Highlands Hammock State Park

One of the original examples of “Real Florida” still shines

By E. Adam Porter

 

Highlands Hammock State Park, just west of Sebring in Central Florida, is one of the Sunshine State’s original state parks and a shining example of what grass roots public support for environmental preservation, with government support, can accomplish.

Because it has been protected from development and sparingly cultivated over the past eight decades, Highlands Hammock State Park is one of the most pristine wilderness parks in the state and an ideal place to get away from it all and indulge in the quiet splendor of unspoiled nature. The towering pine, palm, and cypress trees shade the boardwalk nature trails, sprawling campground and miles of multi-use trails waiting to be explored. The woods, scrubland, and swamp marshes provide homes for countless wild residents including white-tail deer, wild pigs, raccoons, alligators, hawks, owls, snakes, and gopher tortoises.

Visitors here also discover over 80 years of history. In 1930, a group of local citizens decided to develop a park. With the financial support of the wealthy Roebling family, the group bought some property and began clearing trails and building facilities. Highlands Hammock was opened one year later, four years before the state park system even existed. Subsequently, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed additional facilities adjacent to the park grounds. In 1935, when the Florida State Park system debuted, Highlands Hammock was among the inaugural class. In 1941, when the CCC camp closed in anticipation of the U.S. entering WWII, the community park and the CCC’s project merged. Today visitors flock to Highlands Hammock to:

Listen to live music or picnic near the tree-lined amphitheater.

Visit the CCC Museum to learn about the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-Era government program that employed out of work young men to, among other things, build over 800 parks.

Cruise the Loop Drive through the hammock or tackle the off-road biking trail. Rent bikes at the shop across from the museum.

Hike the boardwalks and catwalks through the cypress swamp.

And that’s just getting started…

Seeing & Doing @ Highlands Hammock

Highlands Hammock offers nine different hiking trails. Most are around a half mile, and each one offers a unique and captivating experience. Three of these are boardwalk or catwalk trails over and through idyllic cypress or hardwood swamps. When you hear someone say “Real Florida,” this is what they mean. And you get to experience it without getting muck on your boots. Here are a few highlights…

Alexander Blair Big Oak Trail (975 feet) is the shortest trail, but it boasts one of the largest trees in the park. This massive oak is nearly 1,000 years old and measures 36 feet around the base.

Balance across or on top of a log, and you might feel super awesome. Just be careful. I have it on good authority that falling hurts.

Richard Lieber Memorial Trail (1,791 feet) this boardwalk trail winds through a hardwood swamp. Gorgeous views, animal encounters, and photo ops that begin with the giant 1,000-year-old Live Oak at the trailhead. This tree is, reportedly, the oldest living thing in the park.

Wild orange trees can be found along just about every trail in the park. While we don’t recommend climbing the trees (again, falling hurts), if you do happen to find some oranges, they’re great for juggling and even tastier for energy on your walk.

Cypress Swamp Trail (2355 feet) is a catwalk trail over and around Charlie Bowlegs Creek and through a lush cypress swamp. Keep a lookout for alligators, snakes, and other native wildlife. The catwalk dates back to 1933. The Civilian Conservation Corps that built Highlands Hammock State Park improved it, and the park system has kept it up ever since. Be careful, there’s some shimmy and shake in these boards, and that gator over there isn’t as lazy as he looks.

Find your favorite spot in the park and take a moment to quietly muse on the beauty of nature or to pose for a fun family photo.

Wildlife is prolific at Highlands Hammock. This hawk was hanging out at the playground area, watching the people… and the squirrels. We also saw wild pigs, snakes, and alligators. One of the pigs challenged our car to a showdown on the Loop. Be careful, drive slow, and look out for local residents, as well as kids on bikes, which sometimes shoot out of the off-road trails across the pavement without looking.

Know Before You Go

$6 entry fee per vehicle

Hours: 8 a.m. until sunset, 365 days a year

Each winter Highlands Hammock hosts monthly live music concerts. Proceeds go toward park improvements. Bring camp chairs and flashlights – and maybe a few neon glow bands for the kids.

