Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Lake Wales Ridge by getting into the backcountry of this lesser-visited state park in Polk County.
More than twenty endangered plant species grow here, including scrub plum, scrub morning glory, and pygmy fringe trees.
Explore the preserve by hiking, riding your horse, or fishing in the prairie ponds. Backcountry camping is also permitted.
Birders will be rewarded with sightings of Florida scrub-jays in the scrub and sandhill cranes on the prairies.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Haines City
Length: 10.2 mile trail network
Address: 4335 Firetower Rd, Haines City
Fees: Free. $5 per night primitive camping fee
Restroom: Vault toilet at the trailhead
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset daily. Leashed pets welcome. A small picnic area is at the trailhead.
This is a very hilly place to hike with exposed ridges and limited shade. Take plenty of water with you and use sun protection. Get out quickly if a thunderstorm threatens.
From US 27 in Dundee, follow CR 542 east to Hatchineha Road. Turn right and continue 8 miles to Firetower Road. Turn right. Continue 3 miles. The park trailhead is on the left before the FFA Leadership Camp entrance. If you reach their gate, turn around and come back, since Firetower Road dead-ends at the camp.
About the Park
Established in 1991, Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek State Park protects more than 8,200 acres of scrub habitat along Catfish Creek.
It’s a natural, wild waterway connecting Lake Pierce and Lake Hatchineha in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.
The preserve honors Allen David Broussard, son of Margaret and Dr. William Broussard, who established the Allen Broussard Conservancy and Forever Florida after their son’s death.
He is memorialized not just by the preservation of this land he loved and the park name, but also with a monument at one of his favorite spots.
Allen appreciated and studied the flora and fauna found here on the Lake Wales Ridge, and was concerned with development destroying it all.
One of the delights and surprises of this park are the amazing views from the tops of each ridge. The ridges run north-south, with the trails running up and over them.
This is typical of the Lake Wales Ridge, a landform that stretches from north of Lake Okeechobee up to Clermont, forming the spine of the Florida Peninsula.
However, there are few places along it that have been left this wild, and even fewer where the ridges are so visible from one another in a vast natural area.
The trails at Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek State Park include an outer loop of 8 miles, optimal for equestrian use, and cross-trails enabling inner loops.
Other than on horseback, hiking is the main way to see this preserve. We’ve hiked the long loop described on their map, as well as the shorter ones.
This is one of the tougher places to hike in Central Florida, thanks to the deep soft sand and the steep slopes.
Hiking poles are a must as you traverse each hill, with deep swales between the creases home to long, slender wet prairies.
Florida scrub-jays squawk in the oaks, and sandhill cranes browse through open grasslands.
The trail network provides numerous options for you to explore the preserve. Stick with a short loop for birding, or plan ahead for a long day hike or overnight trip.
The loop we describe here is the medium-length hiking loop of 3.5 miles, which you can expand or shorten as needed.
While trails are open to cyclists, we found the deep soft sand a real problem for trying to traverse the preserve on a bike.
By deep, we mean some of the deepest sand we’ve seen other than at dunes on the beach. That’s because these are ancient dunes.
Since equestrians share the trail system and park vehicles drive on the sand roads, the steeper grades are particularly churned up.
If you try to bike here, consider going clockwise out of the trailhead, and sticking to the flatter ground around the wetlands in the prairie swales just over the first ridge.
Two primitive campsites are available along the trail system. Contact the park to reserve a spot in advance of your visit. There is a $5 per person per night fee for use.
No water is provided in the backcountry. Bring what you need. A picnic table and fire ring are at each site.
Site 1 is along the hiking loop, about 1.7 miles in, over the first two ridges. Site 2 is nearly twice as far and is along Catfish Creek.
See our photos of Catfish Creek Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Managed by The Nature Conservancy, the Disney Wilderness Preserve is a 12,000 acre showcase for habitat conservation amid growing suburban sprawl south of Orlando
Providing an easy walk into 8,000 acres of uplands draining into Lake Marion Creek, the trail system on Huckleberry Island at Lake Marion Creek WMA leads 4.2 miles.
At the Osceola District Schools Environmental Study Center, trails along Reedy Creek Swamp showcase the beauty of the ancient cypress and floodplain forest.