In the rolling hills of the Lake Wales Ridge south of Clermont, Lake Louisa is the southernmost lake in the Palatlakaha River chain of lakes, its waters flowing northward to feed Lake Susan, Lake Minehaha, and Lake Minneola. Extending between the park entrance and the recreation area along Lake Louisa, the hiking trails showcase the habitats found along and above the lake, from the tall hills – being restored to longleaf pine forest after years of ranching – to the famed scrub of the Lake Wales Ridge, with dense hardwood forests along tributaries and the cypress-lined shoreline of Lake Louisa itself.
Length: 4.1 miles one-way
Lat-Long: 28.455807,-81.723799 to 28.460479, -81.747625
Type: linear (can also be done as a round-trip)
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee
Bug factor: Low to moderate
Restroom: At the Lake Louisa parking area
Hiking this trail with a second car available means an easy downhill from the highest elevations of the park, as described here. If you’re going solo or simply want to take a longer trek, start your hike at the Lake Louisa parking area, go up to the ranger station and head back downhill. You have the choice of taking the shorter Uplands Trail on the return route.
Follow US 27 south 6.6 miles from SR 50 in Clermont to the park entrance on the right. Coming from the south, the park entrance is 8.2 miles north of US 192 along SR 27.
Starting at the parking lot adjacent to the ranger station, the trailhead affords a sweeping view of Lake Louisa.
Turn left at the first T intersection, your first decision point along the trail system, at a quarter mile. The trail offers expansive views across the hillside, which, long a ranch and orange grove, has been planted in longleaf pine to guarantee the return of a forest in the future.
At the T intersection, turn right to head downhill, rounding a large marshland hidden behind a screen of vegetation on your left. Stay to the left at the next fork as the trail summits a hill and heads down the other side into the first burst of shade along the walk, a small hammock of live oak and laurel oak as the land levels out and you reach a trail intersection.
Take a few minutes to walk straight ahead on a short spur trail that leads out to Lake Louisa. Passing through the floodplain forest that rings the lake, it scrambles over an embankment beneath a picturesque moss-draped live oak and eases down to the sandy shore. Yes, you can see houses on the far shore, but turn left and look to the near shore – cypress-lined and busy with bird life. This is the only spot along the trail system where you can drink in the panorama of the natural shoreline of Lake Louisa.
Returning to the main trail, you’ve walked a mile so far. Turn right. The trail continues through open former pasture with a smattering of trees but no direct shade. A line of cypress is ahead in the distance. At the next trail junction, turn left as you start heading uphill, and keep right at the next fork. Passing a marsh on the left, you encounter a bench soon after as the trail works its way into some shade. Emerging back into the sun, you pass between patches of Lake Wales Ridge scrub before the trail follows a causeway through a stand of pines, emerging into the sun on the far side through another open meadow that is attempting to return to scrub.
You are almost misguided into a floodplain (which isn’t a problem if the creek is low) at 2.4 miles, where the trail makes its way out to the park road to enable you to cross a creek on the highway bridge. Watch for the blazes to immediately guide you back into the woods along this deeply-forested waterway. This is another of the beauty spots on the trail, where the footpath guides you beneath a dense canopy of oaks as it winds along the creek before it emerges into the pine flatwoods.
Passing a junction with the fitness trail, the trail continues along the edge of a pretty little stretch of scrub up to the next trail junction at 2.7 miles. Continue straight ahead. Following a forest road that divides the former pasture / recovering scrub from the hardwoods and floodplain forest of the creek drainage, you come to a crossroad after walking across a well-used wildlife path. Turn right. Passing a bench, watch for a side trail on the right. It’s a spur trail leading uphill with a bench overlooking the cypress floodplain and a small pond, another beauty spot.
Returning to the main trail, you soon reach the eastern end of the nature trail loop. Turn right to follow this interpretive trail along the edge of the floodplain forest. It reaches a boardwalk with several benches and information about the Green Swamp watershed, of which Lake Louisa is an important park. Trails merge as you approach the trailhead kiosk at the Lake Louisa parking area at 4.1 miles. This is the end of your linear hike – or return to the Ranger Station trailhead, if you’re parked there – using either this route or a variant of it on the way back. The trail system has quite a few options you try out on the return trip; just make sure you’re carrying the park’s hiking trail map! You can pick one up at the ranger station.