When you think of great hiking, Central Florida may not come to mind — we aren’t exactly known for our towering peaks. But did you know Florida has over 5,000 miles of hiking trails across the state and numerous nature preserves?
We know the first steps in finding a trail to trek can be the hardest — so we did the work for you and rounded up 14 of Central Florida’s best nature trails around Lakeland and all an hour away or less.
Gator Creek Reserve
9725 US Hwy 98 N, | Map | 20 Minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy – Moderate | 7 miles of trails, combined | Pro tip: 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.
Colt Creek State Park
16000 State Road 471 | Map | 30 Minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy | 12 miles of lightly trafficked loop trail | This trail boasts a grassy, padded hike with cool breeze + shade. DYK past activities on the land included lime rock mining, timber harvesting, citrus production and turpentining?
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 has excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, nature trails for hiking, biking and horseback, and a genuine 1876 “Cow Camp.”
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.
Gopher Tortoise gate can be accessed through Loyce E. Harpe Park | Map | 12 Minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Moderate | 8.5 miles of trailhead | This water treatment area-turned-nature park is 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.
Lakeland Highlands Scrub
6998 Lakeland Highlands Rd. | Map | 21 minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy | 2.8 miles of sandy soils, grassy trails + a boardwalk | This is a quiet oasis on the edge of the suburbs, perfect for lunch breaks, as trails can range from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
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, this trail leads you into a series of oak hammocks draped in Spanish moss. Pro tip: These trails are pretty open, so make sure to use plenty of sunscreen.
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.
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.
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
4399 Winter Lake Rd. | Map | 17 Minutes from Downtown Lakeland | Easy | 4.8 miles of trafficked loop trail | Take your time on these trails — there’s something new and interesting to see every time, including our Lakeland-famous giant lizard-like leviathans.
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.
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.
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 are locatedall near the comfort of Downtown Tampa.