Along the eastern shore of Hickory Lake, this 57-acre preserve showcases some of the unusual plants you can only find on the Lake Wales Ridge. When the rest of Florida was under a few feet of water, long, thin dune-capped islands stood well above the waves. As a result, the ridge has one of North America’s most diverse biological communities, with the highest concentration of rare and endangered plants in the continental United States. Although this is only one of a string of natural lands showcasing the Lake Wales Ridge habitat, it is by far the most accessible and easiest to explore.
Length: 0.7 miles in two loops
Lat-Long: 27.697283, -81.536783
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low
The North Loop has a lot of soft sand. Stay on the footpath to avoid stepping on rare plants.
Drive north on Scenic Highway (SR 17) from US 27 north of Avon Park towards Frostproof. Turn left on Hopson Road to access the southern loop from a trailhead on the right. The northern trailhead is on the left along Scenic Highway 0.5 mile after Hopson Road. Southbound from Frostproof, it’s on the right immediately after a subdivision bearing the “Hickory Lake” name. Maps should be available at the trailhead, but you can also print one from the Environmental Lands website.
The 0.4-mile North Loop begins at the trailhead along Scenic Highway 17. Sign in at the trail register, and follow the broad path towards the lake. The flora of this region is small and subtle, so kneel down and look at the complexity at your feet. Sand squares, with distinctive groupings of tiny flowers in squares, are easy to pick out, as are the slender dark green spikes of spike moss. The trail reaches the edge of Hickory Lake, where you can see orange groves on the far shore. It turns to follow the marshy edge of the lake on uneven footing, and may be flooded after a rain.
As the trail rises up into scrubby flatwoods, it makes a sharp left turn away from the lake and begins a meander through the open scrub. Natural gardens of rare scrub plants, many identified with markers, grow at your feet. The most showy among them is the scrub morning glory with its brilliant violet blooms, but you’ll also see sandlace, Ashe’s savory, Curtis’s milkweed, and more, as well as a few gopher tortoise burrows. Keep watching for trail markers and for the footpath itself, as it twists and turns so much it’s easy to lose. It loops back to emerge at the parking area.
Off Hopson Road to the south of the main entrance, a secondary entrance provides another look at the rare flora of the Lake Wales Ridge along a 0.3 mile loop. Sign in at the trail register and start following the orange blazes, walking along the trail beneath the shade of an oak hammock. As the trail comes up to the ecotone between hammock and scrub, it gains elevation and starts the loop. Climbing a hill, it comes to a side trail. Follow it to see a small cutthroat seep, with a rare patch of cutthroat grass. Farther along the loop, a green meadow of cutthroat grass grows beneath the sand pines. Turn left at the T to exit.