Crooked Lake Prairie is a refreshing excursion into habitats found on the high hills of the Lake Wales Ridge.
The network of interlinking loop trails includes the orange-blazed 1.3 mile Scrub Trail, the 0.3-mile purple blazed Lookout Trail, the 1.5 mile blue blazed Pine Woods Trail, and the most popular loop, the yellow-blazed 1.2 mile Prairie Path.
Walking the perimeter of the trail system, you can enjoy a hike of roughly three miles.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: Up to 4.6 miles in loops
Trailhead: 27.806483, -81.559483
Restroom: portable toilet
Land Manager: Polk County Environmental Lands
All of the trails are very open, so use sun protection. Camping is permitted at a designated site if you contact the the Environmental Lands office in advance for a permit.
Maps should be available at the trailhead, but you can also print one from the Environmental Lands website.
From the junction of SR 17 and CR 630 in Frostproof, drive north 3.8 miles to Cody Villa Rd; turn left at sign for Crooked Prairie Preserve. Follow road to where it makes a sharp right; turn right and make an immediate left into the preserve. The entrance road leads through a citrus grove to the trailhead parking area.
While a sign at the trailhead almost immediately points you to walk clockwise on the Scrub Trail, the hike is far more enjoyable by turning right to follow the Prairie Path.
Starting out by following a jeep trail along the ecotone where scrub and prairie meet, it leads into a series of oak hammocks draped in Spanish moss.
Dropping to the edge of Crooked Lake, the trail reaches the boardwalk. It’s here you’ll want to take out your camera.
Herons and egrets poke around the shallows, and the view across the cordgrass prairie is spectacular, with showy sprays of slender grass waving in unison in the breeze.
Once you leave the boardwalk, the trail rises onto a berm with more views of the swaying clumps of cordgrass before it tacks from oak hammock to oak hammock across the ancient sands of the Lake Wales Ridge.
After 0.7 mile you reach a junction with the Piney Woods Trail, which is a shortcut back to the parking area. To continue hiking the perimeter, head straight.
The trail leaves the prairie rim and continues into a slash pine forest. Follow the orange blazes, and you’ll soon enter the open scrub.
At least two families of Florida scrub-jays live here, so look for the blur of blue characteristic of this colorful bird in flight.
At the next trail junction, the left takes you back to the parking area along the Piney Wood Loop, which is a good choice if you want to see more of the cordgrass prairie.
Or continue straight ahead on the Scrub Trail into the thick of the diminutive scrub forest, where the footing is soft underfoot but you’re more likely to see scrub-jays up close.
After 3 miles of hiking the perimeter, you’re back to the trailhead.
See our photos of Crooked Lake Prairie
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Atop the Lake Wales Ridge, the nature trails at the Ridge Audubon Center in Babson Park do a fabulous job of interpreting the unique flora and fauna of this island of biodiversity.
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.
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.