Little-known off-the-beaten path Florida state parks are one of my favorite things.
On a trip north along I-95, I stopped for a picnic and leg-stretching break at the delightful Bulow Creek State Park in Flagler Beach. It’s just a few miles from another favorite stop — Bulow Plantation Historic State Park.
If you’re in the area or are traveling on I-95, I highly recommend these parks.
Each can be perfect for a short stop. They are 10 minutes off I-95, only lightly visited and they plunge you immediately into a leafy green world of 100-year-old live oak trees draped with Spanish moss.
Each park has picnic tables and restrooms and are good starting points for hiking through woods where you may see deer, wild hogs, barred owls, raccoons and more.
But if you have the time, these parks can give you a full day of adventure, too, including hiking, kayaking, and touring the ruins of a well-interpreted historic sugar mill.
Even better, Bulow Creek State Park has no entrance fee.
The Fairchild Oak at Bulow Creek State Park
While Bulow Plantation has historic ruins, Bulow Creek State Park has something special too — one of the most magnificent trees in Florida, the Fairchild Oak. Florida State Parks says it is one of the largest live oaks in the south.
The tree is 70 feet tall and its limbs stretch out to 300 feet across. The ancient tree is estimated to be 400 to 600 years old. The botanist David Fairchild, whose name is well-known in Florida because of the botanic garden in Coral Gables, admired this tree and, in 1955, it was named after him.
The beloved tree is healthy and well cared for, although you should not climb on it. (Think of it as a fragile old person.) When workers gave it a trim in 2020, they removed 2,000 pounds of dead wood, according to the Daytona News-Journal.
If you Google Fairchild Oak, you’ll find spooky stories about how the tree is haunted because of a suicide under it centuries ago. People love that stuff, none of which seems to be verified (or probably true.) Me? I don’t need a hokey legend to love this fabulous tree!
Hiking at Bulow Creek State Park
On a quick visit, don’t miss the Wahlin Trail, which winds down into the small ravine behind the Fairchild Oak where fresh water flows out of the ground. The trail is a short, third-of-a-mile loop.
There is a terrific long hike available here too, but, of course, you can turn it into a short hike by stopping and heading back.
The Fairchild Oak Hiking Trail meanders through a coastal hammock, through a salt marsh and pine plantation. In three miles, you meet the Bulow Woods Trail. From there, you can hike to Bulow Plantation Historical State Park, for a total of 6.8 miles one way. It is considered one of the most scenic trails in northern Florida.
While that hike and the return is a lot for one day, consider leaving a car or a bike at one end.
Hiking here, you will be treading on land that has a history back to colonial times. Eleven plantations have been identified on these lands, where rice, cotton, sugar cane and indigo were raised.
Kayaking at Bulow Creek State Park
Bulow Creek State Canoe Trail can be reached at Bulow Creek State Park on Walter Boardman Lane and a few miles north at Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park.
The 13-mile-long kayak and canoe trail that flows through a grassy coastal marsh. To rent canoes, go to Bulow Plantation Historical Sate Park, where if you catch the ranger present (and there are no guarantees, we were told), you can rent canoes. There’s a boat ramp here where you can launch small powerboats as well as kayaks and canoes.
Bulow Creek State Park: One of a cluster of parks along a scenic route
Trail maps and other information may be obtained at the park office of Tomoka State Park, 4.5 miles south of Bulow Creek State Park on Old Dixie Highway.
The connection between all these parks is one of the most scenic roads in Florida: the Ormond Scenic Loop.
The Ormond Scenic Loop is a 34-mile route that takes you along roads where live oak trees form cathedral ceilings, past waterways and creeks full of native birds and along the Atlantic Ocean, with spectacular beach and dune views. There are historic sites, hiking trails, parks, beaches and unspoiled scenery the whole way, including the state parks referenced here.
Bulow Creek State Park
3351 Old Dixie Highway
Ormond Beach FL 32174
There is no admission fee to this park. Open 365 days a year.
Plan your adventure at Bulow Creek State Park and environs
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.