Weekend Backpacker: Tampa
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. Saw-grass savannas edge the lakes; hammocks rise out of a wire-grass prairie once used to graze herds of cattle for the Confederacy. Delicate butterfly orchids drip off age-old live oaks, gnarled and bent, decorated with a green coating of resurrection ferns; bromeliads cling to turkey oaks. Birding is big here, with more than 200 species passing through the park. Keen-eyed birders have caught Florida scrub jays, whooping cranes, bald eagles, and sandhill cranes. It's not uncommon to come across a gray fox, or to flush a few wild turkeys 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 hikingthe Buster Island Loop is 6.4 miles, and the campsites sit under the shaded of fern-covered, gnarled old live oaks.
Follow I-4 east to Haines City. Head south on U.S. 27 to SR 60 at Lake Wales; follow SR 60 west about 15 miles. Watch for signs. After you pass through Hesperides, turn left on Boy Scout Camp Road; turn right at the"T." The park entrance is about six miles down the road on the right. Driving time: two and a half 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 about $3.25 applies.
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 historythe 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.
GUIDEBOOK AND MAPS
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 the website for an order form.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication