Comprised of wet prairies, pine flatwoods, oak hammocks, and scrub, Buster Island in Lake Kissimmee State Park is indeed an island.
It is surrounded by three lakes – Lake Kissimmee, Lake Rosalie, and Tiger Lake – and the waterways that connect them.
The Buster Island Loop loops through a succession of varied habitats along the Lake Wales Ridge, making this a particularly interesting hike.
The beauty of Buster Island, however, lies in its old-growth live oak hammocks, where orchids and ferns peep from the thick branches above.
The primitive campsite beneath the oaks is a favorite destination for backpackers in Central Florida, especially for families just starting out backpacking.
Our resources for exploring the area. A full writeup of this hike and others in this park can be found in 50 Hikes in Central Florida
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Location: Lake Wales
Length: 6.9 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.9401, -81.3586
Address: 14248 Camp Mack Rd, Lake Wales
Fees: $4-5 per vehicle
Restroom: At the marina trailhead
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Hours may change due to current events, check ahead. Leashed pets welcome but are not permitted overnight at the backpacking campsite.
Your campsite must be reserved in advance. Call ahead or check at the ranger station for availability. Allow yourself two hours before sunset to get there.
Wildlife is abundant, so bring a camera and keep well away from alligators. Free-range cattle are along this trail. Use caution when approaching or passing them.
From the junction of US 27 and SR 60 in Lake Wales, head east on SR 60 for 9.7 miles to Boy Scout Camp Road. Turn left and drive 3.5 miles to Camp Mack Road. Turn right, following this road 5.4 miles to the park entrance on the right. After you enter through the ranger station, the park road twists and winds through the oak hammocks that dominate the North Loop. Continue along the park road past the campground and the turnoff to the Cow Camp, reaching the parking area next to the marina. All trails can be accessed here. Please sign in at the kiosk before you hike. You must let the ranger at the front gate know if you plan to backpack to the campsite.
To get to the loop, you must hike a connector trail from the marina parking area. Follow the beaten path from that parking lot west, paralleling the Zipprer Canal.
The large kiosk near the park road is the starting point for three trails. The Buster Island Loop route is blazed white, but the connector to it is blazed blue.
After the yellow blazes of the North Loop peel off, the blue blazes lead you to and across the bridge over the Zipprer Canal.
Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you’re on the island. Blazes lead up a forest road into the woods, passing a side road to the 1876 Cow Camp.
It’s the living history aspect of Lake Kissimmee State Park, open only on weekends. It provides a look at what life was like on the Florida range for cow hunters.
After a half mile, the blue blazes end at the sign for the beginning of the white-blazed loop trail. Turn right into the pine flatwoods to walk this loop counterclockwise.
Look out into the open forest and start counting the deer. You’re sure to startle some as you cross their trails.
More than two miles in, you see open scrub. Thickets with loblolly bay and yaupon holly indicate that the edge of this area is usually damp.
As the trail enters the scrubby flatwoods, it becomes a distinct pine-needle footpath edged by grass.
At 3.5 miles, the trail enters the oak hammock. Butterfly orchids dangle overhead, catching your eye during their summer blooming season.
Skirting a large flatwoods pond, the trail meets the sign for the primitive campsite. It has two picnic tables and several fire rings, but no water.
It’s a great place to stop and take a lunch break halfway through the hike.
Leaving the campsite, walk beneath a spectacular canopy of live oaks, the prairie visible in the distance.
The trail leaves the shade of the live oaks and heads straight into a patch of scrub, part of the Lake Wales Ridge.
After 6.1 miles, the trail enters the vast prairie at the heart of Buster Island to cross it.
To the left, you can see the sweep of treeline in the distance, the route through the oak hammock and pine flatwoods you just walked.
Reach the beginning of the white trail loop at 6.5 miles. Turn right, retracing your steps back to the parking area along the blue-blazed trail.
Learn more about Lake Kissimmee State Park and its trails
Lake Kissimmee State Park
Discover the beauty of the land between the lakes east of Lake Wales while exploring the vast prairies and fern-laden hammocks of Lake Kissimmee State Park
Crossing the Lake Kissimmee State Park park drive multiple times, the 6.8-mile North Loop is the easiest trail to access within the park, offering excellent birding
Gobbler Ridge Trail
From its showy start with a climb up an observation tower to its breezy loop along Lake Kissimmee, the Gobbler Ridge Trail offers scenic views all along its length
Flatwoods Pond Trail
The sole interpretive trail at Lake Kissimmee State Park, the Flatwoods Pond Trail shows off habitats and history in a short loop not far from the campground
See our photos from the Buster Island Loop
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Crooked Lake Prairie
With an interlinking network of loop trails, Crooked Lake Prairie is a refreshing excursion into habitats found on the high hills of the Lake Wales Ridge
With up to 6.2 miles of trails – many of them a bit wet – SUMICA is one of the natural lands in Polk County where birding is especially superb.
Florida Trail, KICCO South
10.1 miles. Ancient live oaks break up the expanse of cattle pastures and prairies along the Florida Trail adjoining the Kissimmee River in KICCO
Catfish Creek Preserve Trails
Allan David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park isn’t just “a perfect example of Lake Wales Ridge Scrub,” it’s a landscape unlike any other you’ll find in Florida