The Deseret Road Walk on the Florida Trail
The Florida Trail is known for its many road walks. This is one of the larger ones, comprised of five roads to get around the Deseret Cattle and Citrus Company ranches.
Road walking is a reality of most long trails, whether it’s an old road bed from logging or mining operations abandoned decades ago, or an active four-lane highway. The Florida Trail has a mix of both and everything in between.
But this is the longest road walk so far for the northbounder. It totals 30.4 mi over five different roads of varying traffic.
There is a campsite just one mile from the beginning of the road walk. It is the Jane Green Camp. It has a hand pump and many wide open areas amongst pines. It makes a very good location for camping the night before starting the long road walk.
US 192 2.4 Miles
This is a four-lane high-speed highway between St Cloud and Melbourne. Luckily, you only spend 2.4 mi walking along it.
The shoulder varies from narrow and sloped to wide and level. The grass was recently mowed when I walked through so it was not too bad of a hike. It was early morning so my shoes did get pretty wet from the dew on the grass.
For some reason, I had in my head that this road walk was much longer. I almost missed the turn onto the next road because I was not expecting it to come so quickly. Luckily I glanced up at the road sign shortly after I passed it. 20 yards in the wrong direction is not too bad.
There are no opportunities for stealth camping on this road. And because of the traffic all night long I’m not sure you would even want to with the Jane green campground so close.
Deer Park Road 13.7 Miles
This road is a two-lane road with far less traffic than a US highway. It is a mix of cars and semi trucks with various cargo. A vehicle of some sort is usually coming by within 5 minutes along the entire stretch of the road.
The road goes almost perfectly straight north through the many units of the Deseret Ranch. The road starts out as mostly cattle land, then introduces some citrus groves, then finishes out staring down miles of electrical high-tension lines.
There are not really any stealth camping opportunities on this road since all of the ranch units border the right of way of the road itself. But there is one spot in the middle of the road near a water control structure where there is a small patch of woods between the right of way and the ranch fence. In a pinch, you could probably make this spot work.
Shade trees seemed more prevalent on the southern half than the northern half. There is also a bench and a small water cache on the southern half. I stumbled upon it when I was ready for a break so its timing was perfect for me. I was not expecting to be able to sit on a bench and eat my snacks under the shade of a large oak tree.
By the time I got three-quarters through this road it was starting to get hot and I was very thirsty. I was carrying plenty of water because all of the water sources along this road are contaminated with agricultural runoff. The next road has the first viable water source.
Nova Road 7.2 Miles
This is a two-lane backcountry road with a significant amount of traffic. The traffic is mainly vehicles but there are some semis that travel this road.
The best part about this road is that it has ample shade trees accessible by the shoulder. It also has viable water sources from Taylor Creek and introduces potential stealth camping spots.
And by stealth camping, I mean a tree that is only 30 yards from the road that you could probably sneak behind. You would be better off cowboy camping than trying to pitch a tent because you could never hide from both directions of traffic.
You would also need to plan to not stop until after dark and be sure you are moving again before first light. I doubt you would be able to have 30 minutes without vehicles going by, so don’t expect to get much sleep.
State Road 520 6.4 Miles
This is another high-speed four-lane highway that runs between Orlando and Cocoa. It has plenty of traffic on it all night long. The shoulder is very wide and the grass was freshly mowed when I walked along it.
The jewel of 520 is the Citrus man. Friday through Sunday there is a pop-up Citrus stand just east of the intersection between Nova Road and 520. If he is there, you must stop. He is one of the kindest souls you will ever meet.
Stealth camping options begin to open up on this road. Near the middle on the south side of the highway, there is a small strip of woods that is on the right-of-way side of the private property. The woods are thick enough and the gap to the fence is wide enough that you could actually pitch a tent here. You could also do it in daylight.
Yates Road 1.2 Miles
This is a small two-lane country Road that is more like an access road for State Road 528 to Cape Canaveral and Orlando. There are many residences along this road but there are probably places that you can sneak into that aren’t posted.
But since you are so close to the Tosohatchee Preserve, and also so close to State Road 528, it doesn’t make sense to try and stealth camp on this road. You are almost there, just keep going into The Preserve.
Why is 30.4 Miles So Hard?
If you can do the mileage, then it isn’t hard. But remember, in the winter months when hiking the Florida Trail is best, the days are very short. Including twilight, there are less than 12 hours available.
There are also zero services available. I consider Taylor Creek the only viable water source. It comes about 18 miles into the hike so it is a very good location to find quality water.
What goes in, must eventually come out. If you need to go to the bathroom you may not be able to for several hours. But keep in mind the best places to sneak a bathroom break are also the places where people are stealth camping. So just let that sink in for a while.
Cell service was good throughout the entire road walk. So emergency help is never very far away. But the cities are far away so don’t expect to be able to grab an Uber in the middle of nowhere.
But there is one decent hitchhiking opportunity to break up the road walk. And that is on State Road 520. The town of Cocoa is within 10 miles to the east. And there are many hotels on the west end of town where you would be approaching from.
I don’t know how hard that hitch would be. I have not had good luck in Florida in the past. Being quite close to Cocoa you could potentially grab an Uber into Cocoa. The fruit stand is on Google maps, so at least it makes a credible destination for an Uber pickup. Or there is ample shoulder space at the corner of Nova and 520 for a pickup.
Pick one Emotion
I think most people treat this section with fear.
I know I was fearing it when I was still several days away. But as I got closer and realized I could reach Jane Green Camp by mid-afternoon to be able to have some rest time, the fear went away.
As I began the road walk it was mostly with enthusiasm. I didn’t know if I could make the entire road walk in one day or not. But I wasn’t bothered by that.
I didn’t know if I would find a place I would be comfortable with stealth camping so close to a highway. That was my major fear.
I knew I could reach 520 before dark. So as long as I could get half of it done in daylight I would have felt comfortable hiking the second half of it in the dark. I was not worried about Yates Road at all.
Next time, I think I would start an hour earlier and just plan to blast through the whole thing. For me, that would mean drinking far more instant coffee than I normally like to drink in a day, though. And I would definitely be looking to take a zero shortly thereafter.
But not everyone is comfortable or capable of such a long day with no services. And I respect that. 30 mi days on the roads are not fun.
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