Flagler County in northeastern Florida is full of great places to hike, kayak and discover. You could spend a week there and not run out of spots to explore.
But if you’re driving on I-95 and you just want a short break from the tedium, it also offers the perfect stop: Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park.
On a road trip north, I was looking for a good stop a few hours north of my home in Fort Lauderdale. Scanning the map, I saw how close Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park is to I-95. I had hiked here a few years ago; I figured it was a perfect break.
We took Exit 278/Old Dixie Highway (directions are below) and in five minutes we were plunged into a world that couldn’t be more different from I-95.
At first we thought we must have made a mistake: The road that takes you to the Bulow Plantation Ruins is just one lane wide, hard-packed dirt and completely shaded by a canopy of live oak and other large trees. It felt like we had gone back 100 years in time.
At the end of the short road, there is parking lot, rest rooms, shaded picnic tables and a screened picnic shelter, all on the banks of scenic Bulow Creek.
You can drive on to the ruins, but I recommend you park here and take the half-mile nature trail, through a forest of large old trees forming a cathedral ceiling over your head.
In a short while, you reach the picturesque ruins of a huge sugar mill made of the local coquina rocks. The evocative structure looks like a ruined castle.
Excellent signage explains this was the site of a 4,675-acre plantation founded in the 1820s. Using the labor of 200 slaves, the plantation was successful growing sugar cane, which was processed at this mill. Other sugar mill ruins I’ve seen in Florida (in New Smyrna and Homosassa, for example) are far more modest in size. A sign there explains there were 12 sugar mill plantations along the Atlantic Coast in Florida.
You walk through and around the mill, taking in the story of the people who lived here and the moment in Florida’s history this represented.
The plantation’s heyday extended only from the 1820s to 1836, when the Second Seminole War prompted the Bulows to abandon the plantation and flee. The Seminoles burned it down.
What’s left today is the barely visible foundation of the mansion and slave quarters (near the picnic shelter at the start), the mill, ruins of a spring house and several wells.
Additional information and artifacts associated with the ruins are presented in exhibits housed near the sugar mill ruins. We learn, for example, that John James Audubon visited and painted the Greater Yellowlegs species while staying at Bulow Plantation.
If you are expecting Gone With the Wind, you may be disappointed. But if you like ruins being covered by jungle, as I do, you’ll be charmed.
NOTE: Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
If you have more time, spend the day
Hiking: There is an outstanding hiking trail that starts at Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park. You can create shorter routes, but if you’re up for a long hike, it’s 6.8 miles one way.
When we hiked here, we saw deer and wild hogs in the old growth woods, along with a variety of birds. You’ll pass trees more than 200 years old, including the massive Fairchild Oak, thought to be as much as 400 years old. We crossed streams and passed marshes and barely saw another soul.
Kayaking or canoeing: Bulow Plantation Park is a good put-in site for your kayak, as it is located on 13-mile-long kayak and canoe trail that flows through a grassy coastal marsh. If you catch the ranger present at the site (and there are no guarantees, we were told), you can rent canoes here for $10 an hour or $40 for the day. There’s a boat ramp here where you can launch small powerboats as well as kayaks and canoes.
Scenic drive through the area: We first discovered Bulow Plantation when we were driving the beautiful Loop Road, a 30-plus mile route under oak canopies, past beaches and along waterways and creeks. Here’s more about the Ormond Scenic Loop.
Planning a visit to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park
Directions to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park: Exit I-95 at Exit 278 east/Old Dixie Highway and head east. Turn left on Old Kings Road South. Go a mile or two north and watch for the sign for Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, where you will turn right. The one-lane dirt road takes you back into the woods and eventually to the ruins.
Entrance fee: $4 (Bring cash; it’s an honor system but rangers do patrol and check.) Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday.
An excellent short video on the Bulow Plantation:
More things to do in Flagler County and nearby
- Castillo de San Marcos, the fort in St. Augustine is a must-visit in the area.
- Fort Matanzas, a fascinating fort you visit by free boat ride.
- Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, historic gardens plus unusual conquina-rock beach
- Flagler Beach, an Old Florida beach town
- Magical Princess Place, for hiking, camping and historic building
- Ormond Scenic Loop Drive