Maria’s Hidden Walking Trail in South Miami
In the forums at miamibeach411.com, writer Maria de los Angeles is always quick to suggest South Miami to those seeking a slower-paced metropolitan existence. Located just south of Highway 1, it feels a world away, with its serene, beautifully-landscaped yards, stunning parks and mansions in repose. Yet after having explored Fairchild Garden, Old Cutler Road, Matheson Hammock Park and the Deering Estate, I’d thought I’d seen about all it had to offer. Not so, I recently learned! Maria introduced me to a little-traversed path in a lesser known section of Matheson Hammock Park, known as the Matheson Hammock Park Nature Trail. This brief but scenic walk takes you through various subtropical ecosystems before depositing you into a scenic neighborhood at the end— providing some much-needed wilderness in the heart of a bustling city.
From North Miami, Miami Beach, or downtown, simply catch the 95 South and follow it until it turns into the four-lane Highway 1. Then head south at LeJeune Road (Fl 953) and take it to Cocoplum Circle. Follow the circle until you see the sign for Old Cutler Road and turn there.
You’ll soon find yourself traveling under a canopy of immense banyans and oaks in one of Miami’s most upscale, scenic neighborhoods. This quiet world of bougainvillea-laced tropicana thrives just moments away from one of the city’s main arteries!
A few miles later, you’ll see signs marking the entrance to Matheson Hammock Park and Fairchild Tropical Gardens on the left. But look instead on the right, for a small, unassuming overflow parking area. You’ve arrived! There’s a pathway on the southern corner of the lot—overlooked by many who set their sights on the treasures across the street—it’s there that the journey begins.
People in most places think of hammocks as a bed of canvas or netting hung between two trees or poles. However, in Florida, the term has a different meaning. It refers to a stretch of highland abundant in trees and lush vegetation, distinct from the surrounding lowlands known for their palmettos and marshy grasses.
The hammock is the first of the ecosystems you’ll experience along this trail. The swath of trees provides some refreshing shade on a late summer afternoon as you take in the sights and sounds of the dense forest around you.
Continue along the path for about half a mile, until you come to a clearing.
Just beyond the forested walk is an open meadow. Cuban royal palms pepper this grassy area and it has the feel of a Central American plantation.
Soon, you will come to a cement walkway, which, to the left, leads into a suburban area and to the right, takes you deeper into the park. Go right. As you follow the walkway, you’ll find yourself in a very pleasant spot where many of the tropical plants you may be more accustomed to seeing in more manicured landscaping thrives in an untamed state.
Just up ahead on the left is a pond. Walk up too fast, and the iguanas will run and belly flop into the water!
Around the pond is a secondary pathway which leads you through a growth of reeds and bushes on a mound of coral rock. This soothing oasis makes a great spot to take a break before you continue on your walk.
After you’ve taken in your fill, continue along the pathway until it takes you to Schoolhouse Road, and turn to the right.
A NEIGHBORHOOD WALK
At this point, the wilderness experience becomes a secluded suburban one. As you continue along Schoolhouse Road, the roadside foliage will capture your attention. Multiple varieties of palm trees, bromeliads and flowering plants adorn the side, as you make your way to Hammock Park Drive.
Once there, make a left, and you’ll pass a series of gated homes.
Then, a turn to the right along an unnamed canopied treescape guides you unto an adjoining neighborhood street which returns you to Old Cutler Road.
Here you’ll get to experience the splendor of Old Cutler Road up close as you return to the parking lot—but be careful—the shoulder is rather narrow, and the passing cars see this as a quick route to the ritzy neighborhoods to the south, namely Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay.
WHILE YOU’RE HERE
Now that you’ve gotten your transcendental juices flowing, there’s still much more to see in the area. You’re literally across the street from the main area of Matheson Hammock Park and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens. Matheson Hammock Park on this side is a sampling of the swampy lowland ecosystem. You can follow pathways along the bay to a brackish lagoon filled with kiddies. Nearby, in a an area rich in mangroves, fishermen cast their reels into the water as boats glide by.
Nearby, Fairchild Gardens offers an Eden-like vision of tropical splendor in its 83-acre wonderland. Admission is a steep $20, but if you can plan your trip on the first Wednesday of the month, you can choose your own admission price.
This area is one of the last remnants of Old Florida this far south, and the secret pathway and surrounding parks allow you to enjoy its peaceful world without having to be a millionaire!
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