As the headwaters of four of Central Florida’s largest rivers, – the Hillsborough, the Withlacoochee, the Ocklawaha, and the Peace – the Green Swamp is one of Central Florida’s most crucial natural resources. Despite the name, however, most of it is not underwater. Instead, it’s a mosaic of cypress domes amid pine flatwoods, sandhills, and scrub, a recharge area for the Floridan Aquifer covering over 860 square miles to the north of Lakeland.
At the trailhead parking area, there is a kiosk with maps you can take with you, a picnic shelter, and portable toilet. Passing a picnic bench, follow the paved path – the Cypress Loop – into the woods. It’s the wheelchair-accessible entrance to nearly 3 miles of trails in the Green Swamp.
Length: 2.5 miles
Lat-Long: 28.178883, -81.990050
Type: Loops and spur
Fees / Permits: none
Bug factor: moderate
Maps should be available at the trailhead, but you can also print one from the Environmental Lands website.
From I-4 exit 32 in Lakeland, drive 6.8 miles north on US 98 to the park entrance on the right. The park is open until dusk. Bring your binoculars, as this is a prime site to see the colorful summer tanager and other warblers.
Leaving the parking area, the Cypress Loop is a wheelchair accessible ribbon of asphalt is 0.6 mile long and winds through the pine flatwoods to pass a cypress dome. Along the loop, it reaches a large interpretive kiosk with information about the Green Swamp, and the option to follow the unpaved Piney Wood Trail, the original trail in the park. Turn here and follow the trail markers on a narrow gravel connector between the two trails
When you emerge on the Piney Wood Loop, turn right. This trail follows a series of jeep roads through the forest. Watch for the orange and black trail markers as you walk through a forest of pines and oaks. Keep left at the fork. Another decision point comes up soon—the Gator Creek Loop. Head straight if you want to add 0.8 mile to your trek; otherwise turn left to continue on the Piney Wood Loop.
Making a sharp left turn beneath the pines, the trail begins to zigzag between cypress domes, dense clusters of tall, slender pond cypress with knees protruding in the grass. These are the low spots of the Green Swamp, where rainfall collects and soaks in slowly. Saw palmetto is abundant in the understory beneath the pines. After another sharp left tern, the trail once again follows a broad jeep track to complete the loop. Turn left, then right, to return to the parking lot via the Cypress Loop.
The Gator Creek Loop extends 0.8 mile to the north of the Piney Wood Loop, providing a way to visit the namesake of this preserve. The footpath becomes a causeway with cypress swamp on both sides, the dark waters murky with duckweed. When you reach the creek, it’s not at all what you expect—it’s a narrow duckweed-choked slough carved into the woods, built many years ago to drain the pine flatwoods so cattle could graze the forest, eliminating the original natural flow of what was Gator Creek. The trail now continues beyond the creek to form a loop through the pine flatwoods, and returns to this point.