Saturday, June 20, 2015

Hiking Black Bear Wilderness Area

Black Bear Wilderness Area - Trailhead Kiosk

This trail has been on my list to explore for quite a while now, so I was thrilled to hear that it recently reopened.  Seminole County did an amazing job fixing up and extending this trail – it used to be a short loop trail that went to the river and back.  Now it is a 7.1 mile loop that circles the entire wilderness area.

Boardwalk 1The trail starts with the first boardwalk about 200 feet from the trailhead, and right away it is clear that the county wants this to be a place that a lot of people will enjoy.  Like all of the boardwalks on this trail, it is very solid and designed to last. 

Bench 3 - overlooking creekThe boardwalk ends after about 500 feet; from there the trail heads to the northeast along the peak of a berm that is about 10 feet above the water level of the slow/still creeks on either side of the trail.  The trail stays on this berm all the way around, with only a couple of spots dipping low enough to let higher water pass.  (If visiting this trail during the wet season, take the loop in a clockwise direction; most of these dips are on the west side of the wilderness area, and it will quickly be clear if the overall trail will be passable).

Black and white treeSince I was hoping to see some wildlife on this trip, I was happy to find that the trail had very little dry detritus on the trail; it made it easier to keep quiet as I made my way along.  This is a mixed-hardwood swamp, so there are a lot of cypress trees; there are also several evergreens that I can never remember the name for, but they remind me of the trees seen in western mountains.

One of many informational signsJust before reaching the river, the second boardwalk turns more to the north in front of what appears to be a water treatment facility.  Along this portion of the boardwalk are several informational signs describing the flora and fauna in the area.

This boardwalk ends right at the edge of the St. John’s River.  I was keeping my eyes open on both sides of the trail and eventually spotted some deer in the woods to the south.

St. Johns River Pano

Owl adjustedIt was in this area where I met another group of hikers.  Mike and Caroline saw an article in the newspaper that announced the opening of the wilderness area and came by to explore the area.  I saw Mike photographing something in the trees and looked up to see an owl watching all of us pass by.  This was a tough picture to capture on Andy by treemy cell phone, but I tweaked it a little bit to make him a little easier to see.

We hiked together for a bit, but eventually ended up splitting up as we stopped to look at different things.  Caroline was nice enough to snap a quick picture for me though.  I think it came out pretty good!

Big tree across pathWhere the trail turns to the north (just across from Alexander Island) there is a huge tree growing right in the middle of the path.  My first thought was that the trail just ended here, but a quick look around the other side shows that the trail continues on. What are these powdery tubes

It wasn’t too far beyond this tree where I found another mystery to solve.  The mystery is a smallish tree (the diameter of the trunk was only about two or three inches) with a bunch of tubes sticking out from it.  What are those tubes?  They’re about 1/16 of an inch in diameter and about a half inch or so long.  They are powdery and fall apart if touched.  If you know what this is, please leave a comment at the end of this post – If I find out, I’ll do the same.  (Click on the picture for a larger view).

Lock near trailWhere the trail turns to the southwest, there is a long wall back in the woods that appears to act as a dam to control the water entering the wilderness area from the west.  In a couple of spots there are platforms that look like they are no longer strong enough to hold a person’s weight.  I am guessing these locks / dams help to control the water that gets to the water treatment facility on the east side of the area.Do not enter

There aren’t a lot of trail markers back here, but most of the trail is wide and very easy to follow.  The one exception is at the end of boardwalk #14.  Today the trail at this spot wasn’t as easy to follow as the rest, but a quick look around and I saw a blue arrow marker nailed to a tree right in front of me.  From the arrow, the trail is once again very easy to see and follow.

Hog trapI saw a little more wildlife today – there were deer in the woods, alligators thrashing by the river, and I even heard what I think was a coyote.  Something back in the woods made a snarling snapping barking noise like dogs will do sometimes, but I don’t think it was a domestic dog because of the location.  There are also wild boar back here – since this isn’t a hunting area, I suppose this trap is to keep the population in check.

I’d have to say that this area is in my Top-5 favorite hiking trails in Central Florida.  It’s a great trail, with beautiful scenery and there is a lot of wildlife to be seen.

If you would like to see where all of the photos were taken, download a gpx file, or just see the technical details of the hike, click on the Trip details link below the map.

Boardwalk 2 Boardwalk 3 Boardwalk 4
Boardwalk 5 with floating dock Boardwalk 7 Boardwalk 8
Boardwalk 9 with Caroline Boardwalk 10 Boardwalk 11
Boardwalk 12 Boardwalk 13 Boardwalk 14
Return to boardwalk 1 Bench 1 Bench 2
Bench 4 Sun on cypress trees River through the trees
Owl Watching Fire Flags by trees St. Johns River
Camp shelter River through the moss River of green
River of green Gator behind the trees Wall-Dam by trail
  Tree grown over barbed wire  

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