Winter in Florida means that the bugs, heat and humidity, and daily thunderstorms are gone and crisp, glorious, blue-sky days that are perfect for horseback riding. Because winter is the dry season in Florida, it is the best time to ride in Florida's magnificent wetlands, which are usually too wet for riding the rest of the year. In this article, I describe three of my favorite places to ride which are located east/northeast of Orlando.
East Central Florida offers many great places to ride in addition to those described below. If you live in Florida, get out and ride! If you live in an area that has real winters, take a break from the cold and head to Florida for a winter horseback riding vacation!
Little Big Econ State Forest
The Little Big Econ State Forest supports a wide variety of wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, bobcat, river otter, wild turkey, bald eagles, ospreys, hawks, wading birds, and waterfowl and provides a corridor which connects the southern part of the Econlockhatchee Basin to the Tosohatchee State Reserve and other public lands along the St. Johns River in this area. The most notable feature of the 5,045-acre State Forest is the narrow, winding, tea-colored Econlockhatchee River, an Outstanding Florida Water that flows through the property. The State Forest offers a 10-mile equestrian loop trail. In addition, you can ride down to the river on the Old S.R. 13 railway and trestle, which was part of Henry Flagler’s Railroad System in the early 1900s and is now part of the Florida National Scenic Trail.
The Little Big Econ State Forest is located 3.3 miles east of Oviedo on C.R. 426 in Seminole County. The horse trailhead and parking area is located on the west side of Snowhill Road, 2.25 miles south of the intersection with C.R. 426, between Geneva and Chuluota. Go to www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/LB_Econ.htm or call 407-971-3500 for more information.
Tosohatchee State Reserve
Tosohatchee State Reserve is an extensive mosaic of pine flatwoods, hammocks, marshes, and swamps that has been shaped by alternating cycles of flooding and fire. The 28,000-acre Reserve supports an abundance of plant and wildlife species, including many that are rare and endangered. This is a great place to experience the “natural” Florida! The Reserve borders 19 miles of the Upper St. Johns River in East Orange County, and Tosohatchee Creek flows through its northern portion. Over 50 miles of trails and dirt roads are available for horseback riding; there is also a primitive group horse camp.
Tosohatchee State Reserve is located on Taylor Creek Road in Christmas, east of Orlando off S.R. 50. Contacting the Reserve before your visit is recommended (407-568-5893) to ensure that the day of your planned ride is suitable (hunting is permitted). For more information, go to www.dep.state.fl.us/parks/district3/tosohatchee/index.asp.
Canaveral National Seashore
Canaveral National Seashore, which is located between New Smyrna and Titusville on a barrier island along the east coast of Florida, offers a fantastic opportunity for horseback riders: the opportunity to ride on miles of undeveloped beach (from November 1 through April 30 when sea turtles are not nesting/hatching). The horse trailhead/parking area is located at the north end of the National Seashore, which you can get to by taking A1A from New Smyrna Beach until it dead ends at the north entrance.
From the trailhead, you can ride north on the beach for two miles or south for many miles. Reservations are required, and a maximum of six horses and three trailers are permitted per day. For more information, call 386-428-3384 or go to www.nps.gov/cana/.
If you need overnight accommodations for your horse, The Ace of Hearts Ranch, 321-638-0104, which is located in Cocoa and within a reasonable distance from all three areas, is recommended. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting their Web site at: www.aceofheartsranch.com). The friendly staff (Sandra Vann) will be glad to provide you with information on the many nearby hotels and campgrounds where you can stay if you are visiting from out of town. In addition, they can make arrangements for you and your horse to accompany them on trail rides to any of the three trail locations.