A virtual jungle of ancient oak hammocks and floodplain forests west of Lake Jackson, Highlands Hammock State Park is Sebring’s crown jewel and a Florida State Park that you won’t want to miss.
Within more than 9,000 acres, nine nature trails ramble through a variety of habitats. Most of these have their own trailheads along the park road.
At the day use area – which includes the state’s only Civilian Conservation Corps Museum, the picnic area, and the Hammock Inn camp store – an eastern access point to the trail system starts.
Three interconnected nature trails on the east side of the hammock – Wild Orange Grove, Big Oak, and Hickory – provide a gentle introduction to this wild place.
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Length: 2.4 mile round-trip
Trailhead: 27.4702, -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. No bicycles on the hiking trail, but you can use one to get to the trailhead along the park road.
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, continue past the campground entrance to the day use area on the left, where the CCC Museum, Hammock Inn, and picnic area are located. Your hike starts here.
Wild Orange Grove Trail
Look for the trailhead sign adjacent to the Hammock Inn, to the right of the picnic area. The Wild Orange Grove Trail starts out as a gentle walk into a pine forest behind the buildings.
As the outer edge of Highlands Hammock is ringed by pine flatwoods, the trail continues into the edge of the hardwood hammock, where ferns fill the understory.
After a quarter mile, cross a bridge over a tannic waterway as forest yields to floodplain forest, a swamp in the lowlying area. The trail begins a curve to the right.
Poison ivy creeps up to the edges of the footpath. Overhead, notice the dangling fruit. This floodplain forest is full of wild citrus trees naturalized here from the nearby pioneer-era orange grove.
Reaching the park road, cross it to continue along the trail, which ends after 0.6 mile.
Big Oak Trail
After crossing the park road, the trail comes to a clearing. It’s here that the Big Oak, more than a thousand years old, once dominated the canopy.
On our last visit, only the remains of the trunk were left. Old age and hurricane-force winds forced its demise.
This is the start of the Big Oak Trail, a 0.2-mile loop. Turn right to tunnel into the forest that birthed this giant.
The trees are enormous throughout this hammock: not just oaks, but hickory, sweetgum, and red maple trees as well.
Along the trail are other oaks with rotted trunks where animals could easily shelter, including one oak with a hollow in it big enough to serve as a bear’s den.
When you reach the boardwalk, you’ve finished the loop. The Hickory Trail starts here.
This boardwalk is one of the old-style catwalks dating back to the beginnings of the park, and takes a sense of balance to cross. There is a railing to hold onto. It is slippery when wet.
The sensation is that of crossing a very long log, and it’s best that you don’t meet someone coming the other way. Surrounding the boardwalk is the floodplain swamp.
On the opposite side of the boardwalk, a trail leads to the left into the old pioneer orange grove, if you wish to take a peek.
The main route turns right, passing a massive oak tree that has caught a spindly cabbage palm in its crooked embrace.
The trail winds through a forest punctuated with these ancients. Walking between the hickories, you reach an enormous oak tree, its interior hollowed out so greatly that you can stand inside of it.
A bouquet of sword ferns dangles from a knot in the tree trunk above. Cabbage palms rise to the high canopy above.
In this lush, humid environment, needle palm thrives. Cinnamon fern, sword fern, stands of wild coffee, and marlberry line the footpath.
A mile into your hike, the trail emerges at the park road, where there is a pulloff trailhead. Cross the road to continue down the Hickory Trail, passing the bike rack.
The deep shade of the oak hammock shelters the walk, with massive bromeliads dangling overhead like chandeliers.
Reaching a boardwalk, you walk into a wonderland of ferns, reaching a T intersection in the boardwalk at a flag pond at 1.3 miles.
This is where the Hickory Trail meets the Fern Garden Trail, which in turn connects to the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail.
A walk out and back between the Hammock Inn and this junction is 2.2 miles, without repeating the Big Oak Loop on the return trip.
If you add on these two short loops in the swamp, you can complete a 2.9-mile hike all at once. Details for each are below.
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
Learn more about Highlands Hammock State Park
See our photos of the Wild Orange, Big Oak, and Hickory Trails
More trails to explore in this park
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