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Latest update: April 2021

Seminole State Forest... Central Florida

Tranquil Biking & Hiking, Gate Code Required for Drive In

Seminole State Forest is an eco-biking favorite due to few motor vehicles, hard-pack roads, good signage, and ecological diversity. Only minutes from the bustling Sanford-Orlando metro area, the Forest remains a tranquil place, perhaps because (1) there's a per person day-use fee (online payment link below), and (2) a use permit with gate code is required for motor vehicle access. There are two entrances; south is Bear Pond Trailhead off SR 46, and north is Cassia Trailhead off SR 44 at Brantley Branch Rd. It's a mostly pleasant 6.25 mile ride between trailheads, with 2 loop road networks intersecting, offering additional biking of over 7 miles each. Also, many miles of sandy multi-use trails for avid mountain bikers. (Map & photos below.)

Florida eco-biking, Seminole State Forest

Map link...
Seminole State Forest Biking


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Location: Lake County (Sorrento, Eustis)
Trailheads: Bear Pond Trailhead (SR 46); Cassia Trailhead (SR 44, Brantley Branch Rd.)
Mileage: Varies
Surface: Hard composite, stone, packed dirt, sand
Nearby points of interest: Wekiva Springs State Park, Lake Norris Conservation Area, Rock Springs Run State Reserve

Bike Shops/Rentals: N/A

State Forest Day Use Pass:
FSF ReserveAmerica Day Use
Camping Information/Reservations:
FSF Reserve America Camping
Call for Permit and Gate Code:
(352) 360-6675

Support and Advocacy:
Friends of Florida State Forests
Florida Trail Association
Operation Outdoor Freedom - providing outdoor rehab to wounded veterans

 

 

Seminole State Forest... Comments and Photos

The best biking is on the named roads, hard-packed, a few rough spots and some patches of sand, but overall a pleasant recreational ride through a diverse landscape. We omit a few rougher dead-ends used mostly by hunters (gray on map) and focus on the best State Forest biking presented in 3 distinct sections:

  1. A series of wide, named roads connecting the two trailheads (red on map)
  2. Grade Road and Loop Road leading to group camps to the west (purple on map)
  3. Palatka Road to a series of roads leading to group camps to the east (purple on map)

Note: the road names shown on Google maps are not correct. The FL Forest Service Map (most kiosks) gives the official road names as they appear here and on the Forest road signs.

Hiking trails include a 7.5 mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail (aka Florida Trail). Taking a break from biking, we report on two very short, yet interesting hikes on parts of the Florida Trail. Shark Tooth Spring is worth a look, very close to Sulphur Camp and easy to reach, thanks to Florida Trail Association volunteers.

 Page Summary:

  1. Biking Section 1: Trailhead to Trailhead
    - Bear Pond Trailhead to Black Water Creek
    - Black Water Creek to Cassia Trailhead
  2. Biking Section 2: Group Camps to the West
    - Grade Road to Corral Camp
    - Loop Road to Moccasin Springs Camp and Oaks Group Camp
  3. Biking Section 3: Group Camps to the East
    - Bunk Group Camp
    - Jumper Group Camp
    - Lako Loop Road
  4. Two Short Hikes of Interest
  5. Forest History, Information and Resources

Biking Section 1: Trailhead to Trailhead... about 6.25 miles (one-way)

Access to the main portion of the Seminole State Forest is at two trailheads - Bear Pond (south entrance, off SR46) and Cassia (north entrance, off SR44). On this trip, we biked from Bear Pond Trailhead to Cassia Trailhead, about 6.25 miles one-way. The road signs at intersections were reassuring. Expect to encounter few if any motor vehicles.


Bear Pond Trailhead to Black Water Creek Recreation Area
(about 2.75 miles)

To enter on the main Forest road (here it's "Sand Road"), bikers, hikers, and equestrians go around the gate. Motor vehicles need a permit and gate code. Leaving the trailhead, the first mile of road surface is less than ideal, somewhat jagged with a few sandy spots, but it becomes a smoother, more pleasant ride beyond. Hiking and equestrian trails cross the road. Little shade until nearing the wooden bridge over Black Water Creek. Shortly before the bridge, a grassy path leads from the road to a walk-up camp along the Creek.


In this Section

Bear Pond Trailhead... Picnic, Fish, Short Hikes

Bear Pond Trailhead (south entrance), off SR 46, about 5 miles west of I-4. Parking, restroom, picnic tables, fishing pier, equestrian and hiking trail access. The pond is stocked for fishing (no boats). After crossing SR 46, the Florida Trail re-enters the woods here, the first 0.8 mile to Shelter Camp is an interesting short hike (more below). Also, a 0.65 mile loop trail around Bear Pond, with many spots to cast a line.

Black Water Camp

The Florida Trail joins Sand Road before crossing Black Water Creek. Shortly before the bridge, off Sand Road to the right (east) is the entrance to Black Water Camp (Site #5). A short grassy path leads to the walk-up camp - picnic table, benches, fire pit, and a nice view of Black Water Creek.


