Monday, October 05, 2015

Hiking Fox Lake Sanctuary

Trail EntranceFox Lake Sanctuary is accessed from Fox Lake Park, and sits on the eastern side of the St. John’s River flood plane.  I’ve been wanting to explore this area for awhile, and the weather this weekend was perfect for hitting the trails.First boardwalk

The trail starts near the boat ramp in the park and heads to the west through a small patch of trees.  There are a couple of wet spots along the trail, but they were very easy to walk around.  One spot had a small board and some sticks to help get across on the way to the main part of the trail.

Trail map at every intersectionThis trail has something that is uncommon for most hiking trails.  There is a trail map at every trail intersection that has a “you are here” arrow, as well as distances to the next points of interest.  This is something that I’d like to see more of in some of the hiking areas around central Florida – it really makes it easy to judge which way to go if one wants to head out in a new direction.Yellow blaze way back there

Unfortunately, the rest of the trail really isn’t very well maintained.  After passing this map, I was heading north to follow the yellow blazed trail along the perimeter going counter clockwise.  I had to search a little bit to find the trail but eventually I noticed the blaze back behind some fallen logs and palmettos. 

The trail here hugs the lake, and the views are really nice.  I didn’t mind all of the “trail gators” along the way, but there are a lot of roots and palmetto trunks to navigate along the way. 

Fox Lake Pano

The first major landmark is a lake overlook with a small wooden platform extending out about twenty feet or so.  This spot offers a great view of the lake.

Blue sky over palmettosAs the trail wraps around the northern side of Fox Lake, the palmettos fill a field to the east and north with a few trees to add some contrast against the view of the sky.  Put on overshoes here

But this is right around the spot where I am glad that I carry a pair of over-shoes in my pack.  I came upon a water hazard (flooded spot) that didn’t look like it was going to be easy to navigate around, so on they went. 

Took this shot while up to my knees in waterThis was a good thing – I ended up leaving them on for the rest of the hike around the lake area.  In one spot, I took a picture of the lake that I thought was nice… I was in water that was almost up to my knees when I took this shot.Lake overlook 2

There is another lake overlook a little farther along.  It was dry, but there was enough water on the trail that decided to leave the overshoes on until I was back in a really dry area, or at least until I passed the main boardwalks.

This turned out to be a good idea because I learned that some boardwalks end too soon… and some boardwalks start too late.

Some boardwalks end too soonSome boardwalks start too late

Believe it or not, I made it through this area with dry shoes.  Those overshoes are great; worth every penny!  I finally made it up out of the low area by the lake and thought I was done wading.  Then I came upon what must have been a practical joke by whoever laid out this trail.

Floating boardwalkAs the trail crosses the grassland, there is a longish boardwalk that is only one board wide.  My experience with these is that they normally span damp or mucky areas… they usually don’t span much water.  This boardwalk proved to be an exception though.  At one point the boards were underwater, and the area was too narrow to put my overshoes back on.  Oh well, it looks like I was going to get my feet wet.Trail view 3

I was surprised to find that the boardwalk was actually floating though.  When I walked on this section of the boardwalk (which probably lasted for about thirty or forty feet) the boardwalk sunk until I was in water up to my knees.  Oh well… no harm done – I eventually made it back to dry land.

Moss point overlookAfter passing through the grassland and knee deep water, the trail soon winds into the woods and up to the Moss Point overlook.  . 

Past the overlook, there was a lot more wading to go before I made it to the picnic area for lunch.  I was really surprised at the poorly planned boardwalks.  It was almost as if they didn’t have enough wood to make a proper boardwalk, so instead they just laid a few boards to float in the deepest part of the flooded areas.

Swim to this boardwalkNot sure why this boardwalk is even hereWade out to get to this boardwalk

I eventually made it to the picnic shelter at the youth camp where I stopped for lunch before heading back.  The last joke was yet to be played on me though.  One last boardwalk was another one-board wide walk.  This one also had a section that was floating and had one spot where the board was broken in the middle and sunk about twelve inches into the water.

This is a nice area to explore, but the trail maintenance and boardwalk planning leaves a bit (a lot) to be desired.  If you decide to hike this area I would suggest waiting for the driest time of year, or simply planning on doing some wading.  This is, after all, on the edge of the St. John’s River flood plane.

Hover over a picture for the description

Trailhead map Muddy area Trail view 1
Minor water hazard 1 Melted yellow blaze Lake overlook 1
Trail view 2 View of Fox Lake Kayak landing area
Small boardwalk View from overlook Main boardwalk 1
Main boardwalk 2 Overlook view Trail view 4
Picnic shelter Kayak landing Last boardwalk - broken when it gets to water

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