When you think of great hiking, Central Florida may not come to mind – but it should. FL has over 5,000 miles of hiking trails across the state + numerous nature preserves.
Our hiking season is also flip-flopped from the rest of the US, with ideal time to lace up your boots, October through April. (And the best backpacking, January + February.)
We know the first steps (see what we did there) in finding a trail to trek can be the hardest – so we did the work for you + rounded up 14 of Central Florida’s best trails all around Lakeland and all an hour away or less.
Whether you’re a first timer or a seasoned hiker, wondering where to bring a date, or just need a little nature induced R&R, there is a trail with a rewarding view out there for you. All you have to do is pick one and get out there.
‘Tis the season, after all.
Gator Creek | Photo by @_kayleeholland
💕 Where to bring your date
Gator Creek Reserve
📍9725 US Hwy 98 N | Map | 20 Minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy - Moderate | 7 miles of trails, combined | Protip: Right around the corner from Downtown Lakeland and Publix, this trail is perfect for lazy Saturdays. Be prepared to work up an appetite walking under shady live oak and pine trees.
🐶 Where to bring your favorite 4-legged companion
Colt Creek State Park
📍16000 SR 471 | Map | 30 Minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy | 7.3 miles of lightly trafficked looped trail | A grassy, padded hike with cool breeze + shade. DYK past activities on the land included lime rock mining, timber harvesting, citrus production + turpentining?
⏪ Where to get lost in history
Lake Kissimmee State Park
📍14248 Camp Mack Rd., Lake Wales | Map | 1 hour from Downtown Lakeland | Moderate | 13+ miles of trailhead | Home to Florida’s third largest lake, this state park is excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, nature trails for hiking, biking and horseback, and a genuine 1876 “Cow Camp.”
🌱 Where to find one-of-a-kind nature
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest
📍851 County Road 630, Frostproof | Map | 1 hour from Downtown Lakeland | Moderate - Hard | 11 miles of overlapping trailhead on the Arbuckle Tract | The Lake Wales forest contains the highest concentration of endangered plants in the continental US, so bring your cameras + take your trash with you.
Se7en Wetlands | Photo by @_kayleeholland
🤝 Where to make new hiker friends
📍Gopher Tortoise gate can be accessed through Loyce E. Harp Park | Map | 12 Minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Moderate | 8.5 miles of trailhead | This water treatment area-turned-nature park is a #mustdo for locals, and is normally pretty bustlin’. Just make sure you have proper shoes + enough water, if you plan to do the entirety of the trailhead.
🥪 Where to go on your lunch break
Lakeland Highlands Scrub
📍6998 Lakeland Highlands Rd | Map | 21 minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy | 2.8 miles of sandy soils, grassy trails + a boardwalk | A quiet oasis on the edge of the suburbs, perfect for lunch breaks, as trails can range from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
⚪ Where to go if you’re a minimalist
Crooked Lake Prairie
📍971-999 Ohlinger Rd, Babson Park | Map | 1 hour from Downtown Lakeland | Easy | 4.6 miles of cordgrass + boardwalk | Starting out by following a jeep trail along the ecotone where scrub + prairie meet, it leads you into a series of oak hammocks draped in Spanish moss. Protip: These trails are pretty open, so make sure to use plenty of sunscreen.
👻 Where to find a ghost town
📍12993 FL 60, Lake Wales |1 hour from Downtown Lakeland | Moderate | 6.2 miles of cordgrass + boardwalk | Map | Named after The Societe Universelle Mining Industrie Commerce et Agriculture a French (who owned timber rights to the land), the town of SUMICA was established in 1917, thrived on lumbering and turpentine. After the pines were harvested, the town vanished in 1927, with remnants synonymously forming it both a ghost town today and the largest of Polk County’s environmental lands.
🏖️ Where to get your beach vibes on
Hickory Lake Scrub
📍1628-1698 S Scenic Hwy, Frostproof |1 hour from Downtown Lakeland | Moderate | 0.7 miles in two loops | Map | Three words: ancient scrub dune. Step carefully in the deep white sugar sand (beach vibes all the way) and explore rare plants along the trail, which loops down to the edge of Hickory Lake.
✌️Where to find your peace
Peace River Hammock
📍Mt. Pisgah Rd. Fort Meade | Map | 46 minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Moderate | 1.5 miles of shaded grass and trail | The breezy path attracts a variety of colorful butterflies + birds. The reward for completing this trail is reaching the bank of the Peace River.
Circle B Bar Reserve | Photo by @rh_photoadventures
👯♀️ Where to bring your newbie hiker pal
Circle B Bar Reserve
📍4399 Winter Lake Rd | Map | 17 Minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy | 4.8 miles of trafficked looped trail | Take your time on these trails — there’s something new and interesting to see every time, including our LAL famous giant lizard-like leviathans.
🐦 Where to go if you’re a real twitcher
Sherwood Stokes Preserve
📍7598 Lake Marion Creek Rd, Haines City | 49 minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy | 1 mile of white sugar sand, scrub + moss | Map | With 70+ species of birds, this is a bird aficionados paradise. You’ll be in a nest with tall cabbage palms that reach to the sky+ top notch views of Lake Marion Creek.
👪 A hike for everyone in your group
Marshall Hampton Reserve
📍Marshall Hampton Reserve, 3115 Thornhill Rd, Winter Haven | Map | 20 minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy - Moderate | 7+ miles of both shaded + unshaded trails | Nestled right across the way from Circle B, this reserve provides a trail for everyone.
🤠 Where to take your next adventure
Hillsborough River State Park
📍Hillsborough River State Park, 15402 US-301, Thonotosassa | Map | 38 minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Moderate | 5.8 miles in a round-trip and two loops | If you’re looking for an adventure, you may want to consider this state park. Nature trails, rapids, a swinging bridge, a fishing area + paddle boat rentals, all near the comfort of Downtown Tampa.
Now that you’re a seasoned hiker, here are some tips to make sure you have your best trek yet.
✔️ Start small and choose the right trail for your fitness level.
✔️ Stay hydrated + pack the essentials.
✔️Check the weather + dress for success.
✔️Don’t litter + make sure your trail is pet friendly.
✔️ Tell a friend where you’re going or make new friends by joining your local trail hikers association.
See ya on the trails,