Kolokee Loop Hike Route Map

Kolokee Trail Loop - Little Big Econ State Forest

Spending New Years in Florida has become something of a routine over the past few holiday seasons. As my tolerance for crowds generally hovers between “very little” and “none”  it’s all but a requirement for me to find at least one day on these trips to escape into the woods. This particular year my choice of hikes was an easy one, as it was one I felt awful for not getting to on my previous visit. The so-called Kolokee Trail Loop. Do a search for ‘best hikes near Orlando’ and I guarantee this one appears at or near the top on any list you find. Located in the awkward-sounding Little Big Econ State Forest, this 5-mile loop spends half its length along the beautiful Econlockhatchee River and the other half wandering through the wonderfully diverse forests which lie above it. This is Florida, so I have a hard time saying this hike is truly  difficult, but it’s long enough and wild enough to warrant a certain amount of hiking ability. If you’re like me and have legs used to the mountains, however, it’ll be a breeze. So it was, for my first hike of 2020, that I once again found myself at a Florida trailhead. Lucky for me, the Kolokee Trail Loop would turn out to be everything advertised and more.

The primary trailhead for those hiking the Kolokee Trail Loop is Little Econ State Forest’s Barr Street Trailhead. There’s a large parking area but, from what I saw on my visit, it still fills up quick. Pay the small day-use fee ($2 as of 2020) and pick up a trail map at the large kiosk. The hike begins just to the left of said kiosk. Immediately upon leaving the trailhead you are immersed in a dense jungle of plant life…palms, oaks, palmetto…all the usual suspects you’d expect to find in a Central Florida forest. The access trail is only a quarter-mile long at which point you’ll arrive at the orange-blazed Florida Trail. The junction is well-marked and points you left for the Kolokee Trail. The route draws closer to the river at this point, breaking out onto a grassy forest road just prior. For the next half-mile the Florida Trail bounces back and forth between the road and the forest along the river’s edge. At times this can make the route a bit muddled but, if you just keep a close watch for orange blazes, you should stay on the right track with no trouble. Soon after the trail departs the forest road for a final time, at a point about a mile from the trailhead, the junction with the Kolokee Trail is reached and the loop portion of the hike begins.  It's completely up to you which way you’d rather go at this point. Staying on the Florida Trail keeps you along the river for the first half of the loop, turning onto the Kolokee Trail keeps you in the forest and saves the river for its back half. In this report I’ll be following the Florida Trail first and use the Kolokee for the return.

The next mile-and-a-half of trail is a meandering one, as the route generally follows alongside the river. There are numerous viewpoints where the trail runs directly along the water but much of the distance is spent in lush forest, crossing numerous small tributaries along the way. The Econlockhatchee is beautiful from every vantage point, its dark waters moving at such a slow pace algae is able to bloom on its surface. The forest steals the show, however. Towering cabbage palms, massive oaks draped in moss, stately pines…all these rising above a carpet of grasses, vines, shrubs, and palmettos. The diversity of life here is incredible, and so unlike anything I experience in the mountains. The Flagler Trail at the north end of its bridged crossing of the Econ, at which point to continue the loop you need to turn north as well. The Flagler Trail follows the former route of a branch of the famous Florida East Coast Railway. Evidence of this just north of the current bridge where the trail weaves between pilings of the rail bridge which formerly crossed the river. The Flagler Trail shortly becomes almost dead-straight, traveling elevated grade of the old rail route. In less than a half-mile another junction is reached, flanked by a pair of small shelters. This is the eastern end of the Kolokee Trail, which you’ll now turn onto. This northern piece of the loop is about 1.4-miles in length and is, some might say, a less visually satisfying stretch of trail than what has come before. True, you won’t get any views of the river from the Kolokee Trail. In exchange, though, you get a greater variety of environments to explore. Pine and oak populate what constitutes high ground in this area, while magnolias and palms the wetter sections. Lack of any river view also benefits the Kolokee Trail in another way…solitude. A majority of visitors aren’t as interested in a trail where there’s “just” trees to see. No complaints here. Upon returning to the Florida Trail simply make an eastern turn, back the way you came earlier, for the mile walk back to the trailhead.

I always worry a bit when trails or hikes are touted as “best of” or “most beautiful” in any way. What’s “best” or “beautiful” can and does vary depending who you are. It also tends to inflate expectations to unreasonably high levels. Worst perhaps, is that frequently those terms are code for “crowded”. While the Kolokee Trail Loop does see its fair share of visitors, which may turn off some, the natural beauty experienced here is undeniable. The praise it receives is fully warranted. As usual I’ve rambled quite a bit on this one, but it’s one worth rambling about. I may thoroughly be a mountain boy at heart but, I’ll admit, these trips into the Florida woodlands still fascinate me. That said, I invite you along with me now on a hike of the Kolokee Trail Loop, in Little Big Econ State Forest of Central Florida…as always, I hope you ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  28.687160, -81.159382

Route Type:  Loop                       Difficulty:  CHALLENGING  (Petzoldt Rating:  5.40 )

Hike Length:  5.3 miles                 Hike Duration:  2:15

Trailhead Temp:  60'F                  Trail Traffic:  25-50 people

Min. Elevation:  10'                        Max. Elevation:  25'

Total Vertical Gain:  50'                Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  9'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Flagler (unblazed), Florida (orange), Kolokee (white)


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