Lake Kissimmee State Park

Lake Kissimmee State Park

Putting Boot to Path

BY MARIA IANNUCCI
PHOTOS BY MIKE POTTHAST

Summer is only a few weeks away; it’s a great time to get back to nature and plan a well-deserved trip with friends or family. Whether you’re a photographer, hiker, cyclist, camper, boater, tuber or waterskier, wildlife watcher, kayaker, or just want to kick back and relax; Lake Kissimmee State Park may be the destination for you.

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Lake Kissimmee State Park covers almost 6,000 acres just to the east of Lake Wales. The landscape contains extensive prairie, hammocks, flatwoods and floodplain in addition to Lakes Kissimmee, Tiger and Rosalie. Over 30,000 acres of lakes is available from the park, which is said to be home to over 50 species of animals and plants that are either threatened, endangered or of special concern. Campers and hikers alike may encounter any of over 200 species of birds, including sandhill cranes, Osceola wild turkeys, bald eagles, snail kites, whooping cranes, and the occasional owl perched high overhead on the lookout for its next meal.

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With 13 miles of hiking and equestrian trails, shaded picnic areas, a playground and excellent wildlife viewing; the park makes a great day trip for anyone with a bottle of sunscreen and a desire to connect with the environment. You may take your pick from a half-mile self-guided nature trail, two loop trails and a spur trail out to the lake. Visitors can catch a glimpse of such critters as bobcats, grey foxes, whitetail deer, huge fox squirrels and even otters. While beautiful to encounter, observe and photograph, a reminder that the animals are wild; so approaching them to make contact is not advisable. Remember to bring plenty of water and some insect repellent as you walk the trails.

Josh and Stacie Cleveland of Dundee are avid hikers and regularly enjoy walking the park’s trails. “We love being out here,” Stacie said. “We get a good workout and see lots of wildlife and beautiful Florida landscape.”

Tent and RV campers are all welcome at Lake Kissimmee State Park. There is a wide variety of amenities available to campers desiring full facilities. Sixty campsites are available with electric and water hookups. A dump station is located nearby. The oak hammock in which the camping area is located provides shade and a natural buffer for a little seclusion. Wildlife is known to consider the campground a part of their natural habitat, so don’t be surprised to see deer feeding or a flock of turkeys making their way past your fire ring or picnic table. Park amenities include a boat ramp and marina as well as the trails, a playground, a volleyball court, horseshoe pits, and an observation tower providing a view of Lake Kissimmee. Well behaved pets are welcome in the campground.

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For those who prefer primitive camping, two campsites are located on the 13 miles of hiking trails within the park. Everything must be backpacked in, including water. Each site includes two picnic tables and two ground grills. No facilities are available at either campsite. The sites are available for individuals or groups, with a maximum of 12 persons per site. Campers must arrive at the park at least three hours before sunset. Pets are prohibited in the primitive campsites. The dark skies make stargazing a popular nighttime activity for campers. Reservations for any and all campsites may be made up to 11 months in advance.

Florida’s cowboy heritage comes alive with living history demonstrations of the early Florida “cow hunters” in an 1876-era cow camp. These demonstrations are held October through April and a must-see for locals who have never had the experience.

Cracker horse at the Cow Camp...by Olivia Potthast

While visitors likely come prepared with gear and supplies, there always seems to be something left behind. Lake Kissimmee State Park now has a camp store located at the marina which reduces the need to return to “civilization” for a toothbrush or a can of baked beans. Firewood (when available), ice, general camping items, ice cream and kayak, canoe and paddleboat rentals are but a few of the available necessities.

Bring the whole family out to spend a day exploring Lake Kissimmee!

the cattle at the park are descended from the original Cracker herds

If you’re not big on hiking but want a look at the backcountry, 90 minute Segway tours of Lake Kissimmee State Park are now offered through Back Trail Adventures of Florida. Learn about the land and rich history of the park while having great fun on a Segway. Tours are operated Thursday – Sunday between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Reservations are not required but strongly encouraged.

As with all Florida State Parks, volunteering opportunities may be available through Get Involved, a program designed to share the information and benefits of giving your time to this and other state park facilities.

Whether you’re planning a day trip of hiking and sightseeing, need a week away from the daily grind, or anything in between; the Florida State Park system is a valuable local source of fun, entertainment and relaxation.

For more information about Lake Kissimmee State Park or other local parks, please visit www.FloridaStateParks.org

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