From Black Water Creek to Cassia Trailhead
(about 3.50 miles)

Crossing the bridge over Black Water Creek (pretty spot) to the Cassia Trailhead, follow the named roads as follows: continue on Sand Road another 300 yards to a large, sandy intersection, with kiosk and horse watering trough. Go to the right on Pine Road, to Palatka Road, and left (west) on Atula Road. Forest road signs are at all intersections. Leaving the shady area of Black Water Creek, it's mostly through pine flatland, except along Palatka Road where it passes through a low, jungle wetland crossing Sulphur Run. Two other named road networks (shown below) connect along this section of Forest road. It's a comparatively smoother and shadier bike ride in this part.


In this Section

Black Water Creek Day-use Area

This compact "Day-use Area" alongside the road is a scenic highlight. Here visitors will find a tranquil water view, picnic tables and grill, a hand-launch (no gas motors), and limited parking, 2 vehicles max. More parking at the intersection of Sand, Pine and Grade Roads, about 300 yards north. (Check out kayaking from here at PaddleFlorida.net .)

Cassia Trailhead

Just off SR 44 on Brantley Branch Rd. Parking, restroom. While not as convenient for most in the area, bicyclists seem to prefer this Trailhead, probably because the roads are generally smoother and shadier than when first entering the Forest from Bear Pond, and it's closer to the two other road networks for more biking options.

Biking Section 2: Grade Road & Loop Road... to Group Camps to the West

This is the shadiest section, with lots of tree canopy. The roads are hard-pack, but more narrow, especially Grade Road. Starting from the intersection of Sand, Pine and Grade, we biked Grade Road west about 2.8 miles (one-way) to the end of public access just before Corral Camp. Loop Road (1.6 miles total) begins and ends along Grade Road, passing Moccasin Springs Camp and Oaks Group Camp.

Grade Road
(about 2.8 miles one-way)

Start of Grade Road to 2nd Loop Rd Intersection
(about 1.1 miles)

It's about 0.5 mile on Grade Road to the first Loop Road intersection. The ride is mostly shady, with the road becoming more narrow going through a very green, sometimes wet low-lying area. The shade recedes just before the first intersection. The second Loop Road intersection is about 0.6 mile west. Here, Grade Road continues west into the shadows of thick tree canopy. Across this intersection, Loop Road becomes Sulphur Road, a dead-end that quickly becomes too sandy for our enjoyment.

2nd Loop Road Intersection to near Corral Camp
(about 1.7 miles)

The road becomes more bumpy, but nicely shaded by tree canopy, making for a pleasant slow-roll through the woods. The Yellow hiking trail intersects in a few spots. At just over 1.5 miles, it becomes more open field before reaching a parking area, where the road becomes Forest Service road only. Private vehicles are excluded, with signage explicitly excluding bicycles. Using the Yellow Trail, it's a 0.4 mile hike to Corral Camp (Site #2).


Loop Road
(about 1.6 miles)

Loop Road begins and ends along Grade Road. From the first Loop Road intersection, go about 1/4 mile to Moccasin Springs Camp. Continuing past Moccasin Springs for about 1/2 mile, look for the Oaks Pond Fishing Area on your left. A short distance further, the Oaks Group Camp (Site #7) is to the left. Just past the Group Camp, Loop Road makes a hard right (north) and continues straight for about 3/4 mile back to Grade Road. This is an interesting section of the Forest to bike.


In this Section

Moccasin Springs Camp

Moccasin Springs Camp (Site #6), primitive site, picnic table, fire pit. Just off Loop Road, a drive goes to a large, sandy parking area. From here, a grass path leads past Moccasin Spring to the camp along Black Water Creek (also a stop for paddlers).

Oaks Pond Fishing

Approaching Oaks Group Camp along Loop Road, a trail on the left is marked with a large sign listing Oaks Pond Fishing Regulations. Options here are (1) fishing, or (2) take a short hike around the small pond - and back to the road, which continues to the Group Camp.

Oaks Group Camp

Oaks Group Camp (Site #7) is one of 3 group camps (Jumper and Bunk Camps, shown below, are the others). Here are parking, restroom, two picnic tables, fire pit, grill and access to hiking trails. The open grass field and large oak trees (thus, the name) are notable features.

Biking Section 3: Palatka Road and Other Roads.... to Group Camps to the East

This section starts from the intersection where Palatka Road and Atula Road (to Cassia Trailhead) meet. It's less shaded (higher, drier) than the others areas we visited, but we saw perhaps more bikers here - close to the Cassia Trailhead, and few cars. The roads, like others, are mostly hard-packed surface. Our ride took us to Palatka and Oka Roads, past Bunk Group Camp and Jumper Group Camp. Then, proceeding on Lako Road to Lako Loop Road. This section has several trail crossings.

Palatka Road to Oka Road to Lako Loop Road
(about 2 Miles one-way)

From the intersection, go north on Palatka Road, which meets Oka Road (right). At a crossroad Oka Road bends to the left while Bunk Camp Road goes straight to Bunk Group Camp. At the next crossroad, Jumper Group Camp is straight and Lako Road is to the left (northbound). Along Lako Road, there are several trail crossings, and a turn onto Lako Loop Road. We passed that and proceeded to the end of Lako Road at the second turn onto Lako Loop Road.

