Cypress swamps are beautiful in a dark and eerie way. Even on the brightest of days, shadows rule — sunlight penetrates only in small patches or filtered through the canopy leaves. Always humid, the air is nonetheless cooler than in the direct sun.
Tall, straight cypress trees with broad, flared bases seem to stretch on as far as you can see. The dark water can be mirror-like, though somewhere nearby something splashes. You can’t help but wonder what hides behind the mirror surface. That’s the eerie part and the reason Backpacker Magazine named a section of swamp on the Florida Trail in their 10 Most Difficult Hikes – the psychological factor.
Most people are not thrilled with the idea of wading through a swamp. So how can you experience a primal swamp without getting wet…or eaten? Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring has the answer. An elaborate boardwalk system takes you through several stages of classic Florida swamp, just inches above the water. You’ll love this name – Little Charley Bowlegs Creek is a beautiful feature in the heart of the swamp. Makes you wonder about the story behind the name, doesn’t it?
But that’s just one of this park’s awesome features. These 9,000 acres offer 15 distinct natural communities. A thousand year old oak tree, 36 feet around at the base, is an incredible sight, its gnarly old surfaces resembling a melted candle, the wax pooling in ripples at its base. I can’t even tell you how many giant oaks I saw. Ferns, mosses and air plants thrive in these forests.
Pine flatwoods and hydric hammock (wet forest) add to the incredible biodiversity of Highlands Hammock. Being one of Florida’s original state parks, dating back to the 1930s, it was chosen to showcase classic Florida flora and fauna. It does not disappoint.
The park, trails, and boardwalks are set up so you can experience all of this in a single day. There is also a bike trail and a tram tour available. Entry is $4 for a single occupant vehicle and $6 for 2-8 people in a vehicle – a great entertainment value. Camping, tram tours, pavilions and other facilities are extra but very reasonable.
Know Before You Go! Check out the Photo Gallery and links provided. If it piques your interest, plan to visit. If not, check out our Bucket List and Where-to-Go to find the perfect spot for you. Whatever you do, get out there and enjoy Florida’s Natural Wonders.
Garmin hiking map version:
Phone: (863) 386-6094