Looking for a great hike to do with the kids that's not far from home? Check out the Blackbear Wilderness Area in Sanford!
The entire hike is a loop that is 7.1 miles in length. However, you can do a nice 2 mile round trip hike with the kids that everyone will enjoy. From where you park the car, you head off on the trail and come to a short boardwalk. There is a Y in the boardwalk, where you have to decide which way to go. If you are doing the entire 7.1 mile loop it won't matter, because you will take one way and come back on the other. But if you are doing the shorter walk with kids, choose to go right at the Y. Follow the boardwalk until it ends and becomes a dirt path and continue on that path. You will continue on that for a mile until you reach an observation deck that overlooks the river.
All along the hike on both sides there is swamp that is beautiful! Filled with cypress trees, wildlife, and vegetation. There's so much to look at along this hike. We saw alligators along the sides of the swamp, a snake, and lots of other neat things, too. We even saw a couple of piles of bear scat (poop) along the trail, indicating their recent presence. At about the .8 mile mark, you come to a crossing near a power plant station. They are doing some construction work through there, but we were able to cross just fine. Once you cross that, continue onto another boardwalk that takes you through a beautiful cypress swamp, and onto the observation deck. If you are doing the short walk you will turn around at the observation deck (if you are doing the longer one you will continue on). Walking back to the observation deck provides a great walk that even the smaller kids can do (we had a 2.5 year old that did the whole thing).
Watch for the many red ant hills along the trail (they are on the sides of the trail and easy to avoid). I'd also caution that the kids not get off the path and head down to the swamp, because there are alligators and snakes along there. We saw two alligators on our hike, one baby one and one large one.
Since you are hiking in bear territory, it is good to know what to do if you see one. Never feed or try to get close to a bear, including a bear cub. If you see a cub then there is a mother nearby and they are very protective. Keep your distance, stand arm-in-arm together to make your group look large, and then make lots of noise. That should be enough to scare the bear off. You want to calmly back away from a bear. Also, when hiking where there are bears it's always a good idea to make some noises, so they hear you coming and will keep their distance. You can do this by people in your group talking, singing, and clapping here and there. You can read more about how to be safe when encountering bears here and here.
There are no restrooms there and no picnic tables, but we still packed a lunch and drove to Lake Monroe Park in DeBary (about 10 minutes away) to eat. That park is minutes away and has some great covered picnic table areas and restrooms, providing an opportunity to have your picnic lunch along the water.
I highly recommend this trail and plan to go back to do the full 7.1 mile loop. The shorter version is perfect for doing with kids, providing a wonderful hike that is filled with things to see. It's also mostly covered by the tree canopy, so you won't have to worry much about sun. If you go, do take some bug repellent and water. This place is about a 40 minute drive from where I am in Port Orange.
- Jacqueline Bodnar
Here are pictures from our hike in the Blackbear Wilderness Area in Sanford: