After my time in Crystal River, I backtracked toward Wellington where I planned to show a horse and made a stop in Sebring. While I meant to check out the cute historic district, the Sebring International Raceway, and Maxwell Groves (an old-fashioned country store), I ended up spending the entire day in Highlands Hammock State Park.
History of Highlands Hammock State Park
The park was originally started by local citizens who wished to preserve the environment in 1930. With the financial assistance of Margaret Shippen Roebling family, they purchased land, cut trails, and constructed basically facilities. When the Florida State Park system was established in 1935, Highlands Hammock State Park became one of the first parks.
In the meantime, in the Civilian Conservation Corps began work on a botanical garden adjacent to the park. From 1934 to 1941, the camp planted thousands of plants and constructed substantial infrastructure including roads, bridges, dams, and buildings. The impending war lead to the closure of the camp and the mergers of the gardens and the park.
Visiting Highlands Hammock State Park
Today, Highlands Hammock State Park encompasses over 9,000 acres which may be accessed through the two entrances on the east and west side of the park, respectively. The east side of the features the majority of the facilities including the pay station, ranger station, CCC Museum, and camping areas. The tram, which provides guided tours, also departs from this area.
I tried visiting the CCC Museum prior to 9am, but it was not open, and when I came back after my hike around lunchtime, the parking area was full, so plan accordingly.
The park features nine short trails, many of which may be linked together to form a longer hike, albeit, some of the connections are via the road. Packed sandy trails pass beneath palm trees and live oaks draped in Spanish moss while raised boardwalks hover over Cypress swamps.
Somehow, I missed all the wildlife that the Highlands Hammock State Park boasts including bears, bobcats, panthers, deer, raccoons, alligators, and a plethora of birds. That said, I really liked the nice trails and dense foliage.
One word of caution, dogs are not allowed on the boardwalks, or at least not on the historical one located on the Cypress Swamp Trail. Hopefully, I didn’t illegally walk on the other boardwalks with Annie. The AllTrails app, which is generally accurate, marked the trails as dog friendly, and I didn’t notice any signs until I stopped to read about the 1930’s catwalk! As a result, I skipped the Cypress Swamp Trail that was toward the end of my hike.
A Quiet Place in the Park
Upon completing our hike, I hoped to find a quiet spot in the shade to relax and blog. While it was shady near some of the trailheads, it was far from quiet. Therefore, I drove around the park, which is also popular among cyclists, until I stumbled on the wilderness camping loop.
Not far past the loop on the dirt road is a shaded viewing platform and virtually no one comes this way. For the entire afternoon and up to the evening maybe three cars, three groups of bi-cyclists, and one walker passed by. Consequently, I let Annie expend some energy while roaming free along the road, and she even got to nap outside of VANgo on a long lead.
I enjoyed the lovely breeze, blogged, and even took advantage of the shade gazebo to do some yoga. Naturally, the only time anyone walked up to the platform was during my exercises. It is remarkable how conforming people are. No one is there, so no goes. Someone is there, it must be interesting! I had to chuckle. Remarkably, no one came around to watch the lovely sunset which lit the sky orange behind a forest of longleaf pines.
Annie and I liked this spot so much, we almost didn’t leave, but no camping was allowed past the loop, so we went in search of a Walmart for the night as the campground was full.
A Secluded Trail
As Annie needs her exercise in the morning in order for her to behave the rest of the day, we returned to Highlands Hammock State Park the following day before heading to Wellington. Instead of joining the masses for the refined trails, we found a small, grassy parking area on its southeast side in the Highlands Hammock State Park Wilderness Area.
This area included very wide, sandy paths. The sometimes-deep sand didn’t make for the easiest walking, but with not a sole in sight, it made for great wandering and solitude! ETB