The park offers ranger-guided tram tours of the hammock for a fee. To reserve a private or group tour call the ranger station at 863.386.6094. $10 per adult, $5 children (ages 6-12), children 5 and under are free.

Highlands Hammock State Park is located at 5931 Hammock Road Sebring, FL, 33872. The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. For more information call 863.386.6094.

A Curious Side Trip

Near the park, in Sebring, the Lost Mines of Atlantis and Greenman Curio looks like something out of time, a throwback to the days of funky Florida roadside attractions. It’s all of that and more. Well worth the visit, even if you are footsore from hiking. The owner claims his is the “largest mining flume in Florida.” Who knows? Who cares? It’s buckets of fun! Literally. Prospect for 130 different gemstones, crystals, and fossils. Then browse the eclectic and eccentric offerings inside Greenman. Handmade crafts, stones, furniture, décor items, fantasy gear, pirate curio, and all manner of mysterious stuff await. (lostminesofatlantis.net)

Camping @ Highlands Hammock

There are over 130 spacious campsites inside Highlands Hammock State Park. Certain sites are designated equestrian or tent only, but most are multi-use. Gather around the campfire circle on Saturday evenings for scheduled ranger programs or just to chat with other visitors. In the early morning, herds of whitetail deer can often be found dozing in a field just inside the campground entrance.

The campground is located inside Highlands Hammock State Park at 5931 Hammock Road Sebring, FL, 33872. GPS: 27.460149, -81.554089. For reservations book online through the park website or call 800.326.3521.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Explore the wonder of the American West while you test drive the RV lifestyle!

LEARN MORE!

A Higher Call

A Higher Call

“A Higher Call” by Adam Makos is an honest, intense, and expertly crafted book. It is, without reservation, one of the best historical books I have ever read. An exceptionally detailed, exquisitely rich picture of life both during and after World War 2. It...

7,670 and counting

7,670 and counting

I was at the grocery buying an anniversary card, because that’s what you do when the Hallmark next door has vanished without a trace. The cashier snuck a peak at the card and her eyes went wide. “Happy Anniversary! How many years.”“Twenty-one.”“Wow. Uh … I...

Writer & Editor: The Perfect Team

Writer & Editor: The Perfect Team

I work with some terrific editors who understand the subtle difference between directing a writer and correcting their work. Both are important; and both are vital to a successful story. But the secret to that success lies in understanding when and where...

Spell Check Two-Step

Spell Check Two-Step

In their preschool years, of my boys’ favorite shows was a PBS educational cartoon called Super Why. The four main characters in the show, the “Super Readers,” are storybook characters with reading-based super-hero alter egos. One of the characters in the...

Research as a Creative Writing Prompt

Research as a Creative Writing Prompt

Research allows you to learn things you did not previously know. Duh. It also introduces you to new worlds, strange ecosystems and unfamiliar social networks. This new information has the potential to blast through your writer’s block like dynamite… if...

Vero Beach

Vero Beach

Vero Beach And Other Hidden Gems on the Treasure Coast   When vacationers, even many Florida natives, think about hitting the beach on the Atlantic coast, they head to Daytona, Cocoa, Lauderdale or Amelia Island. Florida’s Treasure Coast is treated as...

Captiva, FL – Pirates, Parrots & Mucky Ducks

Captiva, FL – Pirates, Parrots & Mucky Ducks

Situated off the southwest coast of peninsular Florida just north of Sanibel Island, Captiva takes its name from a local legend. According to the tales, infamous swashbuckler, Jose Gaspar, imprisoned women he was holding for ransom somewhere on this little...

Banish Writer’s Block For Good

Banish Writer’s Block For Good

Many, if not most prospective writers are born storytellers. Sergeant Friday would hate us because we rarely, if ever, stick to “just the facts, ma’am.” We love to recite even the simplest activity in narrative form. Whether it be a relatively mundane...

Avoid This Communication Trap

Avoid This Communication Trap

With his trademark understated cultural satire, Bill Watterson strikes a chord for all of us who are sick to death of — or at least hopelessly confused by — empty jargon, meaningless, business-speak and other words that take up space but communicate...