Last updated on May 4th, 2022 at 06:03 pm
In a region with many outstanding state parks and miles of preserved wild land, Princess Place Preserve in Palm Coast is easy to overlook.
But this 1,500 acre preserve midway between St. Augustine and Flagler Beach is a terrific off-the-beaten path discovery.
Why seek out Princess Place? Here are six good reasons:
- It offers miles of good hiking trails under ancient 80-foot-tall live oaks.
- There really WAS a princess who lived here, and not only is her story fascinating, but you can tour her unusual 1888 historic lodge.
- It’s a great place to launch a kayak and explore salt-water marshes where you might see dolphins and lots of bird life.
- The dozen tent campsites are gorgeous — spaced far apart in beautiful woods, some with waterfront views.
- Three new cabins have been built in recent years and can be rented for reasonable rates for such a good waterfront location.
- To our surprise, it is home to the first in-ground swimming pool in Florida, fed by spring water.
I had never heard of this county park before my first visit a few years ago, but I love a place with a story, and this one has quite the tale.
I am glad I found it, and I think you will be too.
The story of Princess Place: Colorful, not always happy
Princess Place is the oldest homestead in Flagler County. It was founded by a wealthy 24-year-old from New England, Henry Cutting. In 1888, he built a grand hunting lodge in the Adirondack Camp Style. You might think that northern design would look out of place in Florida, but the rustic hunting lodge uses local materials, including the area’s wonderful coquina rock. (Coquina is also used in St. Augustine’s fort.)
I loved the lodge, especially the way all the supporting columns are made of unfinished tree trunks and the interior is finished with cypress wood.
Here, too, is a historic Florida first: Princess Place has the first in-ground swimming pool. This one is fed by an artesian spring (and is not in use today.)
The unfurnished lodge is open for tours on a limited basis: 2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday only.
The porch of the lodge overlooks the saltwater marsh and gets a steady breeze from the ocean a mile away. (You can see the rooftop of Marineland on A1A from here — the only development that meets the eye.) A row of rocking chairs sits on the porch, begging you to relax in this peaceful place.
Don’t be in a hurry: Sit down; rock, and relax.
But what about the princess? The same year the lodge was built, Henry Cutting married Angela Mills, 19. They entertained prominent people from St. Augustine and had two children. Four years later, however, Henry died on a boat near St. Augustine.
His widow married two more times. Both of these husbands died, as did both her sons.
It was the third husband, who she married in 1923 at age 54, that made her a princess. He was Russian Prince Boris Scherbatoff, exiled after the Bolshevik revolution. From then on, the site was known as the Princess Estate or the Princess Place.
The “royal couple” lived and entertained here for two and a half decades. The prince died in 1949. The princess sold the place in 1954 and died in St. Augustine two years later at 87.
Fortunately, the two subsequent owners of Princess Place preserved the lodge and the property. Flagler County bought it in 1993.
Hiking at Princess Place Preserve
There are miles of trails here, many for hikers; some shared by equestrians.
I recommend you study the trail map below (or download here) first to figure out the most appealing trails. This map is available on site as a brochure or sign.
Some of the trails take you under a canopy of live oaks. Others run along the banks of picturesque Pellicer Creek or through the saltwater marsh. One has good views of the bay and estuaries; another goes to a spring-fed pond and bird rookery. The equestrian trails can also be hiked. The .7 mile Oak Trail (formerly the Blue Trail) is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.
One of the longer and more scenic trails starts on the road into Princess Place. (Watch on the right for a small, wooded parking area, which is the trail head for the Hominy Branch, a 2.5 mile loop.)
The scenery is all lovely, and you might spot a great variety of birds or wildlife including opossum, raccoon, armadillo, deer, fox and wild boar. While we hiked the Legacy Trail, we looked over the salt marsh and watched dolphins hunting for fish with brown pelicans hovering overhead hoping to grab a fish the dolphins scared up.
Camping at Princess Place Preserve
There are a dozen tents-only primitive campsites, including equestrian campsite and a group campsite. The fee for non-county residents is $25 for family sites. Reservations are made using the Princess Place Preserve website.
While we did not camp at Princess Place, we hiked past several campsites and were immediately jealous of the campers: What beautiful spacious sites! All are primitive campsites, with port-a-potties positioned near one campground loop and a restroom/bathhouse located near the other camping area. Several have waterfront locations with extensive space around the campsite and big oak trees shading the area.
Waterfront cabins at Princess Place
In the last two years, the park also added three cabins — beautiful waterfront locations with climate-controlled two-bedroom lodges that offer queen-sized beds, full kitchens, two bathrooms, a furnished screened-in porch and an outdoor fire pit.
Rents are $125 per night Monday through Thursday, $150 per night Friday through Sunday, with a two-day minimum that extends to three days during holiday weeks or special events. Make reservations here.
Princess Place: Good spot for kayaks
The park has a kayak launch area and the rivers and marshes are perfect for exploring by kayak. Local kayak outfitters, such as Tropical Kayaks, run eco-tours or rent boats in Palm Coast and promote Princess Place as a kayak destination.
Planning your visit to Princess Place
Princess Place is in a location off-the-beaten bath, west of the barrier island, easier to reach from I-95 and U.S. 1 than from A1A. However you approach it, you have to be on North Old Kings Road to find the turn-off.
Princess Place Preserve
2500 Princess Place Road
Palm Coast, FL 32137
From I-95, take exit 298 and take U.S. 1 south. From U.S. 1 take the first left onto Old Kings Road. Then turn left at the park sign into Princess Place Road.
Website: Princess Place Preserve, a Flagler County park.
• Admission is free.
• Lodge tours at 2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
• Tropical Kayaks, kayak outfittters with outings to Princess Place
Near Princess Place Preserve
These spots are within a half hour:
- St. Augustine is 20 miles away, and its top spot to visit is Castillo de San Marcos, the fort. Other interesting things to do in St. Augustine include the St. Augustine Alligator Farm with a great bird rookery in spring/summer and the St. Augustine Pirate Museum.
- Nearby is 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
- Faver-Dykes State Park for paddling and camping
- Fort Mose Historic State Park: The site of the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in United States. Fort Mose State Park is three miles south of St. Augustine off US-1.
A note from the editor:
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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.