Weekend Backpacker: Miami
Out here in the wide prairie around Sebring, hammocks provide points of interest that break up the otherwise flat, grassy landscape. These unique biological islands form when the elevation rises a little bit just enough to lift the roots of hardwood trees out of the perpetual damp of the prairie. Cabbage palms cluster together in hammocks as do live oaks that grow to enormous sizes. Box turtles, king snakes, and anoles love the dry hammock environment; armadillos root around in the leaves, searching for grubs. Two hikes in the Sebring area let you savor the hammock environment. The 8-mile-long Hickory Hammock Trail, part of the Florida National Scenic Trail, runs along the scenic Kissimmee River floodplain across a series of oak and palm hammocks, giving you high points from which to observe waterfowl sandhill cranes, caracara, herons, and egrets frequent the floodplain. Foxes and bobcats have been spotted along the trail, as have deer and alligators. Nearby Highlands Hammock State Park, established in 1935 to preserve a virgin hardwood forest from development, is one of Florida's original state parks. With more than 8,000 acres and a variety of natural environments, it's easy to spend a day wandering the park's ten day-hiking trails, each meandering for 20 to 30 minutes through different biological communities cypress swamps, marshes, sand-pine scrub, pine flatwoods, bayheads, and, of course, hammocks.
From Miami: Take I-95 north to I-595; follow I-595 west until it turns into I-75; exit at US 27 north. Follow US 27 north 128 miles to Sebring. Driving time: Three hours.
For Hickory Hammock Trail, south terminus: Turn off on US 98 east; follow through the small town of Lorida. Turn left on Bluff Hammock Road to reach the northern trailhead. The southern trailhead is five more miles down along US 98 on the left-hand side of the road.
For Highlands Hammock State Park: Turn off on SR 634 west; follow SR 634 four miles to the Highlands Hammock State Park entrance.
No permits are required for camping. There is one established primitive campsite six miles south of the northern terminus, two miles north of US 98 along the trail. Please sign in at the trail registers when hiking the Hickory Hammock Trail. Highlands Hammock State Park contains a full-service state park campground with rates starting around $15/night. A concession stand, The Hammock Inn, offers food, camping supplies, and rental canoes.
The Florida Trail Association sells a detailed map, Section 4N, covering the Hickory Hammock Trail. When checking in at the ranger station at Highlands Hammock State Park, be sure to get a copy of the map detailing the park's trails.
No campfires are permitted along the Hickory Hammock Trail. Be cautious about leaving valuables in your car, particularly at the US 98 parking area. At Highlands Hammock State Park, expect to pay the Florida State Parks day-use fee (around $3.25 per car) unless you're already anteing up for camping.
Florida Trail Association
PO Box 13708
Gainesville FL 32604-1708
Highlands Hammock State Park
5931 Hammock Rd
Sebring FL 33872
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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