Great Camping in Central Florida

Lake Kissimmee State Park
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The croaking of frogs is enough to soothe the frayed nerves of most visitors, but this nearly eight-square-mile remote state park is best known for its weekend living history demonstrations of an 1876 cow camp. Just walk 50 yards from the parking lot to the 200-acre pen of scrub cows to swap stories around a campfire with a costumed ranger posing as a"cow hunter." Don't make reference to modern-day things such as Reeboks or cellular phones, though, because the cowpoke will claim to not understand you. He'll instead harken back to simpler days-when frontier cowboys herded cattle and, earlier, provided the Confederacy with much of its beef.

Campers sleep north of the cow camp along two loops near an observation tower, where visitors climb three landings to gaze onto an expanse of prairielike pasture. Each shell-rock campsite is equipped with a grill, picnic table, and fire ring handy for roasting marshmallows. Plentiful picnic tables sit at creekside or beneath the twisted branches of oaks elsewhere in the park.

Look for turkeys, bald eagles, deer, and a sea of pickerelweed stretching toward the horizon during walks along 13 miles of hiking trails. A short nature loop and two long loop trails that encompass much of the park-one north of Zipper Canal, the other south of it-are reachable from the marina-area concession stand north of the cow camp. Notice the park's varied landscape: wide-open wet prairies, sun-dappled pine flatlands, and shady hammocks with orchids and mosses. Bring mosquito repellent for a more pleasant walk.

A launch ramp leads boaters a short distance east to the park's namesake, Lake Kissimmee, where anglers try for specks, bass, and shellcrackers in Florida's third largest lake. Canoeists who bring their own craft can paddle five to seven miles along a pretty loop starting at Zipper Canal and heading west (counterclockwise) to Lake Rosalie, Rosalie Creek, Tiger Lake, Tiger Creek, and the eastern corner of 47-square-mile Lake Kissimmee, before returning to the boat ramp. The placid waters you'll see here eventually will flow south down the Kissimmee River to the Everglades and Florida Bay at the state's southern tip, some 200 miles distant. But campers may be more concerned with Florida's other tourist attractions: Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World are a little over an hour's drive north.

How To Get There

From U.S. 27 at Lake Wales, travel about nine miles east on State Road 60. Turn left at Boy Scout Road. In three miles, turn right at Camp Mack Road. The park is five miles ahead.

Campsites, facilities: All 60 sites are for RVs and tents, but only 30 offer water and electricity; the rest have no hookups. Each site has a picnic table, grill, and fire ring. A playground, nature trails, showers, rest rooms, and a dump station are provided. Management says showers and rest rooms are wheelchair-accessible. Laundry facilities, a restaurant, snacks, and bait are available within five miles, and groceries are 15 miles away. Children are welcome. Pets are prohibited.

Reservations, fees: Reservations are recommended up to 60 days in advance for half the sites; the rest are first come, first served. There is a nightly charge for campsites. Major credit cards are accepted. The maximum stay is two weeks.

Contact: Lake Kissimmee State Park, 14248 Camp Mack Road, Lake Wales, FL 33853; (941) 696-1112.


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