Florida Birding

A Real Florida Nature Hike at Alligator Creek Preserve in Punta Gorda at Charlotte Harbor

John and I started our hike at the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center located at 10941 Burnt Store Road, in Punta Gorda (Charlotte County), Florida. This is where the Gulf’s saltwater meets with the freshwater creeks along the edge of Charlotte Harbor.

Our hike took us through habitats of pine Flatwoods, mangrove domes, and marsh areas where birds, alligators, gopher tortoises, and otters thrive. There is also a population of wild hogs within the preserve, and one should always be on the lookout while hiking the trails.

I have to stop and warn you that John and I were not on our best form on this hike, so any negativity about the trails that I may express, please take with a grain of salt. We were breaking in brand new hiking boots, the day was cold and damp, we are not yet used to hiking muddy trails, and we managed to get turned around on the trail even with clear markings and a good map. Clearly not our best hike.

The landscape that surrounded us on this hike was magnificent and filled with wildlife at every turn. The changing habitats and landscapes of the trail each had their own unique beauty, and with the many kiosks located along the path, John and I learned quite a bit about the wildlife and native plants located within the preserve.

Our problem on this hike was the mud, and there was lots of it and in many spots along the trail. Hiking through mud can be exhausting because you are really working out all your muscles while trying to keep your balance in the slippery goop. John and I are working on building up our fitness level, and we still have a ways to go before we can consider ourselves in good shape; with all the mud, we started getting tired after only 2 miles.

This was a January hike, which is typically a dry month in Florida, so I can only imagine the trails’ condition during the rainy season. Wet trails combined with the fact that long parts of the trail are in full sun, I would definitely not recommend this for a summer hike.

How John and I got turned around on the trail is beyond me. The trails are very well marked, in fact, better marked than most of the trails we have hiked. We even had a good map that we picked up from a kiosk at the education center. I think we just got tired because of the mud and didn’t pay close enough attention to the markings.

Of course, we found our way back, we were never in doubt of that, but what bummed me out was that the one thing I really wanted to see at Alligator Creek Preserve, in fact, the whole reason we chose this adventure, we completely missed out seeing, and that was the active eagle’s nest.

Our total hike for the day was 3.6 miles, and after finding our way back to the car, we were just too exhausted to set back out to look for the eagle’s nest. Note: Had we started our hike on the Chet Lewis Trail to the left of the entrance road (before the parking area), I think we would have easily found the Eagle’s Nest Overlook. We didn’t even see the entrance to that trail until we were in the car headed out of the preserve. Well, I always say leave a reason to come back.

Alligator Creek Preserve offers 4 miles of trails within the preserve, with a connecting trail to the adjacent 30,000 + acres Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park. John and I decided that we will plan an adventure to Charlotte Harbor Preserve, and when we do, we will revisit Alligator Creek, and we will see that Eagles Nest!! Come heck or high mud!!

Dogs are allowed on the trail as long as they are leashed. This is a hiking trail only; no bicycles are allowed. Restroom facilities are provided near the parking area. The trail is open 7 days a week, however, the education center is closed on weekends. If the gate is shut or locked during daylight hours, you are asked to park in the area to the right of the entrance road. Do not block the gate. Use the walk-through that is also to the right of the road. On some holidays, the gate may be closed, but it is public land and is open to you 365 days a year, during daylight hours.

Because of Covid 19, John and I did not enter the education buildings on the property. Truthfully, I am not even sure if they were open or not. Once the Covid Crisis is over, I highly recommend that visitors to any Florida Preserve or Wildlife Center, stop in at the education centers provided. Usually, the education centers are a wealth of information, will set the scene for your hike and give you ideas on what to look out for.

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Since we started hiking, John and I have learned so much about Florida’s native plants and animals. I am a native Floridian, and John has been here so long that you might as well call him a native, and we never knew how much we didn’t know about Florida until we started hiking.

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