Weekend Backpacker: Orlando

Lake Wales Ridge
  |  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.

Getting There

From Orlando, take I-4 west to Haines City; head south on US 27. About eight miles south of Lake Wales, turn left on SR 630; head through Frostproof. Two miles east of town, turn on Lake Reedy Blvd; turn onto Lake Arbuckle Road. Driving time: two hours.

Permit Information

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 for more information.

Maps

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

Practical Information

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 man-made object in the forest!

Guidebook

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



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