Lako Loop Road
(2.5 mile loop)

Lako Loop Road begins and ends off Lako Road. We rode the loop clockwise - a 2.5 mile rectangle around a restoration area. At the southeast corner of the loop is a kiosk, several trails cross here, including a hiking trail eastward into the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park (eastern boundary of the Seminole State Forest) - we saw a scenic pond a short way down the trail.


In this Section

Bunk Group Camp

From Oka Road, Bunk Camp Road leads straight to the camp - about 1/2 mile. Bunk Group Camp (Site #4) has a small enclosed bunkhouse, picnic area, parking, restroom, and access to hiking/equestrian trails.

Jumper Group Camp

At the crossroad of Oka Road and Lako Road, continue straight about 4/10 mile to Jumper Group Camp (Site #1, parking, picnic, restroom, and access to hiking and equestrian trails).

Short and Interesting Forest Hikes

Hiking trails in the Seminole State Forest are well marked on the State Forest map , very useful and available at most kiosks. A 7.5 mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail runs through the Forest (orange blazes), with 3 walk-up campsites. We're "hiking light" hikers - we hiked short sections of the Florida Trail and viewed a couple of other trails easily accessed from the park roads and trailheads.

Bear Pond Trailhead to Shelter Camp
(1.6 miles roundtrip)

At the Bear Pond Trailhead is an entry point to the Florida National Scenic Trail, we hiked to the Shelter Camp (Site #8), 8/10 mile. Crossing a short wooden bridge lets you know it's another 3/10 mile to the camp. The camp has a large field for tent camping and a covered platform with 2 pallets for sleeping, picnic tables and fire pit. From the camp, we continued along the trail to the point where it meets the Wekiva Loop Trail (white blaze), about 500 feet - the Florida Trail goes to the left, the loop trail straight. To continue past here, hikers must register (sign-in box provided). Out-and-back from the trailhead is an easy hike including pine flatlands, scrub, and oak providing shade. This is a popular section, and good for families (we saw several with children).We returned to Bear Pond via the same route.


Sulphur Camp to Shark Tooth Spring and Sulphur Run

Sulphur Camp (Site #3) is just off Pine Road between the Grade Road and Palatka Road intersections. There's no sign, look an opening with trail and camping markers to the right. The campsite has parking, picnic, and fire pit. The Florida National Scenic Trail runs through the camp - as does the North Sulphur Island Loop (blue blaze), but we only viewed a short section of that.

Sulphur Camp to Sulphur Run at Palatka Road
(1.2 miles roundtrip)

Hiking from Sulphur Camp north on the Florida Trail, the path diverges after a short distance - the Florida Trail goes to the left (watch for the orange blazes). Going straight, we visited Shark Tooth Spring - more below. This is a nicely forested part of the trail, with much greenery and shade, and including some hills as it runs along the edge of a ravine (Sulphur Run below). Climbing upward, at points we were level with the treetops. We hiked to where the trail exits onto Pine Road at the intersection with Palatka Road. The trail then runs on Palatka Road for a short distance as it crosses Sulphur Run. We returned to Sulphur Camp via Pine Road.


Shark Tooth Spring
(about 1/10 mile off main trail)

From the point where the Florida Trail turns to the left, we continued straight to another highlight - Shark Tooth Spring. The 5th magnitude spring appears at the end of the short path - cross the wooden bridge over the run for a better view. The spring waters emerge from a small cavern, with the vent hidden. The spring waters form a small, sand bottom stream that runs through the woods a few hundred yards before entering Sulphur Run. The trail was narrow and steep in a few spots, with some roots and mud, but worth the effort! Lots of mosquitos near the springhead, so we didn't linger as long as we would have liked. There are 15 named springs in the Forest. Many are simply wet depressions in the woods, with the vents covered by downfall. This one is easy to reach and is perhaps the most scenic.

Forest History, Information, and Resources

More About Seminole State Forest:

Most of the 28,301 acre Seminole State Forest was purchased as part of the Wekiva-Ocala Greenway Project and is managed primarily for (1) wildlife conservation, (2) protection of water resources, and for (3) outdoor recreation. Starting in the late 1800's, logging activities and cattle grazing had claimed the natural ecology of the forest. Most of the roads in use today were originally tram roads used in logging operations. Restoration efforts and active forest management are ongoing. Much of the Forest is managed as a Wildlife Management Area. Activities include camping, hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, hunting and fishing. Camping includes group facilities (i.e. has a restroom), and walk-up primitive sites along the Florida National Scenic Trail.

Parts of the Wekiva River along with the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park form the Forest's eastern boundary. Black Water Creek flows through both the State Forest and State Park. Together, these waters form a Federally designated Wild and Scenic Waterway System. 15 named springs dot the Forest, which includes many natural plant and animal communities, and endangered species such as the scrub jay and Florida black bear.

Florida law requires bikers under 16 wear a helmet, but always a good idea when eco-biking. The roads remain open during hunting season, when wearing hunter orange is suggested.

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