Less than two hours outside of Tampa, in central Florida, is Highlands Hammock State Park, a lush getaway of thick forests and endangered species. It is is one of Florida’s oldest state parks, established in 1931. White tailed deer, black bear, otters, alligator and panthers call the park home. A prime park feature is the boardwalk, elevated above the cypress swamp, allowing hikers and walkers a path above the prolific wildlife. Here you’ll find many trees that are over a thousand years old, including an oak with a girth of over 36 feet!
There is an excellent campground at the park with plenty of RV-friendly campsites. The park is a natural wonder of unique ecosystems like old-growth hammock, swamp and open meadow. There are nine hiking trails for guests to explore. Many of these trails are open to equestrians. Cyclists can tour the three-mile bike loop. There is also a tram trail for those wanting to leisurely take in the park views. The tram is one of the best ways to spot alligator. Staying the night at the park offers guests opportunities to see the starry night sky and hear the abundance of wildlife all around.
Highlands Hammock State Park is a diverse wilderness that displays the best of nature that central Florida has to offer, and has been since its inception before the state parks system was developed. Learn about the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps, an integral organization for preserving American land for parks and conservation, at the park museum. The CCC headquarters was once at the park as well as the beginnings of a botanical garden.
You won’t have trouble finding Highlands Hammock State Park in your car or rental RV. It is just four miles west of Sebring on State Road 634. The park roads are paved, well maintained and wide. They lead to all main areas of the park and major trailheads. You’ll be able to get from the Visitors Center to your campsite with ease in an oversized RV. The speed limit is the only thing to mind as there are no other restrictions on RVs inside the park.
There are many places to park the RV while you are visiting. There are plenty of spaces near the Visitors Center and Ranger Station. The main trailheads have two to four RV parking spots. You’ll also find some parking near the Tram Station and equestrian trailer loop. If you are camping overnight you’ll have ample room for parking at your campsite.
There are 116 pet-friendly campsites at Highlands Hammock State Park available all-year for tents and RVs. There are electric and water hookups at the campsites. Amenities include clean restrooms with showers, a dump station, a playground and fire rings. During peak camping season, guests may stay at a site for up to 14 days (with extensions allowed with permission from the Park Manager). There is a 50% discount available on reservations to Florida disabled or senior citizens.
The campground does get busy during peak season, and there isn't a whole lot of space between sites. If you value privacy, you may be disappointed by the lack of vegetation within the campsite. On the plus side, the campsite is often frequented by wildlife such as raccoons, deer and armadillos. Make sure to store your food correctly, and don't feed the wildlife.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities at the park with nine trails to choose from. The most traveled trail is the boardwalk through the swamp. There are plenty of other hikes ranging in length and difficulty. For an easy stroll try the Young Hammock Trail; it is half of mile of scenic wonder and wildlife. You’ll find natural beauty and interpretive signs that cover the history of the area. More experienced hikers will enjoy the Altvater Trail, which starts at the campground and loops around the park. The trails are pet-friendly but dogs must be kept on a leash.
The three-mile bike loop at Highlands Hammock State Park is lush and shady making it a popular place. You’ll be taken past cypress and oak as well as bright flowers and creeping vines. There are many birds and butterflies to see. The trail is relatively flat with a few twists, turns and hills.
Most of the hiking trails at Highlands Hammock State park are open to equestrians. Sail above the swamp and through the forest on horseback. It’s one of the most serene ways to experience the park. There are several areas designated for horse trailer parking as well as a few hitching posts. There is also a water spigot at the main equestrian campground.
Highlands Hammock State Park is an excellent place for wildlife viewing and birding in particular. The hammock and forest of the Highlands is home to many songbirds, including Warblers and Robins. Herons and Egrets make their nests around the swamp. There are Raptors and Eagles that hunt across the park. The park is also a stop on the flight path of many migratory birds like Bobolink, Cedar Waxwing and Purple Martin. Don’t forget to load up the binoculars when you pack up the RV!
Geocaching is a popular pastime throughout Florida state parks and the rest of the country. This high-tech scavenger hunt uses GPS rather than a map with an x to locate buried treasure. It is an excellent way to get off the beaten path, learn about geography and have an interactive adventure. There are several geocaches stashed around the park. Will you be able to find them all?
Highlands Hammock State Park is one of the eight original parks built by the Civilian Conservations Corps and is home to the CCC Museum. Learn about the men who built this park by hand and the “New Deal” era of President Roosevelt. The museum features interactive exhibits and an educational film of the oral histories of former CCC boys. Children will enjoy learning about the park and CCC when they go on the “CCC History Detective” Scavenger Hunt.