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Highlands Hammock State Park

 

Just what exactly is a hardwoods hammock? Well, after visiting Highlands Hammock State Park, east of Sebring, Florida, we're convinced  we know. It's paradise... or the closest thing on earth to it!

 

The word "spectacular" kept running through my mind. It was early morning, the sun just high enough to cast those long shadows that trees make but not hot enough to have yet burned off all of the light fog in the area. Rays of sunlight burst through small holes high in the forest canopy; blinding if you looked at them directly but barely illuminating the dense undergrowth. Bird songs and calls could clearly be heard, the sounds crisp and resonant in the cool air. The wind was yet still and leaves hung in a lifeless display, lazily stirring when a barely perceptible breeze moved through the trees. It was a time when even breathing seemed loud and I held my breath and strained to hear and smell and see and remember everything about the moment.

 

Highlands Hammock surely must be one of the best of the Florida State Parks. It simply provides an outdoor Florida experience rich in "hands-on" feelings. With its 9 walking trails comprising more than 3 miles of well defined and maintained pathways weaving and looping into and through representative samples of the area , visitors get to enjoy the variety of plant communities in an up-close and personal way. Birds and other wildlife are commonly seen and heard throughout the park adding to the immensely enjoyable walks. Elevated boardwalks will allow unusually close examination of the swamp and wetlands areas, sometimes with a guest appearance of a local alligator or two. An eleven mile horse riding trail and a three mile paved roadway loop, suitable for bicycles and cars, runs through the park's trail areas.

 

One of the more notable items in the park is a one-thousand year old oak tree. The gnarly ancient giant is a few steps in on the appropriately named "Big Oak Trail." It's a great picture spot so take a friend and a camera. The "Wild Orange Trail" was another favorite, not only for the experience of walking through a wild orange grove but for the many large butterflies we encountered along this trail. Elevated swamp boardwalks are always a favorite... well, all the trails had some special flavor and should be experienced by park enthusiasts. Those not wishing or able to explore on foot can take the narrated, ranger-led tram tour. This hour-long ride goes to a few of the less visited areas in addition to the most popular ones.

 

As one of the original four Florida State Parks, Highlands Hammock had its birth in the years of the Great Depression when local citizens resisted efforts to turn the area into agricultural lands. Later the Civilian Conservation Corps was called in and, from camps within the park, worked to restore the area, create facilities and fence the park's boundaries. Highlands Hammock opened as a state park in 1935. A commemorative statue and CCC museum recognizing the contributions of the Civilian Conservation Corps and its help in the development of the Florida public parks reside within the Highlands Hammock State Park.

 

Across the parking lot from the museum visitors will find The Hammock Inn restaurant and the open concert area for the "Music in the Park" events. Picnic tables dot this shady area and it's a great place to eat lunch. An outdoor amphitheater and recreation hall in the campground area round out the facilities. Speaking of the campgrounds, the park has a large, full-service camping area accommodating tents to larger  Class-A RV's. Many of the campsites sit in the shade of oak trees making morning coffee to evening nectar a sweet treat.

 

You can find a great deal more information on this park by visiting the Highlands Hammock State Park website or searching the Internet for "Highlands Hammock State Park." This is still wild Florida you'll explore so prepare well with adequate clothing and footwear, water, sun protection and bug repellant. Remember also to "take only pictures; leave only footprints."

Entrance road for Highlands Hammock State Park

Entrance road for Highlands Hammock

 

Trail through ferns and palms

 

Early morning trail walk

Early morning trail walk

 

Hammock Inn restaurant

Hammock Inn restaurant

 

Early road grader on display in Highlands Hammock State Park

Early road grader on display

 

Swamp and boardwalk

 

Highlands Hammock State Park 1000 year old oak tree

1000 year old oak tree

 

Wild Orange Grove Trail

Wild Orange Grove Trail

 

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

 

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