Hiking the Brickyard Slough Tract of the Lake Monroe Conservation Area has long been on my personal bucket list, as I’ve driven by it hundreds of times. Until recently, I had a couple of reasonable excuses to keep putting it off, but one compelling reason kept bringing me back to planning a hike — miles of pristine St. Johns River shoreline, Florida’s longest river.
Why put it off? Fully 94% of this land is wetlands. And cattle grazing land. Have you ever hiked through a sloppy wet cattle pasture? Yeah, it’s not pleasant. But since we’ve had an extended drought, that excuse completely evaporated. So did my access excuse.
Many years ago I hiked the Kratzert Tract on the opposite side of S.R. 415, part of the Lake Monroe Wildlife Management Area. There’a a well-designated parking area, but the trail is just a short loop. No river access. The Brickyard Slough Tract, on the other hand, didn’t have any obvious, easily accessed trailhead until Volusia County opened Beck Ranch Park. Now you simply turn in at the park, then turn right again into a huge parking area. Now parking is easily accessed from busy S.R. 415.
So I saw my window of opportunity and took it. I’m glad I did. The entire flood plain was dry right down to the river, which was running so low that it wasn’t running at all. There was no apparent flow. Still, it was beautiful and dozens of cattle seemed to be enjoying it. Yes, you still have to keep an eye out for the occasional fresh cow patty. Notice that mountain biking, horseback riding and camping are also allowed here.
While the riverfront is beautiful, this property is surprisingly diverse. There is much more forest than the view from S.R. 415 led me to believe, which I was happy to find, because this Florida sun can be relentless when no shade is to be found. Still, this is a flood plain, forest or no, as the high water mark on this oak tree testifies.
Take a look at the video slideshow below for the full tour. Check out the links provided and my hiking map for even more details. Truth be told, I went off-trail in two areas: First was right off the bat, I followed a cow path towards the river, then looped onto the main trail. The second time was towards the end when I was on the yellow loop, but my time was running short and the mileage was more than advertised, so I took a shortcut back.
I recommend getting there while it’s dry. But don’t stop there: Find other great places to go and things to do in Where-to-Go (listings by activity and by county) and my Bucket List of places that I’ve personally explored. Enjoy Florida’s Natural Wonders!
PS: I also Biked West Volusia Trails from Beck Ranch Park.