While on vacation from my day job, I was finally able to accomplish a major personal goal of mine: hiking Longleaf Pine Preserve! This preserve is located in western Volusia County and has multiple hiking trails. The reason this is such a milestone for me is that I have been training very hard to be able to cover the distance required for a successful hike.
Let me back up for a bit here. I actually discovered Longleaf Pine Preserve when I attended a guided hike of Lyonia Preserve sponsored by the county. It turns out that the land management department of Volusia County actually hosts guided tours and hike at most of the county preserve locations. Longleaf Pine Preserve occasionally offers eco-buggy tours at this location as well. (Think hay ride without the hay!). I went to scope out the location awhile back and found a rather large parking area right off of state road 44 towards Deland. I stopped by to see what it’s all about and the parking area was empty. All that you can really see at the parking area is a display board with a map of the trails offered.
So why did I need to train to do the Longleaf Pine Preserve hike? Well it’s rather long.. There are multiple trails to choose from that overlap each other depending on the distance you are looking to cover. I prepared myself to be able to cover about 8 miles which covered 3 of the 4 trails. I figured that would give me the best overview of the preserve and I was correct!
When my big hike day came about, I packed a small day pack with water and a few snacks and headed off to the Longleafpine Preserve parking area! The parking lot was almost empty with only a single car when I arrived. I quickly grabbed my pack as well as my amateur radio (you can never be too safe with a backup mode of communication) and I was on my way. I decided to do this hike alone, although it hind sight, it probably wasn’t the best of ideas. I figured it was a county trail and the cellular coverage was good in the event I had an emergency so I decided to risk it. I probably should have brought a buddy.
So there I was, looking at the trail map, seeing all the Longleaf Pine preserve has to offer, and I was on my way to adventure! I started going down what appeared to be a service road. I thought this wasn’t so much as a hike but instead a walk down an old country road. I ran into another couple that were hiking and we discussed our mutual confusion. The trial wasn’t marked which I thought was odd, and they reported this old abandoned looking service road lead straight to I-4! I went about two-mile on this road before I ran into some pretty thick mud and standing water, but still no trial markers.. I knew there were multiple trials and that the trail was supposed to curl around. I was confused so I pulled out my phone and checked my fitness tracking app and discovered I pretty much just walked in a straight line for two miles. I turned around to head back to my car ready to call it quits and fire off a few emails to the county stating that not only myself but another couple were very disappointed.
Before I left though, I decided to take one last look at the trail map display, and discovered I wasn’t even on the Longleaf Pine Preserve trail! In fact I went down a service road. At the other end of the parking area was the actual trail head. This should be a great lesson for any one attempting to hike Longleaf Pine Preserve. Do not go to the left of the trail map display! The trail head is at the East side of the parking area and isn’t clearly labeled. So now I had a decision to make: Go home and attempt the real hike another day or give it a shot knowing I had already gone about 4 miles, or half of the distance I had trained for.
I decided to tough it out and head down the Orange trail of the Longleaf Pine Preserve. The display board indicated that after times of heavy rain much of the trail would actually be under water and they weren’t joking! It had rained the day before but I didn’t put two and two together. Thankfully many of the standing water areas were easy to circumnavigate so I pressed on. I quickly reached the Red trail which was the bulk of my journey. This trail was generally a long private dirt road and more of a stroll down a county path than a hike.
About half way through the Red trail, I cam across a pavilion which is truly a hidden gem! Sitting lake side, this pavilion is used for group camping and hosts a fire pit, multiple picnic tables, and even a few charcoal grills. This location is totally off grid and would make a perfect location for a group camping event. No rest rooms or water facilities so be sure to plan accordingly. I found it to be a great spot to sit down snap a few photos and grab a quick snack. While taking my break at the pavilion, I also discovered that Longleaf Pine Preserve hosts a multitude of geocaches! I didn’t attempt to locate any because I was really there for the exercise, but they are all over the place! It would make a fun afternoon of treasure hunting if you had the time.
After my brief break, I went down the Longleaf Pine Preserve Green trail which was just a loop around the lake. This was probably the most challenging part of the hike, as it was literally walking through the woods. There wasn’t a trail, but it was marked. This area was very wet but had some interesting terrain to conquer. It was well worth it, to do the loop around the lake and hope to see this trail develop more in the future.
After my quick loop, I was back on the Red trail. It was amazing to see the different eco-systems that I was passing through Longleaf Pine Preserve and even got to cross under some high voltage power lines. It was a bit unnerving as I could hear the hum and the pops of the high voltage above me. It was however a beautiful day outside despite being a bit chilly for January. As I progressed down the trail, I could see that Longleaf Pine Preserve was a great hiking option for a beginner! The terrain was fairly easy, and you can choose to bypass the additional loops such as the Orange and Green Trails if you wanted to go a shorter distance. I would recommend a decent pair of hiking shoes though just in case.
I made it back to the car with some afternoon left in the day, but discovered that Longleaf Pine Preserve would more than likely be a location I can come back to time and time again. I did about 12 miles total due to my initial mix up, but there is a blue trail that is much more challenging that I would like to try in the future. It’s about 11 miles one way, and I would certainly take a friend with me then. That trail ends off of Pioneer trail at a different parking area. It should be noted that the Blue trail is usually under water during heavy rain periods so you’ll want to go during a dry spell.
I’m very proud of myself for completing this hike, both as a personal goal, and to actually prove to myself that I could do it! It is in the middle of no where, so you will want to prepare accordingly. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and even a lunch if you do a long trail. Longleaf Pine was simply beautiful and I look forward to taking my little guy on a hike there when he’s old enough!
Longleaf Pine Preserve Details:
More info at Volusia County Website.
West-3637 E. New York Ave, DeLand, FL 32724 (Use This entrance for multiple hiking options)
East-4551 Pioneer Trail, NSB, FL 32168
Open Sunrise to Sunset