Nestled near the west Florida coastline between Sarasota and Venice, the underrated Oscar Scherer State Park is a haven for folks looking for a peaceful day hike in this part of southwest Florida. The park is known best as the home of the last remaining scrub jay habitat in southwest Florida, but it also has a superb color-coded trail system that introduces hikers to South Creek and its hammocks as well as the scrub and flatwoods nearby. In particular, the diverse Yellow Trail - part of the park's North Trail System - passes through a large range of ecosystems, crossing South Creek twice, passing a beautiful lake known as Big Lake, and travelling through a large section of the scrub. Hikers will even be able to see an old railroad trestle across South Creek. Thanks to its range of scenery and points of interest, the Yellow Trail at Oscar Scherer State Park has quickly turned into one of my favorite hikes in Southwest Florida. This hike occurred on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017. My plan was to hike the Yellow Loop Trail counter-clockwise with a short detour to the Big Lake observation platform.
R/T Length of Trail: 5.2 Miles
Duration of Hike: 2:05
Type of Hike: Lasso
Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Very diverse scenery throughout the hike
Cons: A few short stretches of trail may be uncomfortably sandy
Points of Interest: Oscar Scherer Scrub; Several views of South Creek; Big Lake; South Creek Railroad Trestle
Trail Blaze Colors: Yellow Trail - Mostly Yellow (there are a few old white blazes as well)
Best Seasons to Hike: Winter
Fees: There is a $5 fee for vehicles with 2 to 8 people, and a $4 fee for vehicles with one person.
Beginning Point: Yellow Trail Parking near the back of Oscar Scherer State Park Nature Center
Directions from Osprey, FL: Starting at the intersection of US Route 41 (Tamiami Trail) and Bay Street in Osprey, Florida, drive South on US 41 for 2 miles. Then, at a sign, turn left onto the Oscar Scherer State Park entrance road just before the South Creek bridge. After paying your fee at the entrance ranger station, continue on the road for a mile until a split at the Nature Center. Stay left, driving less than 0.1 mile farther to a parking area near the back of the visitor center, with the signed Yellow Trail beginning to the left.
Click the link below to download a .GPX file with a track of this hike.
About one year ago, I hiked the South Trail System at Oscar Scherer State Park and really enjoyed the variety of scenery along and near South Creek. At the time, I picked the South Trail System over the North Trail System because the latter sounded less diverse and not as scenic. What was I thinking? While the hike along South Creek and on the Green Trail was great, the hike along the Yellow Trail a year later was even better. I would say that the Yellow Trail at Oscar Scherer State Park is one of the best hikes I've done in Southwest Florida. In just over five miles, the Yellow Trail passes through several sections of rare Florida scrub, crosses and follows South Creek several times with many views of this scenic waterway, enters a pretty hammock near the creek, and even passes the picturesque Big Lake.
Begin the hike at the large sign and trail map for the Yellow Trail, with the small Lake Osprey behind you. Note that the Yellow Trail actually used to be known as the White Trail. The Scrub Jay Nature Trail initially runs in conjunction with the Yellow Trail as it enters the scrub. After a few twists amidst the open landscape, the trail makes a signed left at 0.25 miles and reaches a split a few yards farther. Here, the Scrub Jay Trail leaves left and connects to the Blue Trail and Red Trail, both of which are still on my list. Meanwhile, you must turn right onto the broad path to stay with the Yellow, which follows a fence line before reaching an alternate trailhead and parking at 0.3 miles. Turn left, walk around the gate, and reach a paved pathway: the multi-use Pioneer Trail, a fairly long greenway that traverses the Sarasota urban area. The Yellow Trail turns left onto the Pioneer Trail, but before you do so, walk a few feet to the right and take a look at the historic railroad trestle crossing South Creek. Then, return to the junction and follow the Yellow Trail along the elevated paved walkway northward. In this short segment, there are great views of the vast scrub in both directions.
