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Top 10 Places to Spot Wildlife in Central Florida

By: Christopher Follenus

Central Florida is one of the best places in the US to spot wildlife. Visitors from far and wide always marvel at the sights of animals and birds they would normally only see in a zoo. Around every corner you’ll find surprises, and in every park an unforgettable experience. Polk County alone is home to over 550 lakes, 400 miles of trails, and 3 state parks, all offering tons of opportunities to see nature in action. So this is our Top 10 places to spot wildlife in Central Florida.

The Top 10 Places to Spot Wildlife in Central Florida

1. Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Polk County’s most popular place to spot wildlife is the magnificent 1,300 acre Circle B Bar Reserve, near Lakeland. Named by USA Today as one of the ’51 Great Places to See Wildlife’. It is a prime destination for bobcats, bird watching, and….. for seeing alligators. You may have seen some viral videos from Florida about alligators, including on our own TikTok account. Well, these videos are often from Circle B! So if spotting an alligator is on your list, then this is the best place to find them. The reserve is also beloved by bird-watchers and photographers for its over 200 species of birds. Here you can find ospreys, egrets, herons, pelicans and lots more. While there be sure to visit The Polk Nature Discovery Center, a great place to learn about the region’s ecosystems.

2. Lake Kissimmee State Park

The beautiful Lake Kissimmee State Park near Lake Wales is a must visit. It has 12 distinct natural communities including floodplain marshes, flatwoods and shady hammocks, which hold more than 30 listed species of flora and fauna. The park is home to butterfly orchids, sawgrass, fetterbush, gallberry and expansive, colorful fields of lotus and pickerelweed. You’ll enjoy the 13-miles of hiking trails and 6-miles of of equestrian trails, while spotting white-tailed deer, birds of prey, bobcats, turkey, Sherman’s fox squirrel and grey foxes. This park is also a wonderful destination for kayaking.

3. Colt State Park

Colt State Park is one of Central Florida’s top destinations for outdoor adventure and spotting wildlife. The park covers over 5,000 acres, and visitors can explore the park on horseback. Here you can spot American bald eagles, alligators, wading birds, Sherman’s fox squirrel, gopher tortoise, white-tailed deer, wild turkey and bobcats.

 

4. Bok Tower Gardens

Bok Tower Gardens is a beautiful natural botanic gardens set on a 50 acres site, at one of the highest points in Florida. This stunning setting is a photographer’s dream. At the gardens you can snap a shot of a heron at the pool by the tower, or spot the red cardinals washing their wings. While the Preserve and Pine Ridge trails are carefully managed areas that engage and inspire learners of all ages about endangered ecosystems. It is all part of Bok Tower’s important conservation mission. Some of the endangered species you’ll find are the gopher tortoise, the large (non-venomous) Eastern Indigo snake, and gopher frogs.

Heron by the pond at Bok Tower Gardens

5. Crooked Lake Prairie

Crooked Lake Prairie is a 525 acre preserve in Babson Park, and is situated on Polk County’s only state-designated “Outstanding Florida Water Body.” The prairie has four ecosystems which include, scrub, scrubby flatwoods, wet prairie and depression marsh. This gives it some fantastic wildlife, making it home to the less common northern harriers and kingfishers. You may also see wading birds, scrub jays, osprey, bald eagles, turkeys, coachwhip snakes and gopher tortoises.

6. Streamsong Resort

Spanning over a secluded 16,000 acres, Streamsong Resort has become one of Florida’s most unique and interesting places to see wildlife. This golf resort is set on what was once a mining area for phosphate. When the mining wrapped up the mining company Mosaic, instead of leaving an open wound, carefully converted the area into a stunning homage to the land and environment of Central Florida. Follow the walking trails of the resort or take a guided boat tour of the 20+ lakes, as you spot deer, river otters, bobcats, foxes, wild pigs, quail, hawks and osprey.

7. Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park

Located along the beautiful Lake Wales Ridge, Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park, covers more than 8,000-acres of scrub, sandhill and flatwoods land. Several protected animal species including Florida scrub-jays, bald eagles, gopher tortoises and Florida scrub lizards can be spotted.

8. The Living Water Boat Cruises

Explore the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes with the Living Water Boat Cruises, and spot alligators, turtles, bald eagles, blue herons, pelicans, anhinga, white ibis and lots more. This is a highly rated tour on TripAdvsior and Expedia, and the sunset cruise is particularly special!

 

9. Safari Wilderness

Safari Wilderness is a great place to see animals up close, and is also one of Central Florida’s premier attractions. While the animals here don’t technically live in the wild, this open ranch allows them to roam around freely in open expanses. While visiting you’ll spot animals from Asia and Africa in habitats similar to their own natural environments. Expect to find large herd of scimitar-horned oryx, Defassa waterbuck, lemurs, zebra, ostriches, llamas, camels, and cheetah. Safari Wilderness now also offers Serengeti-style camping experiences during certain periods of the year.

10. Kayak the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes

Kayaking can provide some of the best opportunities to spot our native birdlife. The Winter Haven Chain of Lakes is made up of 50 lakes, and Off the Chain Kayak Company offers drop-off and pick-up on the lake of your choice. There is no better way to relax and enjoy the natural setting of Central Florida.

 

If you’re fascinated by wildlife be sure to also visit PolkNature.com for a comprehensive list of conservation areas and trails. Or follow us on Instagram or TikTok for some great shots.

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