The Florida scrub is an endangered habitat that is found mainly on sand ridges throughout the state. It is relatively common to encounter a scrub in central Florida along the Lake Wales Ridge, as well as in coastal areas of eastern Florida and the state's panhandle. However, Balm-Boyette Scrub is one of a few rare scrubs in west Florida and around the Tampa area, which makes it more special than some of the scrubs on the Lake Wales Ridge. Two preserves adjacent to each other facilitate hiking access into the scrub. The main hiking trail also passes past several creeks, all of which are tributaries of the Alafia River. This hike occurred on Wednesday, July 20th, 2016. My plan was to hike clockwise the loop trail that passes through both Triple Creek Preserve and Balm-Boyette Scrub Preserve.
R/T Length of Trail: 4.9 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:50
Type of Hike: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: Minimal
Pros: Remote hiking in a generally densely-populated area
Cons: A rather boring short section of the trail follows the north boundary of the preserve, along a pine plantation
Points of Interest: Balm-Boyette Scrub
Trail Blaze Color(s): There are posts with arrows and white diamonds with hiker symbols that mark the trail
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter
Beginning Point: Triple Creek Preserve Trailhead
Directions from Sun City Center, FL: From the intersection of FL State Route 674 and US Route 301 near Sun City Center and Wimauma, follow FL State Route 674 East for 3.8 miles. Then, turn left onto Balm-Wimauma Road. Follow it north for 3.9 miles, and then, turn right onto County Road 672. Immediately afterwards, turn left onto Balm-Boyette Road. Continue north for another 2.4 miles until you reach the gravel parking area for Triple Creek Preserve to the left.
Click here for more information and to download this trail map to view in Garmin Basecamp.
I'm impressed with the excellent job that some Florida counties have done by acquiring various pieces of land and conserving them by turning them into nature preserves that should be open to the public for the future. Lee County and Hillsborough County are two Florida counties that show such excellent work - they are role models for many other Florida counties. Triple Creek Preserve and the adjacent Balm-Boyette Scrub Preserve are just two of many similar preserves throughout the county. The hiking trail that passes through both preserves is very diverse, passing through habitats ranging from lush creekside forest and wetland forest to open scrub. There used to be a separate trailhead for Balm-Boyette Scrub Preserve, but it seems like there were some private property issues at that trailhead, so today, the trail that begins at the Triple Creek Preserve Trailhead is the only route into Balm-Boyette Scrub.
The initial trail is not clearly visible, although the southeast (first if clockwise) section of the loop appears to be the least-used. From the trailhead kiosk, the trail follows a grassy track westward through a clearing. At the end of the clearing, the trail passes through a gap in a line of trees. On the other side is a larger clearing and the beginning of the loop at 0.1 miles. This is where two faint paths leave to the left and right. You wouldn't really know what to do here, unless you know that this is the beginning of the loop. To hike the loop clockwise, turn left. You may notice a trail marker on a post hidden in the grass, confirming that this is indeed the trail. Between 0.1 miles and 0.4 miles, the trail is overgrown with fairly tall grass and passes through several clearings, but in general, the route follows the edge of the forest. Posts with markers mark the trail well. At 0.4 miles, the trail reaches the edge of the largest clearing and passes into a dense hammock guarded by numerous live oaks. Shortly afterwards, there is an intersection with the closed trail from the old Balm-Boyette Scrub Trailhead. The main trail turns right on a broad but little-used double-track path under the shade of a row of live oaks.
The wide path proceeds westward into a dense, remote wetland forest, and the ground on the trail is damp in spots, although it is generally dry. You may notice that the trail is actually slowly losing elevation as it approaches Bell Creek. At 0.65 miles, the trail reaches Bell Creek. There is no footbridge across the creek, but under all but the wettest of conditions, you should be able to hop across. Bell Creek is a picturesque fern-lined stream, with its slow waters winding through the dark forest.
On the other side of the stream, the trail slowly rises out of Bell Creek's depression, entering some uplands at 0.8 miles. At 0.9 miles, the trail reaches a confusing intersection at the boundary of Triple Creek Preserve. Straight ahead lies Balm-Boyette Scrub and the namesake preserve. A sign points out that the trail seemingly turns right and then right again, leaving the scrub and returning into Triple Creek Preserve - this is WRONG. It is unclear to me why the Balm-Boyette Scrub Trail, which is still on public land, is not marked here at all. The trail to the right is a very short connector that cuts across the outer loop through the scrub. You should not take it, unless you would like to make the hike much shorter. Instead, turn left onto the unmarked but wide sandy service road that follows the edge of Balm-Boyette Scrub southward. Continue south until 1.7 miles, where there is another confusing junction. There is actually a sign with arrows here, but the funny thing is that there is an arrow pointing both straight and to the right, despite the fact that the trail ahead no longer exists). Misunderstanding the sign, I had actually continued straight here, before noticing on my GPS that I was no longer headed the direction that I was supposed to be. Thus, don't repeat my mistake and turn right onto this next sandy road.
This road turns west and follows the southern boundary of the scrub, before turning north and cutting straight into the heart of the scrub. Considering that scrub is nearly unheard of in this region, this hike and this part of the trail in particular is quite unique to the Tampa Bay area.
Continue following the arrows along the sandy track, as this section of the trail is well-marked. The trail eventually reconnects with the shortcut at the edge of Balm-Boyette Scrub Preserve at 3.0 miles. Here, turn left and re-enter wooded Triple Creek Preserve. Over the next stretch of trail, there were several seasonally wet areas, but bypasses had been created by hikers around all of them. At 3.35 miles, the trail crosses a small stream that Boggy Creek that begins in a wetland just to the west and later joins Bell Creek. Despite the fact that this stream is smaller than Bell Creek, you may have slightly more trouble crossing this one dry, depending on the season, due to the trail finding the widest point on the stream to cross it. However, I was still able to cross dry. Just after Boggy Creek, the trail reached the western boundary of Triple Creek Preserve at a farm. Here, bear right and begin following the preserve boundary northward through pine flatwoods.
At 3.7 miles, the trail reaches the northwest corner of the preserve, with a farm to the left and a pine plantation straight ahead. Turn right and begin following a service road along the edge of the pine plantation. This is the least scenic part of the hike, due to the somewhat ugly neat rows of planted pines and intermittent clearings that stretch off to the left. The trail follows this road until 4.1 miles, where an arrow marks a turn to the southeast onto a different service road. This service road soon descends into the wetland forest around Bell Creek, but since the the road is elevated, the trail is dry. At 4.35 miles, the trail crosses Bell Creek via a culvert on the road. Bell Creek appears to be larger here than it was further south. The trail continues following the road after Bell Creek. Somewhere, I missed a turn to the right that led to the end of the loop in the grassy clearing, probably due to the fact that the service road was so well-defined in comparison to a faint path in tall grass. However, the service road leads to the trailhead too. Follow the service road all the way to its end at Balm-Boyette Road. Then, turn right onto the road and shortly reach the trailhead parking area at 4.9 miles, concluding the hike.
0.0 - Triple Creek Trailhead
0.65 - Bell Creek
0.9 - Enter Balm-Boyette Scrub
3.0 - Leave Balm-Boyette Scrub
3.35 - Boggy Creek
3.7 - Northwest corner of preserve
4.35 - Bell Creek
4.9 - Triple Creek Trailhead
Hike just the Triple Creek Loop - 2.8 Miles
Just to the south, the hike at Little Manatee River State Park is another great day hike that follows the Little Manatee River for several miles.
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