Catfish Creek Preserve State Park* rests upon Florida’s spine, the unique Lake Wales Ridge. Picture huge rolling sand dunes thick with vegetation and you’ll have a good idea what this 8,000 acre park is made of. Dotted among this landscape are small ponds, pine forests, hardwoods, grasslands, scrub and one tiny stream that crosses the hiking trail.
The 6 miles of hiking trails are part of the Florida National Scenic Trail and well maintained by volunteers with the Florida Trail Association. While these huge sand dunes are tiny by mountain standards, the trail can be challenging, because 90 percent of it is sugar sand. This is the soft white sand that your feet sink into, slipping & sliding with every step. Over hill & dale for mile after mile. Check out the WonderMap (below) for the elevation profile and you’ll see what I mean.
The second challenge is that there’s very little shade along the trail, so you’re exposed most of the time. Combine 90 degrees F with struggling for every step through sugar sand, toss in hill after hill after hill and it can be a workout. That said, the hike is well worth the effort for the vistas alone. In Florida, you don’t have to get very high in order to see a long way. In fact, at one point along the trail you can clearly see Bok Tower, miles away to the south.
The resident ranger tells me that around mid-November many of the trees get their autumn leaves, so the views are really spectacular. I’ll be back to check that out for sure! And while my hike was on a 90 degree day, mid-November temperatures should be much more humane. In fact, that’s when camping season really starts up and they have 2 primitive campsites in the park, which I just might have to take advantage of.
Equestrians are welcome in the park, which offers 8 miles of trails. Some of the trails are shared hiking/equestrian and some are exclusive to either. There is no park concessionaire for horses, so it’s strictly bring your own. Again, the cooler months are the best, both for you and your 4-legged friend. For you anglers, there is a small lake for fishing (pictured above), along with a bench under a nice shade tree. (Where I also found a geocache! Photos in the gallery.)
Did I mention it’s FREE? Transportation is your only cost. There’s not even a donation station. So, please take a few minutes to check out the Photo Gallery, Video (below) and the WonderMap (below). Then make a point of putting Florida’s high country on your Bucket List!
PS: Despite the park’s name, the designated hiking & equestrian trails don’t go anywhere near Catfish Creek. The creek itself runs through the southern tract of the park. The park map (photo in gallery) shows a service road that runs out past Campsite #2 and along Catfish Creek. I’ll explore that area of the park when I return to camp out, as it’s not located along a designated hiking path.
* The park’s actual name is Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park, which is a bit ungainly, so it’s widely known as just Catfish Creek.
3 Minute Vacation at Catfish Creek Preserve State Park:
WonderMap; Catfish Creek Preserve State Park hike; Click on waypoint flags for location photos.
Haines City, Florida 33844 (863) 696-1112