Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area
3365 Taylor Creek Road, Christmas, 32709
Admission: $3 per vehicle (up to 8 people)
Hours: Daily 8:00 a.m. to sunset
Location: 3 miles south of SR 50 in Christmas
If you really want to get away from it all, this mammoth (28,000-acre) wilderness area is an excellent choice. I visited one Wednesday afternoon and was the only person there. The park borders 19 miles of the St. John’s River and includes wetlands, pine flatwoods, and hammocks. The name is a contraction of Tootoosahatchee, an Indian word for “chicken creek,” and the eponymous stream flows through the northern portion of the reserve.
Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are the activities of choice here. If you want the purest experience of this enchanting and sometimes spooky ecosystem stick to the primitive Florida Trail, marked with white (or sometimes blue) blazes. The trails marked with rectangular or diamond-shaped orange blazes allow bikes and horses (bring your own horse; there are none for hire here). Walking softly and quietly will increase your chance of spotting wildlife. There are white-tailed deer, bobcat, gray fox, and several varieties of raptors to be seen here. The Florida panther is said to put in a rare appearance. More likely, you will flush large vultures or hawks as you proceed through the semi-gloom of the forest past tea-dark streams and pools, their still surfaces like obsidian mirrors.
If a casual visit is not enough, why not spend a few days? The camping here is “primitive,” that is no recreational vehicles or pop-up tent trailers are allowed. Most of the campsites have nearby parking areas but for the truly adventuresome, there are two backpacking campsites, one of them seven miles from the nearest road. Campers must make reservations by phone at least two weeks (but no more than 60 days) in advance. There is a fee of $4.50 per person per night (all ages). The regular admission fee is waived for campers.
When you arrive, sign in and pay your vehicle fee (envelopes are provided). You must also sign out to let the park caretaker know that you are not lying wounded in some far flung corner of the wilderness. Also, be aware that hunting is allowed in this park. The deer season runs from late September to about Thanksgiving. The wild hog (yes, wild hog) season is in January and wild turkey have their turn in March and April. All of these hunting seasons have gaps, that is, periods of three days to two weeks when hunting is not allowed. Hikers are advised to steer clear of the woods when hunting is allowed; call to check the schedule, which is also posted at the sign-in area. If you want to hunt, you have to get a special permit from the state even if you are a local resident.
Nearby: Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge, Fort Christmas Historical Park, Jungle Adventures, Orlando Wetlands Park.
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