Colt Creek State Park covers a fairly sizable piece of the Green Swamp, headwaters to the Hillsborough, Peace, Ocklawaha, and Withlacoochee Rivers.
This low-lying area is a mosaic of wetlands and uplands, with cypress swamps and wet prairies intermingled with hardwood forests and pine flatwoods.
Once a five thousand acre cattle ranch between Dade City and Lakeland, the park is now a destination for campers, equestrians, and hikers.
Resources for exploring the region
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Address: 16000 SR 471, Lakeland
Fees: $4 per vehicle
Restroom: At the day use area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM until sunset daily. Leashed pets welcome.
Except where posted otherwise, trails may be walked, bicycled, or ridden on horseback.
Equestrians must have proof of a negative Coggins test before bringing horses into the park. The equestrian trailhead is closer to the park entrance than the day use area.
Follow US 98 north from Interstate 4 at Lakeland to reach SR 471. Turn right. Continue north to the park entrance on the right.
About the Park
We watched this park unfold from acquisition, a temporary trailhead, and its first trail to a pleasant destination with many miles of trails to follow.
At first it was all about equestrians and fishing. Many visitors bring a horse to ride the extensive network of trails and forest roads.
Then a day use area was developed along Mac Lake, with a large pavilion, pier, accessible pathway along the lake, canoe and kayak rentals, and an easy walk to a nature trail.
Birders gravitate to the ponds and marshes just the north of the Mac Lake parking area, as well as the edges of the lake itself.
Add a campground and some primitive campsites for backpackers, bikepackers, and equestrians, and this has evolved into a multi-facted outdoor destination showcasing the Green Swamp.
The 10-mile Flatwoods Trail connects the day use area with both campgrounds and the two primitive campsites.
Early maps of the park showed a second 7-mile loop called the Yellow Trail around the Youth Camp. We have not explored it yet.
Most day users will amble along the unnamed connector trail between the day use area and the Flatwoods Trail.
It provides access to the Mac Lake Nature Trail, a short interpretive arc through a hardwood hammock along a floodplain.
Connectors to the Florida Trail in the Green Swamp Wilderness Area were also promised when the park was first established, but we haven’t heard about them since.
The Western Corridor of the Florida Trail passes very close to the north boundary of the park before it crosses SR 471 to use the highway bridge to cross the Withlacoochee River.
An easy excursion into a dense hardwood forest along a natural floodplain, the Mac Lake Nature Trail at Colt Creek State Park is an interpretive walk in the woods
Cyclists can bike the park roads and forest roads, and also go off-road on the Flatwoods Trail.
Portions of this trail are grassy or graveled, but there are parts that can get wet at certain times of year.
Bring your own kayak or rent one at the park to ply the waters of Mac Lake. Once a limerock pit, it’s a large open body of water fringed with marshes and berms.
Follow the road past the day use area at Mac Lake to find the campground that was built in the pine flatwoods. Leashed pets are welcome here.
Spaces are large and open, optimized for RV use. Gravel pads are on 27 of the sites, which can handle rigs up to 70 feet long.
Six additional sites are set aside just for tent campers. Each site has a picnic table and grill, plus water and electric hookups.
Campers share a central bathhouse with hot showers and laundry. The bathhouse is accessible, as are two of the campsites near it.
A separate equestrian campground is near the front of the park. It has 10 sites and can handle horse trailers.
Primitive camping is also available along the backcountry trails at two designated sites. There is a youth group camp as well. Contact the park to reserve.
See our photos of Colt Creek State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
A linear trail, the Upper Hillsborough River Hiking Trail meanders through pine flatwoods, oak hammocks, and floodplain forests along the edge of the Hillsborough River basin.
A dip into a corner of the Green Swamp, Gator Creek Preserve north of Lakeland offers 2.5 miles of easy loop trails for the whole family to explore
Water in motion: the Hillsborough rapids foam and froth over limestone boulders beneath grand cypress trees in Class II rapids. One of Florida’s oldest state parks, Hillsborough River State Park showcases this masterpiece of nature from an overlook and trail system built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.