Weekend Backpacker: Miami

Moonlit Nights, Wild Hikes: Lake Wales Ridge State Forest
  |  Gorp.com

A ridge? In Florida? Well, it just so happens that this particular ridge — a rarity in the Sunshine State, to be sure — is the one bit of land that's stayed high and dry since pre-Cambrian times. Back when the rest of the state was under a few feet of water, this slender dune-capped ridge stood well above the waves. As a result, strange and unusual plant species evolved on Lake Wales Ridge, making this one of North America's most diverse biological communities, with the highest concentration of rare and endangered plants in the continental United States. Twenty miles of trail wander through the forest, and with such diversity in plant and animal life — including sightings of the elusive Florida panther — hiking along the ridge above Reedy Creek is a delight. Walking the ridge, you'll marvel at the pygmy fringe tree, the scrub blazing star, scrub beargrass, and Lake Placid scrub mint. Rare Florida scrub jays nest in the pine scrub. The Southeastern American kestrel floats on thermals; sand skinks and gopher frogs scurry through the wetlands.

From Miami: Take the Florida Turnpike north to the Yeehaw Junction exit. Follow SR 60 west to Indian Lake Estates (roughly 24 miles); turn left on SR 630. At Reedy Lake, turn left on Lake Reedy Blvd; follow it to Lake Arbuckle Road. Driving time: Three hours.

A permit is required to camp at either of the two primitive campsites along the trails, as well as in the Arbuckle and Blue Jordan primitive campgrounds. Call (941) 635-7801 for information.

Map SF-3, Lake Wales Ridge/Arbuckle Tract Trail, can be purchased via the Florida Trail Association; visit their website for an order form.

State forest officials caution hikers to pack in all water; the trail sticks to the highest ridge in Florida. The forest is closed to hiking during hunting seasons; call for information. Also, this area fringes the Avon Park Bombing Range — don't touch any suspicious manmade object in the forest!

To make your identification of species more enjoyable, stop by the Archbold Biological Station website for detailed information on flora and fauna and a bibliography of books on this unique biological community.

Contact Information

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest
452 School Bus Road
Frostproof FL 33843
(941) 635-7801

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »