Situated atop some of the highest points in peninsular Florida, the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest protects over 26,000 acres of unique ecosystems.
The ancient scrub habitats house species found nowhere else, shaped by millions of years of sea level changes.
The Scrub Jay Loop allows access to the primordial landscapes within the Walk-in-the-Water tract, one of several tracts within the forest.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 2.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.762533, -81.453035
Address: Hwy 630 E, Frostproof, FL 33843
Fees: $2 per person
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome.
Trails are off-limits to cyclists. Check hunting season dates before you hike.
A 0.8-mile linear connector trail leads to Walk-in-Water Campground, largely used by equestrians. Campsites must be reserved online.
From US 27 south of Lake Wales, head east on CR 630A for 1.4 miles through Frostproof, continuing forward onto CR 630. In 6.9 miles, the trailhead will be located to the left side of the road.
Starting at the trailhead, be sure to stop at the informational kiosk to view a map of the property and pay the entrance fee.
Brochures are available in the attached bin, including maps and information regarding the Florida State Forest’s Trailwalker program. This trail is part of the program.
Following blue blazes into the woods, turn right in a hundred feet to begin a counterclockwise trek on the loop.
Initially, a sandy pathway carves through dense walls of scrub oaks before opening to an expansive dry scrub habitat.
Clusters of saw palmettos line the trail, interspersed with wire grasses, reindeer moss, and occasional turkey oaks.
Because this habitat is mostly canopy free, shade is limited to scattered spots under sand pines and live oaks.
The thick shrubby characteristics of scrub oaks combined with a lack of taller trees create a critical environment for this trail’s namesake bird, the Florida scrub-jay.
To maintain this habitat, the forest service regularly uses prescribed burns and mechanical means to keep the trees at a low height.
Prairie clovers sport lavender-tinted blossoms alongside the pathway as the trail turns westward at the one-mile mark.
In a quarter mile, the forest opens to a panoramic view along the edge of a prairie pond.
Golden grasses border the seasonal body of water, swaying in the breeze.
Blue-blazed posts mark the trail as it traces the northern end of the pond before crossing a sandy service road and heading back into the woods.
Spanish moss adorns the arched branches of large oak trees overhead as the trail enters a small oak hammock.
Benches offer a spot to rest in shady spots alongside the trail, often alongside a particularly scenic spot.
At 1.5 miles, a post marked with three different colors marks the junction where the Red and Blue equestrian trails meet this trail. Dark blue leads northeast to the campground.
Continue following the appropriately colored light blue blazes southward to remain on the Scrub Jay Trail.
Heading southward, the trail weaves between alternating prairie, scrub, and oak hammocks, completing the loop in a mile.
Passing a sign for the west loop, the path winds through dense shrubs for a tenth of a mile, concluding the hike at the trailhead.
Learn more about Lake Wales Ridge State Forest
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Edward Bok’s “Jungle,” a deeply folded landscape between Tiger Creek and Patrick Creek south of Lake Wales, is protected by The Nature Conservancy as Tiger Creek Preserve.
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.
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