Weekend Backpacker: Orlando
A haven for the elusive Florida black bear, Rock Springs Run State Reserve also hosts many rare and endangered Florida species alongside the common armadillo and opossum. Wildlife abounds. Watch for gopher tortoises and scrub jays in the dry uplands; indigo snakes, river otters, sandhill cranes, and woodstorks abound in the swampy lowlands along Rock Springs Run. Roughly 20 miles of trails wander through this 13,500-acre reserve, which is bordered on two sides by Central Florida's most popular and pristine canoeing streams Rock Springs Run and the Wekiva River. It's a patchwork of ecosystems from thick hardwood hammocks to sand pine scrub, bayheads, and rolling farmland fading back into pine flatlands and hides historic features ranging from a Civil Warera graveyard to nine middens (shell mounds) built by indigenous tribes well before Europeans discovered Florida.
From Orlando: I-4 east to the Sanford exit, SR 46. Travel north on SR 46 approximately eight miles, passing both the Wekiva Basin Geo Park and Seminole State Forest on your right. From the Wekiva River bridge, the park entrance is just under two miles. Rock Springs Run State Reserve is on the left and is bordered by a tall chain link fence - to funnel migrating bears down into a special"bear underpass" built under SR 46. Driving time: 30 minutes.
Call in advance for reservations for primitive camping. No pets are permitted at the campsite. Park gates remain closed between 8 a.m. and sundown; campers must register at the entrance. Small day-use fee applies. Park closures occur during the fall hunting season; call for details.
A simple map of the park's trails is available at the self-service registration kiosk at the park entrance. You can also purchase a detailed map EC-2 Rock Springs Run Trail through the Florida Trail Association; visit their Web site for ordering information.
Two loop trails of seven and eight miles each (stacked together like a figure eight) provide most of the trail network in the park. The Indian Mound primitive campsite sits near Rock Springs Run at the outer edge of the outermost loop about seven miles from the main parking area. Bear bagging is a must. Water can be obtained by spring-fed Rock Springs Run, but be sure to filter it.
Orlando author and biology teacher Deborah Green gets into the specifics of tracking wildlife in the park in her book Watching Wildlife in the Wekiva River Basin, available in local bookstores.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication