everything I expected…and more. From the Orlando Wetlands parking area I hiked across the small meadow to the South Woods Branch Trail, which I followed out to Osprey Blvd., skirting around Lake Searcy. This is a very short trail, but full of eye candy. I also found an offshoot that took me to Seminole Campsite. Nice little spot, but I’m not sure what it’s all about.
Following Osprey Blvd. around Lake Searcy, I arrived at the North Woods Branch Trail, which connects with the Florida Trail. The sign says it’s a 35 minute hike, but that’s if you’re not stopping for pictures or just taking time to enjoy the magical surroundings. I did both, so it took me considerably longer.
The North Woods Branch Trail terminates at the Florida Trail, which runs along a discharge stream from Orlando Wetlands at this point. It’s a great place to chill for a bit, just sitting on the bridge. I lingered here for a short time as I enjoyed a mid-morning snack and some cold water, watching the sun glint off the stream.
Here you’re presented with 3 options: 1) Follow the Wilderness Trail to your left and return to Orlando Wetlands, 2) Cross the footbridge and turn left on the Florida Trail towards Joshua Creek and points north, or 3) Cross the footbridge and turn right on the Florida Trail towards Seminole Ranch and points south. I chose option 4.
Though I wanted to loop out through Seminole Ranch to the right, I also wanted to check out the Wilderness Trail leading back to Orlando Wetlands. So I created a mini-loop by taking the Florida Trail to the left for perhaps 100 yards to another bridge on the left re-crossing the stream at the discharge point for Orlando Wetlands, the corner of Bald Eagle Blvd. & Vulture View.
As I expected, on my left was the other end of the Wilderness Trail — short, but sweet. So I completed my mini-loop, then headed towards Seminole Ranch on the Florida Trail. Before long I was walking on familiar ground from my trip out of Seminole Ranch heading north a few weeks earlier. Only the last ½ mile was different, as I followed the trail straight out to Wheeler Road and back to the Orlando Wetlands parking area.
Notes: 1) My hikes out here have all been during the dry season. Even a single storm can transform the landscape through the wetland areas of these trails, as evidenced in several photos. When the real rains come, large sections of these trails will be under a foot of water. 2) Dry season means less insects. Summer will bring swarms of voracious little pests, so be prepared. 3) Be aware of hunting seasons while hiking through Seminole Ranch. This section is also a Wildlife Management Area.