For a place to contemplate the wild swampy heart of Highlands Hammock, the observation platform at the end of the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail is among its quietest outposts.
This fascinating short trail interconnects with the Fern Garden Trail but has its own distinct feel, pairing hammock uplands with haunting swamps.
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Length: 0.4 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.4727, -81.5441
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. No bicycles or pets, please. Boardwalks may be slippery. Mosquito repellent is a must.
The trail can also be accessed via the Hickory Trail or the Fern Garden Trail in addition to its own trailhead, and is a short walk down the park road from the Young Hammock Trail.
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. Richard Lieber Memorial Trail is about a quarter of the way around the three mile drive, on the left soon after curving past the Hickory Trail crossing.
A large oak once dominated the trailhead clearing for the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail, along with a sign that points in two directions.
Given the amount of patching done to keep the oak from falling down, we wouldn’t be surprised if, like the Big Oak, it’s only a stump now. Start your hike by taking the left side of the loop for a clockwise walk.
Strap ferns radiate from the base of a water oak, while next to it a fallen branch is decorated in tufts of wild pine.
At the junction with the bridge, this trail meets the Fern Garden Trail. Make a right to parallel the narrow ditch into a floodplain forest of cabbage palms, hickories, and elms.
Once on the boardwalk, you’re immersed in a primeval swamp, surrounded by the stillness of the forest. Dark pools of water shimmer with tadpoles.
Zigzagging through a dense thicket of hickory, the boardwalk reaches a junction at a bench. Continue straight.
The boardwalk ends at an observation platform. Sit and enjoy this peaceful place, where you can hear the leaves falling and the red-bellied woodpeckers knocking on snags.
Return along the boardwalk back to the last trail junction, noticing the strangely knotted balls of roots sticking out of the swamp, mimicking cypress knees.
At the trail junction, turn left. The boardwalk ends, dropping you into a stand of tall cabbage palms and hickories.
Past the bench, the forest floor disappears under a dense carpet of sword ferns as the footpath emerges at the trailhead after 0.4 mile.
Learn more about Highlands Hammock State Park
See our photos of the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail
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
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