Nature, Hiking & Kayaking
Take a Time Out... Doors
Central Florida’s unlimited natural beauty is yours to discover. Explore ancient islands that provide refuge for rare plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
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Welcome to our Neck of the Woods
If you’re looking for organic things to do in Central Florida, Polk County offers travelers a wide range of distinctive opportunities to soak up the Florida sun while communing with Mother Nature.
Diverse Natural Communities
What if we told you that Polk County is a place where in the span of only a few miles you can go from a freshwater marsh on the shores of a lake, to a desert-like scrub habitat complete with prickly pear cactus? Wouldn’t you want to explore our diverse natural communities?
Some of the more distinct natural features to explore in Polk County include:
The Lake Wales Ridge – Thousands of years ago, nearly the entire Florida peninsula was covered by ocean. A central ridge remained above water, which allowed plants and animals on this ridge to continue to evolve in isolation. This unique ecosystem continued to thrive once the oceans receded. Some believe that today, undeveloped areas of the ridge have the highest concentration of rare and endangered plants in the U.S. Many species that remain are found nowhere else on earth.
Floodplain Swamps – Ever wondered what those little nubby tree looking things are rising out of the soil of Central Florida wetlands? They are the “knees” of the bald cypress and tupelo, which are native to our Floodplain swamps. These swamplands flood seasonally and feature a large concentration of trees and little undergrowth. You’ll also see Florida’s state tree, the cabbage palm, in our floodplain swamps.
See more illustration videos at Drawn to Central Florida.
Wet Prairie – The transition from our freshwater lakes to uplands is home to our wet prairie habitat. This gently sloping-to-flat land is often dominated by dense wiregrass and spectacular wildflowers. Carnivorous plants such as pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts and bladderworts can be found in the areas that remain wet year-round.
Scrubby Flatwoods – Characterized by flat areas with an open canopy of widely spaced longleaf pine trees and an understory dense with saw palmetto, gallberry, scrub oak and wiregrass, these sandy lands provide home to the endangered gopher tortoise and are where many whitetail deer are spotted.
Our Blazed Trails were made for Biking, Hiking, Paddling and Horseback Riding
From flat multi-use urban trails, to hilly scrub lands, Polk County’s unique terrain and scenic views offer a refreshing change from the beachy and bustling side of Florida you may be accustomed to. With over 120 trails covering more than 375 miles, the trail system in Polk County will provide you with nearly limitless opportunities to explore the region.
Our Top Hidden Hikes in Central Florida
- Lakeland Highlands Scrub
- Crooked Lake Sandhill
- Tiger Creek Preserve
- Green Swamp WMA Hampton Tract
Follow blazed trails through our unique landscape at Colt Creek State Park, Lake Kissimmee State Park, or Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park. All together these three state parks have over 31-miles of hiking and equestrian trails to explore. The Lake Wales Ridge State Forest has 12.2-miles of equestrian trails and more than 50-miles of hiking trails.
Top Equestrian Trails in Central Florida
- Tenoroc Fish Management Area
- Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park
- Gator Creek Reserve
- Lake Wales Ridge State Forest – Walk-in-Water Tract
- Hilochee Wildlife Management Area – Osprey Unit
Pedal Your Way through Nature
Sure you can explore Polk County by foot, but that’s not your only option. You can cycle through our diverse landscapes, soaking up the sun and breathing in air scented with orange blossoms and pine while on one of our many multi-use paths. Many trails offer amenities such as picnic tables, restrooms, and pavilions so you can regroup after a long ride.
Or Paddle Your Way Through Nature
There is no better way to connect with nature and spend the day observing or photographing wildlife, or even casting a line, than while paddling the pristine waters of Polk County. In an area that has 554 lakes, opportunities to glide along the water by canoe or kayak are endless and always close by.
Most lakes have a public boat ramp, canoe launch or sandy shoreline that will provide your entry into the water and allow you to explore at a leisurely pace. For paddlers looking to log some serious miles with a multi-hour, or even multi-day on-the-water tour, many of the lakes on the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes are interconnected by canals, providing access to hundreds of miles of open waterways to explore. The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes sits along the Everglades Paddling Trail which provides access to the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and eventually the inter-coastal waterways of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. In the same area of Polk County you will find Lake Kissimmee State Park's Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail. The 11-mile trail runs through and along the boundary of the state park. Kayak and canoe rentals are available through the state park's store.
The Peace River Paddling Trail offers passes through 67 miles of moss-draped cypress swamp, hardwood forest and oak hammocks as it flows south to Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico.
Beyond our Borders
It’s important to note that many of our trails provide a connection to larger state and national trail systems such as the Florida National Scenic Trail, General James A. Van Fleet State Trail and the Everglades Paddling Trail – you know, in case 375 miles isn’t enough to keep you occupied while visiting Polk County.
RV Rambler or Overnight Camper
Are you the type who would rather spend a night under the stars in a tent or off the beaten path in your RV when taking an outdoor vacation? Of course you are! Polk County is home to more than 40 camping areas and RV resorts, so you can stay closer to the nature you came to experience. We’ve got short and long term RV parks, a KOA, county managed campgrounds, fish camps, state park and primitive camping options. We’ve even got glamping (glamorous camping)!