Rice Creek Conservation Area is an old rice and indigo plantation with at least 5 miles worth of trails. It connects with the Florida Trail, so really you could keep going as long as you wanted to, but we did the 5 mile loop and I can easily say this is one of my favorite trails we’ve done so far. It reminded me a lot of the Black Bear Wilderness Area, with all the boardwalks and bridges, except this was far less heavily trafficked and I think because of it we ended up seeing a lot more wildlife.
We were warned ahead of time that spiders frequently build webs in the trails (something we were already way over) and that it’s a good idea to bring a stick along to clear them out as you walk, so we kind of figured we’d pick up a stick somewhere along the way if it started getting bad. When we actually got there though, there was a big like 5-foot stick leaning up against the fence in the parking lot, and then two more underneath the sign at the start of the trail. We took the hint and picked one up to take along.
The first part of the trail takes you through a wide open field of rice and then unceremoniously dumps you in the middle of the woods, a narrow little trail that was sometimes blocked off by fallen trees. Because the trail is part of the Florida Trail, there were a couple mailboxes along the way with journals inside where travelers can log their adventure thus far.
One of the highlights of the trail was definitely crossing over a bridge and noticing a literal swarm of baby alligators (which you can see in one of the pictures above…it’s a little blurry due to the fact that we were not interested in sticking around to meet mama gator). We also saw a huge salamander, a couple snakes, and something that was splashing at us from the creek…not sure what it was.
Along the way you have the opportunity to stop off and visit a huge cypress tree, the 8th largest in Florida. The boardwalk doesn’t allow you to get too close to it, but even from a distance it stands out and makes you feel kind of small.
Towards the end of the trail was a campsite with a 2-story shelter affectionately named “Rice Creek Hilton”. The campsite was nice and shady, so we stopped there for a break and a snack for a good 10 minutes before finishing the rest of the trail.
If you’re in the Palatka area, this trail is great (if a little short) adventure. Reading the reviews ahead of time and knowing that this trail wasn’t particularly well maintained, I was sure that I’d be well over it after 5 miles, but I definitely wasn’t.