Weekend Backpacker: Miami
Sitting along the far southern shore of one of the state's largest lakes, Lake Kissimmee State Park offers an unusual degree of diversity in its plant and bird communities. Sawgrass savannas edge the lakes, and hammocks rise out of a wiregrass prairie once used to graze herds of cattle for the Confederacy. Delicate butterfly orchids drip off ages-old live oaks that are gnarled and bent, decorated with a green coating of resurrection fern; bromeliads cling to turkey oaks. Birding is big here, with more than 200 species passing through the park. Keen-eyed birders have caught the Florida scrub jay, whooping cranes, bald eagles, and sandhill cranes. It's not uncommon to come across a gray fox or to flush a few wild turkey out of the underbrush. White-tailed deer graze in the meadows. Along the canals, alligators and red-eared sliders sun themselves in the grass. To enjoy an overnight backpacking trip, aim for one of the two primitive campsites along the Buster Island Loop Trail. There are three major trails in the park, which you can string together for 18 miles or so of hiking the Buster Island Loop is 6.4 miles, and the campsites sit under the shade of fern-covered, gnarled old live oaks.
From Miami: Take the Florida Turnpike north to the Yeehaw Junction exit. Follow SR 60 past Indian Lake Estates (roughly 24 miles) and the southern edge of Lake Kissimmee. Watch for park signs. Turn right on Boy Scout Camp Rd.; turn right at the"T." The park entrance is about six miles down the road on the right. Driving time: Three hours.
Check in at the ranger station to let them know you want to use the primitive camping area. State Park day use fee of around $3.25 applies.
Simple trail maps are available from the ranger station. You can order a detailed map, WC-7 Lake Kissimmee State Park Trail, through the Florida Trail Association; visit their website for an order form.
This park is a popular fishing destination and has a small camp store near the canal put-in. An observation tower allows you to look out over the lowlands to Lake Kissimmee. On weekends, the park hosts a unique bit of living history the 1876 Cow Camp, where Cracker cowmen from the post-Civil War period delight in presenting a little slice of what life was like herding cows on the Florida prairie.
Lake Kissimmee State Park
14248 Camp Mack Road
Lake Wales FL 33853
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication