Teeter-tottering above a swamp? Come see Florida’s wilds the way the first trails in the state were built.
Adventuresome hikers who want to have a little fun on a nature trail need to experience this stretch of old-time catwalk through the cypress swamp at Highlands Hammock State Park.
The approach boardwalk is broad and wheelchair-accessible, leading back to an observation platform where things go retro.
It’s here that the old-fashioned catwalk, a balance beam of sorts, completes the loop by zigzags through the cypress along the creek’s edge.
It’s a legacy we’re glad the park has retained, from the simpler days of Florida tourism.
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Length: 0.6 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.471619, -81.552473
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 in the park but not advisable on the Cypress Boardwalk.
Please keep close watch on small children on the historic catwalk-style boardwalks along this loop.
Follow US 27 south from Avon Park or north from Lake Placid to Hammock Rd (CR 634) 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, keep going and you’ll reach the one-way counterclockwise driving loop. The Cypress Boardwalk is about 1.5 miles along this loop drive, on the right.
As evidenced by the size of the parking area, this is the most popular trail in the park.
Follow the broad boardwalk directly into the dark cypress swamp along Little Charlie Bowlegs Creek.
You’re immediately surrounded by the sensory experience of the cypress slough. Midnight black water flows almost imperceptibly between the cypress knees.
The forest is still. The dank sweet aroma of rotting leaves rises from below, as do the grunts of young alligators.
Look out into the swamp, and you see royal ferns and cinnamon ferns growing in clumps at the bases of the cypresses, and red maples dropping their leaves into the water.
After 0.2 mile, the broad boardwalk ends. Now, the hike becomes an adventure.
Continue past the platform on the original narrow catwalk with its low single rail. Take your time as you walk along these four linear planks just a couple of feet above the dark water of the creek.
You reach a little observation platform with a bench. Sit down and look across the creek, and you might stare right into the eyes of an alligator watching you.
The boardwalk curves to cross the creek, passing an observation platform with a bench where you can sit and look upstream.
The sound of cicadas echoes through the forest, a low undercurrent like a crackling fire.
The boardwalk creaks and groans as you continue through the swamp, passing another platform with a bench. When the boardwalk ends, follow the path through the hammock.
Passing under a large wild grapefruit tree, the trail emerges from the forest. Cross the grassy area to return to the parking area, completing the 0.6-mile circuit.
Learn more about Highlands Hammock State Park
See our video of the Cypress Boardwalk
See our photos of the Cypress Boardwalk at Highlands Hammock State Park
More trails to explore in this park
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
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