One of the granddaddies of the Florida Park System, Highlands Hammock State Park protects the old-growth splendor of an ancient oak and palm hammock dense with trees many centuries old.
A network of short trails and a scenic one-way loop drive make it easy for visitors of all abilities to appreciate the natural grandeur of this setting.
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Length: 5.8 miles of interconnected hiking trails, 0.6 mile hiking loop, and 6 mile off-road bike trail
Trailhead: 27.4704, -81.5329
Address: 5931 Hammock Rd, Sebring
Fees: $6 per vehicle
Restroom: At the picnic area and concession
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome but not advisable on the Cypress Boardwalk. Please keep close watch on small children on the historic catwalk-style boardwalks.
Follow US 27 south from Avon Park or north from Lake Placid to Hammock Rd in Sebring, at a traffic light with prominent signage. Turn west and follow the road into the park. The entrance station is on the passenger’s side, and a bike path parallels the road to the park.
Once inside the gates, either park at the main picnic and concession area near Hammock Inn and the CCC Museum, or continue onto the one-way loop drive to stop at any of the many trailheads along it. All of them have limited parking and no restrooms. The campground is on the right before you reach the one-way loop. The loop is shared with hikers and cyclists and posted at a slow speed to accomodate all users.
About the Park
Walking or driving beneath live oaks of incredible size, you are immersed in a world that has nearly vanished in Florida.
This island of ancients could have become a farm. That’s why an orange grove stands along the loop.
Since it was planted, Sebring is now awash in a sea of subdivisions and strip malls, with cattle ranches and groves beyond.
After visiting Highlands Hammock during one of her winter retreats in Sebring, Margaret Roebling, the widow of famed engineer John Roebling – who designed the Brooklyn Bridge – purchased these woods.
Her idea was a botanical garden, and the Civilian Conservation Corps set up an encampment to make it happen. Their goal was to build “Florida Botanical Garden and Arboretum” in these grand forests.
Plans shifted, however, as the idea of creating a state park system in Florida came together.
The men built picnic shelters and a campground, bridges and boardwalks. Highlands Hammock State Park opened in 1931, one of Florida’s first and finest state parks.
In a sturdy structure built by the CCC, Hammock Inn has been a restaurant, concession area, gift shop, and camp store over the years.
When we first started visiting the park, the restaurant was famous for its sour orange pie and milkshakes made from oranges in the grove.
The big deal, here, however, has always been the trails and the loop drive through the hammock.
A walk in the woods at Highlands Hammock transports you to another place and time as you go deeper into its mysterious swamps and primeval forests.
Florida’s one and only Civilian Conservation Corps Museum showcases the history of the program and how these hardworking men were responsible for the beginnings of the Florida State Parks system.
Highlands Hammock State Park is centered around hiking, with short nature trails that can be taken as stand-alone hikes or linked together using the Main Park Road to make a day of it.
There are nine named trails within the park and only one – the 0.6-mile Allen Altvater Trail – does not easily connect with the others. Its trailhead is closest to the entrance, within the campground.
Starting at the main picnic area next to the Hammock Inn, the 0.6-mile linear Wild Orange Grove Trail forms the entrance to the trail system.
It ends just after crossing the park road at a clearing where the 0.2-mile Big Oak Trail loop picks up on the opposite side. Sadly, the thousand-year-old oak that was the centerpiece of this clearing died.
Follow the loop to the right to walk this trail and continue onto the long catwalk boardwalk that marks the start of the Hickory Trail.
After 0.2 mile, the linear Hickory Trail meets the park road along the one-way loop and crosses it at a pulloff with a bike rack, continuing deeper into Highlands Hammock.
It meets the Fern Garden Trail loop on a boardwalk. At the T, turn right. At the junction with the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail just past a bridge, turn left.
This path leads you into a primordial floodplain forest, reaching a boardwalk at a junction. Continue straight, and you end up at an observation platform in the gum swamp after 0.3 mile.
Turn around and return to the junction to take the other option. It emerges at the trailhead along Hammock Drive.
Turn left and a short walk down the park road leads to the Young Hammock Trail, which makes a 0.5-mile loop from its roadside trailhead.
Returning to the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail pulloff, walk back into the hammock. Cross the bridge and backtrack to the Fern Garden Trail.
Turn right to follow it around the slough. Along this segment of it, there are steps into a pond that feel like part of the original botanical garden plan.
Where the Fern Garden Trail comes out to the park road after 0.4 mile, the Ancient Hammock Trail is a quarter mile up the road to the right, against one-way traffic.
This 0.6-mile loop trail immerses in the oldest part of the live oak forest. The Cypress Boardwalk is another quarter mile along the park road past the Ancient Hammock Trail in the same direction.
If you only have time to hike one trail at Highlands Hammock, the 0.6-mile Cypress Boardwalk shouldn’t be missed. The first part is wide and accessible.
Then it narrows down to the original CCC-style catwalk, which only has a railing on one side. It’s quite an experience and a lot of fun.
If you walk all the trails by parking at the picnic area, hiking out here, and hiking back via the park road the way you came, be sure to catch the other side of the Fern Garden Trail loop.
Use it to connect back to the Hickory Trail, Big Oak Trail, and Wild Orange Grove Trail for the return trip. Completing all the trails in one go like this, using the road as a connector, takes 5.8 miles of hiking.
Alternately, you can drive the loop around the park and do each of the trails individually, knocking off a couple miles of walking along the road.
Three interconnected nature trails on the east side of Highlands Hammock – Wild Orange Grove, Big Oak, and Hickory – provide a gentle introduction to this wild place
Burrowing deeper into the swamps than the adjoining Fern Garden Trail, the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail spans from an enormous oak to a wonderland of wet
Walk beneath immense oaks and pines on the Young Hammock Trail at Highlands Hammock State Park, a half-mile nature trail that showcases the succession of habitats
Teeter-tottering above a swamp, experience a stretch of old-time catwalk through the cypress swamp on the Cypress Boardwalk at Highlands Hammock State Park
At Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, the Ancient Hammock Trail shows off the glory of towering cabbage palms and live oaks centuries old
A reminder of the botanical garden planned for what is now Highlands Hammock State Park, the Fern Garden Trail loops a fern-edged swamp on boardwalks and footpath
Located close to the park’s main entrance, the Highlands Hammock State Park campground borders an upland pine forest.
It’s a rather large campground, with 114 sites. Twenty-five sites are reserved for tent campers. RVs and trailers of up to 45 feet can be accomodated in some sites. Most are 20-25 feet.
All sites have electric, some 30 amp, others 50 amp. A dump station is provided. The bathhouses have hot showers and laundry facilities.
The campground is a short walk from the picnic area and CCC Museum, as well as the trail system. The Altvater Trail loops through the pine forest adjoining the campground.
Bikes are not permitted on the hiking trails within the park. Cyclists have alternate options to enjoy Highlands Hammock.
Most riders will find it more satisfying to follow the 3-mile one-way loop road around the park, as it immerses you in the same grandeur as the trails, but is an easier ride.
Bring a hybrid or mountain bike to ride the 6-mile off-road trail that runs through the pine forest not far from the campground and the park entrance.
A marked bike path leaves the park along the edge of Hammock Rd, connecting with a larger network of paved trails throughout Sebring where it reaches the Lake Jackson Trail at US 27 along the lakeshore.
See our photos of Highlands Hammock State Park
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With moss-draped oaks and tall hickory trees, stands of cabbage palms and a beautiful campsite, the Hickory Hammock Trail is an enjoyable destination
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