At Highlands Hammock State Park, the Ancient Hammock Trail is the best of the trails that shows off the glory of what’s been preserved in the heart of Highlands Hammock.
With towering cabbage palms and live oaks up to a thousand years old and more, this is a most fascinating and immersive forest, especially along this short loop amid the gentle giants of the woods.
While there used to be many more oaks when we first hiked this loop as kids, the ones that remain continue to impress with their command of the upper canopy.
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Length: 0.6 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.470057, -81.548639
Address: 5931 Hammock Rd, Sebring
Fees: $6 per vehicle
Restroom: At the picnic area and concession
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. No pets or bicycles, please. The trail can also be accessed by walking across the road from the southwestern end of the Fern Loop and walking east a short distance along the road.
Follow US 27 south from Avon Park or north from Lake Placid to Hammock Rd (CR 634) in Sebring, at a traffic light with prominent signage. Turn west and follow the road into the park. The entrance station is on the passenger’s side, and a bike path parallels the road to the park.
Once inside the gates, keep going and you’ll reach the one-way counterclockwise driving loop. The Ancient Hammock Trail is about three-quarters around this three mile loop drive, on the right. You can also walk over from the trailhead for the Fern Hammock Trail, less than a quarter mile past the Ancient Hammock Trail on the left.
Follow the footpath into the dark forest, a virgin hammock of incredibly old live oak and laurel oak. Some of the cabbage palms sport oddly fluted bases, like pottery.
After crossing the bridge, pause to read the “Prayer of the Woods” on the left. Sunlight barely filters through the thick canopy.
At the T intersection, turn left, walking into the lush understory of needle palms and marlberry.
Thick patches of sword fern thrive in the deep shade. Listen for the knock of a pileated woodpecker, Florida’s largest woodpecker, which prefer these old-growth trees.
The trail sits high in the hammock, above a well-established old floodplain. Ancient oaks form the canopy, a true climax forest.
Numerous fallen trees attest to the age and size of these grand giants. Even the wild citrus trees are huge.
The trail curves past the hulk of one fallen tree, now home to a riotous explosion of sword ferns.
Pass a bench at 0.2 mile. The deeper in along the walk, the larger the trees become.
A tall double trunked oak rises from a sea of needle palms. You hear the constant ker-plop of hickory nuts falling to the forest floor.
As the trail curves to the right, it passes under an arch formed by a cabbage palm leaning over the trail.
Reaching a bench, the trail makes sharp right to skirt a fallen grand old oak. Another fallen and rotting oak provides a bed for strap ferns and sword ferns.
Continue past another fallen oak, and you come back to the beginning of the loop at a half mile. Cross the bridge, completing your hike at the parking area after 0.6 mile.
Learn more about Highlands Hammock State Park
Highlands Hammock State Park
One of Florida’s oldest state parks, Highlands Hammock protects an old-growth forest while enabling you to explore it on a network of fascinating interpretive nature trails
See our photos of the Ancient Hammock Trail
More trails to explore in this park
Highlands Hammock Nature Trails
Three interconnected nature trails on the east side of Highlands Hammock – Wild Orange Grove, Big Oak, and Hickory – provide a gentle introduction to this wild place
Richard Lieber Memorial Trail
Burrowing deeper into the swamps than the adjoining Fern Garden Trail, the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail spans from an enormous oak to a wonderland of wet
Young Hammock Trail
Walk beneath immense oaks and pines on the Young Hammock Trail at Highlands Hammock State Park, a half-mile nature trail that showcases the succession of habitats
Teeter-tottering above a swamp, experience a stretch of old-time catwalk through the cypress swamp on the Cypress Boardwalk at Highlands Hammock State Park
Fern Garden Trail
A reminder of the botanical garden planned for what is now Highlands Hammock State Park, the Fern Garden Trail loops a fern-edged swamp on boardwalks and footpath
Allen Altvater Trail
A walk in the uplands of Highlands Hammock State Park, this 0.6-mile nature trail features dry habitat succession from flatwoods to scrub