At 0.65 miles, just before a shaded bench, the Yellow Trail turns right off the paved path and onto a broad forest road, passing around another gate. A memorial for Mary Thaxton, who helped to secure public access to this part of the park as it is today, is located to the left of the trail. The trail is actually now entering the Mary Thaxton Memorial Preserve. After a short straight section along the forest road into the middle of the scrub, you'll reach a junction at 0.8 miles where the loop section of the hike begins. The Yellow Loop Cross-Trail continues straight, while the loop heads left and right. To hike it counter-clockwise like I did, turn right onto the sandy trail into the heart of the scrub. This is a beautiful section of trail, and it is also the toughest part of the hike as the sand is deep in places. Simply follow the arrows, reaching the distant tree line at 1.1 miles. That's where the trail turns left and crosses South Creek via a sturdy wooden footbridge. South Creek is a very pretty blackwater stream. It is quite overgrown, but all the vegetation around it only adds mystery to its dark waters. On the other side of South Creek, the Yellow Trail turns left at a junction with a forest road and re-enters the scrub, although the trail is a bit less sandy here.
At 1.6 miles, the trail reaches the shore of Big Lake. A short side trail on the right leads to a shaded observation deck with a great elevated view of the lake. Big Lake is quite picturesque due to how open and grassy its shoreline and its surroundings are. The main trail briefly follows the shore of Big Lake before turning left and crossing a small stream via a footbridge. Then, at 1.75 miles, the Yellow Trail turns left onto another forest road as the Legacy Honore Connector Trail leaves right to the Scherer Thaxton Preserve - an outlying wild area adjacent to Oscar Scherer State Park. Meanwhile, the main trail leaves the scrub and enters scenic pine flatwoods with a grassy understory. At 1.85 miles, stay right to hike the main loop as the Yellow Cross-Trail bears left. After a piney stretch that can sometimes be inundated during the wet season, the Yellow Trail makes an abrupt left turn at an arrow at 2.05 miles, striking toward South Creek on a bee line. At 2.2 miles, the Yellow Trail enters a scenic palm hammock alongside South Creek - just another of this hike's many highlights. There were major signs of hog uprootings along this section of the trail. At 2.3 miles, just as the trail turns back east, there is a photogenic view of palmetto-lined South Creek to the left. This is one of my favorite spots on the trail - take a moment to linger and observe the dark yet swift waters. After leaving the creek, the Yellow Trail passes through an area that is often muddy and even sometimes wet. Then, the trail exits the hammock and turns left at 2.5 miles onto the same forest road that it followed earlier.
The following section of trail is a fairly monotonous pine flatwoods traverse, but just when you may start getting bored, the trail turns left at 3.2 miles and aims for South Creek once more. Just before another left turn at the edge of the hammock, note the wall of palms on the left. At 3.45 miles, the Yellow Trail crosses back to the west side of South Creek. The stream is still overgrown here, but it remains very scenic. A few feet past the footbridge, the trail curves left and travels south through the South Creek hammock, passing several live oaks of impressive size. Around 4.2 miles, the Yellow Trail leaves the hammock and re-enters the gorgeous sandy scrub. At the time of my hike, rows of yellow goldenrod blooms enhanced the beauty of the scrub. The Yellow Trail returns to the loop/cross-trail junction at 4.4 miles. Turn right here and retrace your steps from earlier, making the final 0.8-mile walk back to the trailhead. You'll reach your car and conclude the hike at 5.2 miles.
I have decided to rate the Yellow Trail at Oscar Scherer State Park a "Best Hike". The ecological diversity and multiple scenic highlights of the hike make it one of the best choices available in Southwest Florida, and furthermore, the park and its trails are much less crowded than nearby Myakka River State Park (the most popular outdoor destination in the area).
0.0 - Scrub Jay (Yellow Trail) Trailhead
0.3 - Join Pioneer Trail
0.65 - Leave Pioneer Trail
0.8 - Begin Yellow Loop
1.1 - South Creek Footbridge 1
1.6 - Big Lake
1.85 - Yellow Cross-Trail
2.3 - South Creek View
3.45 - South Creek Footbridge 2
4.4 - End Yellow Loop
5.2 - Scrub Jay (Yellow Trail) Trailhead
Hike just the South Yellow Loop - 3.0 Miles
Hike just the North Yellow Loop - 4.5 Miles
Consider adding on the park's South Trail System (Lester Finley Trail, South Creek Trail, and Green Trail) and/or the Red Trail and Blue Trail to turn this into a full day hike.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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