Tuesday, November 29, 2011

LHW: Flatwoods from the south

The word “primeval” occurred to me when I took a step and felt the carpet of leaves press ever so slightly into the muck below. The ground was spongy even though we were a half-mile from the river and it had been a long time since the last significant rain.

Not that I should have been surprised. After all, we were in the subtropics and walking through what is known as a floodplain forest. Realizing it probably wasn’t a good idea to have left the marked trail with my seven-year-old daughter in tow, I guided Sarah back to the footbridge from which we had hopped down into this gully (creek bed?) and we resumed our original course.

My previous post detailed a hike I took after driving into the Flatwoods Park section of Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve. On this day, however, I chose to enter Flatwoods on foot, by hiking the Main Trail from farther south in the preserve.

The Main Trail winds 20 miles through Lower Hillsborough Wilderness and along its route links up with many other trails. Sarah and I stepped onto it at the spot where it departs from the west shoulder of Morris Bridge Road, just north of Morris Bridge itself. The spot is marked by this sign on the opposite side of the road:

From here the road runs southwest to northeast while the trail runs south to north, so the two depart from each other at a 45-degree angle. The floodplain forest, through which you travel early on, has a decidedly jungle-like appearance:

Because Lower Hillsborough Wilderness is a continuous preserve whose separately named sections are not partitioned, there is no way to tell when you officially enter Flatwoods Park out on the trail. Nonetheless, it is easy to tell when you enter the habitat for which it is named.

Here in Florida, mere inches of elevation change can drastically alter the landscape. On this portion of the Main Trail you will never get the sense that you have climbed, but you will definitely notice when you have left the floodplain forest and entered the flatwood forest. The former is damp, dark, and jungly, while the latter is dry and sunny. The former is marked by oaks and a variety of palms, while the latter is marked by pines and saw palmettos.

Rather than a carpet of leaves beside the trail, the flatwood offers up a carpet of pine needles. On the day we were there, it also offered up proof that wild hogs are common in the preserve. Check out these wallows that hogs made right on the trail:

A little more than a mile after departing Morris Bridge Road, the Main Trail reaches Flatwoods Park’s east road right at the spot where the road turns. Other than backtracking, your options are to go right and follow the road to the visitor center; go straight and follow it to its end, which is where I started the hike described in my previous post; or go left on a seven-mile paved trail from which you can access several more unpaved paths.

Because Sarah had to go to the bathroom and did not want to pee in the woods, we hoofed it to the visitor center. After she used the ladies room, we sat at a picnic table and ate some of the food that was stashed in my backpack. Along the roadside between the trail and the visitor center we saw some autumn foliage:

Walking with Sarah slowed me down because she kept stopping to look at tracks (both real and imagined) and she wanted to inspect every nook and cranny of the woods to figure out what animals live there. But I was not about to complain because it is awesome to see her enthused and curious about the outdoors. And it was adorable when she decided to fashion a palmetto frond into a natural parasol:

The Main Trail is easy to follow, partly because it is marked by numbered signposts. Along the portion we hiked are two side trails, one of which goes west and eventually intersects with the paved trail mentioned above. The other one goes south to points that are unknown to me.

Our slow pace, coupled with my knowledge that we were needed at home to help out with my five-month-old son, kept us from exploring the side trails that morning. But I (or we) will return and do that before long, and you can expect a report when that happens.

The reach the trailhead we used, take I-75 to the Fletcher Avenue exit and drive east for four miles. Physically, there is nothing to prevent you from simply parking on the roadside and stepping onto the trail, but I suspect that as far as the county is concerned, you are supposed to park at Morris Bridge Park and walk along the road to the trailhead. That way you are prompted to fork over the $2 fee at the pay center in the parking lot.

Morris Bridge Park is located just before Morris Bridge with parking lots on both sides of the road. You will have to walk across the bridge, whose shoulder is amply wide, and from there it is 0.2 miles to the trailhead.

Happy Trails!


  1. Hi there - glad you like my post on 'change' - I will be putting another up this weekend about darkness - you may find that interesting as well.

    The forests in your post look great to explore with a small person - I always reckon you should at least plan to take twice as long as expected when you are walking with kids - I think because they are closer to the ground they find more things to look at!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Australia

  2. Hi there (again!) - glad you liked the post on darkness!

    Feel free to follow so you don’t miss the next one. I post about once every two week. I have another photo-blog which has more frequent posts if you are interested.

    Cheers - Stewart M.

    PS: also feel free to delete this comment as it really is just a thank you!

  3. Miss Sarah has the face of an angel. A true southern lady always has her palm frond parasol.
    I enjoyed the hike with you and Sarah, thanks.

    Happy trails, JDS.

  4. I believe the name of the restaurant you were referring to was Harpoon Louies.. directly across the Loxahatchee River from the Jupiter Lighthouse.
    The restaurant has changed hands many times since we moved here in 1985, but none were as good as the original HL.