At the confluence of Pellicer Creek and the Matanzas River, Princess Place Preserve is a Flagler County park protecting the oldest homestead in the county, Cherokee Grove. In 1791, this land grant from the King of Spain was quickly planted in orange groves.
By 1886, it passed into the hands of Henry Cutting, who constructed an Adirondack-style hunting lodge on the shores of the Matanzas River using local materials—pink coquina, cedar trunks, and cabbage palm trunks. He also built Florida’s first in-ground pool, fed by an artesian spring. Cherokee Grove became a popular stop for New England socialites. After Henry died, his widow Angela married an exiled Russian prince. Together, they lived in Cherokee Grove, entertaining royalty in a royal setting, leading to the name Princess Place. The homestead became a park in 1993.
Location: Cherokee Grove
Length: Up to 5.2 miles in 4 trails
Lat-Long: 29.654000, -81.241431
Type: Loop and round-trip
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
In addition to a tour of the classic home and grounds, Princess Place Preserve has many miles of equestrian trails leading into adjacent Pellicer Creek Conservation Area, and kayaking opportunities throughout the marshes. The campground is one of the most beautiful on the coast, with some sites featuring their own docks, and only costs $10 a night. The park is open 7 AM to 6 PM daily. Contact them at 386- 313-4020 for camping reservations.
Princess Place Preserve is south of St. Augustine and north of Palm Coast. From exit 298 on I-95 at US 1, head south 1.7 miles to Old Kings Road, on your left just after you cross Pellicer Creek. Turn left. Drive slowly along the dirt road, which briefly exhibits some pavement as you cross a bridge over I-95. You pass the Pellicer Creek Conservation Area sign. After 1.5 miles, turn left at the sign for Princess Place Preserve. Drive 1.3 miles on Princess Place Road to the park gate. Continue another 0.3 mile to the Red/Orange Trail parking area on the left to start your first hike.
There are four hiking loops at the park, all gentle and relatively easy to follow. The Red/Orange Trail provides your choice of a long (2.2 miles) or short loop; the Blue Trail runs 1.1 miles along the estuarine fringe; and the Green Trail has a 0.8-mile loop around an artesian spring. A fourth, the Yellow Trail, was not open at the time of my visit but is now. All trails are shared with horse and bikes, so keep alert while hiking.
As you enter the park, the Red/Orange Trail is the first you’ll encounter, on the left past the equestrian trails. Look for the kiosk, which shows the map of the trail. The Red Trail is a 2.2-mile loop that begins after the gap in the fence (the white diamonds mark an equestrian trail, signposted with arrows. Starting as a broad grassy strip, it whisks you past open meadows, hardwood hammocks, and a freshwater marsh.
After 0.7 mile, you reach the junction with the Orange Trail, which is the shorter of the two trails. To stay on the more interesting Red Trail, turn right at the bench. As you turn the corner, you immediately see Pellicer Creek, part of an extensive protected aquatic preserve, an important spawning ground for saltwater species such as mullet and blue crab. Across the channel is Faver-Dykes State Park. The trail curves to the left to parallel Pellicer Creek, providing open views across the broad expanse of marsh, and reaches an observation deck over the marsh at 0.9 mile.
After 1 mile, the trail makes a sharp left and heads down a cleared space through an oak scrub; white posts confirm your route. Passing a bench, it curves left into sandhill and you can see a freshwater marsh, unusually close to the saltwater one. It, too, has an observation deck, at 1.5 miles, and is a great spot for birding. The trail then meets the Orange Trail (which missed those two observation decks!) and together they curve around the marsh. Passing through a break in a fence, you continue by an old corral. Make the first left and walk through the group campsite. Follow the jeep track back to the kiosk.
The kiosk for the 1.1-mile Blue Trail is around the loop where you can visit Cherokee Lodge and its in-ground pool. Built in 1887, this lodge is the only period example of Adirondack Camp Style architecture in Florida, and well worth a visit, especially to relax on the rocking chairs overlooking the Matanzas River. The Blue Trail meanders through a hardwood hammock to provide another another perspective on Pellicer Creek. Follow the jeep road through what was once the plantation’s citrus grove, now grown up in tall oaks.
At 0.6 mile, you see Pellicer Creek. The trail turns left to follow the creek upstream to an observation deck along the salt marsh. Here, Stiles Creek and Pellicer Creek meet in a brackish estuary, where tides push the salt water in through thickets of black needlerush and smooth cordgrass. You can see across to the picnic area where the Yellow Trail starts. Walk back to the tree line and turn right to follow the trail. When you emerge through a fence line, turn left. Follow the white poles across the park road to the back side of the environmental center, ending at the parking area.
The parking area for the 0.8-mile Green Trail is by the canoe put-in, but it can also be accessed from the campground. Numerous interpretive markers provide plant identifications, including the uncommon evergreen wild olive. Follow the white posts (most missing their green arrows) to the T intersection at a pond after 0.3 mile. Turn right to follow the sound of trickling water to its source, a sulfuric artesian well piped up into the air. To the right, a trail leads to the campground. Continue straight, following the main trail as it curves around the pond past another bench. When you complete the loop, turn right between the two white posts, and walk back down into the hardwood hammock. Keep alert for some white posts off to the left that lead you on a small circuit past interpretive markers along a marsh and in front of a large slash pine. Returning to the main trail, turn left. When you see the bridge ahead of you, turn left to walk back to the parking area.
At the time of my visit (with measuring wheel and GPS) for 50 Hikes in North Florida, the Yellow Trail, which winds through a pine forest, was not open because of a prescribed burn. Now, years later, you can explore the pine woods along this 0.9 mile loop. Slash pine dominates the canopy, and wildflowers burst forth in fall. Since the forest borders an estuary, expect soggy feet after a rainfall—these are wet coastal flatwoods. According to the park website, there are fishing docks along the loop.
start @ parking area
white pole with arrows 0.1
bench w/interpretive marker 0.5
jct red and orange, right 0.7
observation deck 0.9
left at fenceline and bench 1.0
bench on right 1.4
observation deck / jct orange 1.5
bench on right 1.6
fenced area, left 1.9
open area 2.1
end @ parking area 2.2
start @ kiosk
view of Pellicer Creek 0.2
left to follow creek 0.3
observation deck 0.3
trail thru fence, go left 0.4
emerge fence line 0.6
cross road 0.6
environmental center 0.7
end @ kiosk 0.8
start @ kiosk 0.0
T at pond, right 0.3
trail leads to campground to rt 0.3
complete loop 0.5
white posts on left, sm loop 0.6
end @ kiosk 0.8