Located atop the Lake Wales Ridge, the Walk in Water Tract of Lake Wales Ridge State Forest showcases undisturbed natural sandhill habitats.
The well-maintained Big Bay Trail provides access to biodiverse landscapes, including endangered species of flora and fauna.
Two backpacking campsites along the trail can be reserved for a quiet overnight stay under the stars.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 4.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.760020, -81.465255
Address: 1833 Co Rd 630, Frostproof, FL 33843
Fees: $2 per person
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome.
Trails are off-limits to cyclists. Check hunting season dates before you hike.
This trail interconnects with the Scrub Jay Loop and has two primitive campsites along it. Reserve in advance online.
From US 27 south of Lake Wales, head east on CR 630A for 1.4 miles through Frostproof, where it becomes CR 630. Continue straight for 6.1 miles, and the trailhead is located on the left side of the road.
Beginning at the parking area, be sure to stop at a large kiosk displaying information, maps of the property, and instructions to pay the entrance fee.
Beyond the kiosk, follow yellow blazes for about 50 feet to the start of the loop trail.
Stay to the right, continuing down an access road before veering left, then crossing under powerlines, and passing through a pair of yellow-blazed posts.
Thick clusters of saw palmetto border a seasonal prairie pond to the west.
Sand live oaks border a stark white pathway meandering through dry, scrubby sandhill habitat teeming with vegetation adapted to arid conditions.
Reaching the far end of the loop at 0.4 mile, stay straight to remain on the northern spur of the Big Bay Trail.
The habitat quickly changes as the trail skirts alongside a sliver of wet flatwoods, characterized by fetterbush lyonia, gallberries, palmettos, and sporadic pines.
At 0.6 mile, a side trail leads to the Big Bear Campsite.
Continue following yellow blazes as the pine needle strewn pathway transitions to sand, lined with scrub oaks and an occasional turkey oak.
Sage colored leaves of garberia stand out from surrounding vegetation, their showy pinkish purple blooms emerging in late fall.
At one mile, the yellow trail joins the red equestrian trail for 200 feet before returning to a low canopy of twisted oaks covered in Spanish moss, Christmas lichen, and ball moss.
Intriguingly large numbers of endangered giant airplants cling to trees and sit on the forest floor, distinguished by their long, light green pointed leaves.
Reaching the two-mile mark, a large wooden sign indicates the end of the trail, and an arrow pointing in the direction of the Wood Duck campsite.
An additional 0.2-mile spur to the west reveals this spectacularly scenic primitive site at the edge of a large prairie pond.
Heading back towards the trailhead, turn after another 1.7 miles to explore the western side of the loop trail.
Descending slightly from sandhill habitats, the trail follows alongside a bayhead in a distinctively water environment covered in loblolly bay trees.
In another 0.6 mile, turn right at the end of the loop, returning to the parking area in 50 feet.
Learn more about Lake Wales Ridge State Forest
A virtual walk in the woods on the Big Bay Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
An easy loop trail traverses scattered prairie ponds within a dry ecosystem suitable for one of the state’s most endangered birds, the Florida scrub-jay.
Edward Bok’s “Jungle,” a deeply folded landscape between Tiger Creek and Patrick Creek south of Lake Wales, is protected by The Nature Conservancy as Tiger Creek Preserve.
With up to 6.2 miles of trails – many of them a bit wet – SUMICA is one of the natural lands in Polk County where birding is especially superb.