Oh deer! A hike through Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve

I wrote recently about the Cedar Key Fishing Pier and the cool, somewhat-isolated, fishing town that it calls home.

I’m sticking with my assertion that kayaking and fishing are the things to do in Cedar Key, but if you’re itching to break in some new trailrunners, there’s a pretty sweet nature preserve nearby.

Thanks to Google Earth for the screen grab

The Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve, despite its forgettably bland name, is a rather interesting little slice of old Florida.  The park is mostly, as its name would imply, scrub and sand.  But it offers a great look at a piece of never-developed coastal Florida, a tragically rare thing nowadays.

I used to volunteer at a nature preserve, and I was often asked by visitors about the difference between state preserves and parks.  The difference, as I would explain it to them:

At a park, if a raccoon is bothering your family, a ranger will shoo the raccoon away.  At a preserve, a ranger will shoo you away.

I think the rule of preserves holds true at reserves as well.  Humans are free to join in, but the park isn’t maintained specifically to entertain them.  The point is to preserve the landscape and the critters that have been there long before us.

And that’s an important thing to keep in mind if you’re heading out for a hike here.  The trails, and they’re available for hiking, biking and horseback riding, are mostly along firebreaks that are used in the management of the park.  There’s 12 miles of trails in the reserve, and they cross over sand scrub, marshes, swamps and hardwood forests.  There’s a few educational signs along the way, pointing out different habitats and ecological features, which I appreciated. But it’s not really a hike that was designed specifically for your enjoyment, so there are some long, straight stretches; there are some trudges through deep, thick sand; and there are some segments where the trail has been torn up quite significantly.

But the wildlife makes the work worth it.  After years and years of park management, the firebreaks have become natural thoroughfares for the deer and foxes and tortoises.  So many deer wander through those firebreaks that every inch of sand is pock-marked with hoof prints.  Tortoise dens (is that the right word?) line the breaks, and their belly-drag-marks (again, probably not the right term) are the only interruptions from the hoof prints on the trail.

Spot the frog?

If you hike or bike the trails in the morning or evening, you’re sure to see plenty of animals – big and small.  The reserve also has a hearty population of Southern Bald Eagles, although I didn’t spot any on the toasty afternoon I hiked the park.  Here’s the trail map.

There’s some small hills along the way, and there’s minimal (borderline none) shade, so bring lots of water.  There’s also lots of good kayaking and, I’m told, fishing in the park.  But there’s no launch, so you’ll have to paddle over from the boat ramp at Cedar Key, which, eyeballing it, is probably about a mile away.
All in all, I likely wouldn’t make a special trip out just to hike these trails.  But if you’re in the area and looking to burn off your clam chowder lunch, this reserve is a great place to spend the afternoon.

Park admission is free.  The reserve is located along State Road 24, about 6 miles east of downtown Cedar Key.  There’s ample parking, but no restrooms.  Bring your camera and a telephoto lens! There’s also a picnic area with tables and grills and shade.



  1. Thank you for yet another great post about Cedar Key! Is it ok if I share your post with the Cedar Key Visitors Center?

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