LOCATION: 3266 N. Sailboat Avenue Crystal River, FL 34428 Park: 352-563-0450 LENGTH: 18 miles of trails TYPE: In and Out/Loops RANKING: Easy to moderate ACCESS: Sunrise - Sunset Visitor Center: 9 am - 5 pm USAGE: Moderate FEES: None MAPS: At Visitor Center SURFACE: Compact soil, sandy and grass FEATURES: Fishing, restrooms, kayak landing COMMENTS: Great family park and several hikes. Some hikes are not inside the park PET FRIENDLY: Yes
Crystal River Preserve State Park covers more than 27,000 acres and includes parcels from Powerline Road to the Homosassa River. It is home to St. Martins Marsh, one of Florida's original aquatic preserves.
In 1983 Florida began to purchase upland areas to protect ecological and economic qualities of these submerged lands. The uplands provide a water quality buffer zone and offers a habitat for a multitude of species dependent upon the wetlands. Several of the larger parcels added to the park over the years were acquired from families that homesteaded in Citrus county. One tract was part of the turpentine industry in the early 1900s.
The springs feeding into the Gulf of Mexico create a zero-energy coastline of salt marches instead of sandy beaches. This is a beautiful birthplace and habitat for wildlife and flora. Visitors in the park can see deer, turkey, quail, fox, tortoises, eagles, tanager, bluebirds, hawks, woodpeckers, herons, egret, cormorants, gulls, pelicans and the Monarch butterfly. The flora is abundant with wildflowers, longleaf pines, live oaks, maples, bays, magnolias, sweet gums, needle rush, cordgrass, sabal palms, red cedar and mangroves.
There are several hikes/bike rides throughout the park and a few outside of the park. On our first visit in January 2015 we chose to hike the Crystal Cove Birding Trail. We drove north from the visitor center to a small parking area on the side of Sailboat Avenue. This is a 1.7 mile In and Out trail winding through coastal hammock. We were able to see a freshwater pond and the Crystal River tidal marshes. This trail is an easy walk and hiking shoes are not needed.
Our second trip to the park was to bike the Seven Mile Loop Trail. To reach the trail head, travel State Park Street and instead of turning left onto Sailboat Avenue to the Visitor Center, continue straight on the dirt road to the deadend. This is the trail head for the Eagle Scout Trail and the Seven Mile Loop Trail.
The Seven Mile Loop Trail is an easy hike or bike ride. It is well marked and the trail is a wide hard packed dirt road. Some spots are boggy and there are a few wet areas that are difficult to ride through. I still consider this a beginners bike trail but wear sturdy footwear. The road in is about a mile and takes you to the loop. We biked clockwise to view the canal and tidal marsh first. The last part of the loop is mostly woods and pasture. We were amazed at the different habitats on this ride. We saw swamps, hammocks, pine flat woods and coastal marsh.
We had the entire trail to ourselves and the weather in January is perfect for a long bike ride. It took us one hour and 45 minutes with several stops to take pictures. There were no bugs this time of year and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
The Eagle Scout Trail is at the same trail head as the Seven Mile Loop Trail. It's very narrow and not very well marked.
The Ecowalk trail is at the corner of Curtis Tool Road and Tallahassee Road. Turn left onto State Park Street from US 19 and then turn right onto Tallahassee Road. Drive about 2 miles to Curtis Tool Road and you will see the entrance and parking area on your left. We did not hike this trail but we understand it is a Great Florida Birding Trail.
The Dixie Shores Trail is also a Great Florida Birding Trail site. Parking is on the outbound side of the road and the trail is on Dixie Shores Blvd of of SR 44W.
DIRECTIONS : The Visitor Center and Main Office: Take US Hwy 19 one block north of the Crystal River Mall. Turn west on State Park Street at the Days Inn. State Park Street ends and curves to the left onto North Sailboat. Continue to the end of North Sailboat.