On a walk through the Young Hammock Trail at Highlands Hammock State Park, you’ll find yourself thinking “this is young?”
The pines and oaks are of immense size, and you feel small among them.
But this half-mile nature trail showcases the transition from one habitat to another, from pine flatwoods to the climax oak hammock that takes over, and in this case, takes centuries to mature.
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Length: 0.5 mile loop
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, keep going and you’ll reach the one-way counterclockwise driving loop. The Young Hammock Trail is about a half mile along this loop drive, on the right. You can also walk over from the trailhead for the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail, less than a quarter mile away.
Keep to the right as you start the loop into this mature hammock. Cabbage palms tower over the canopy of hickory and oak.
The term young is relative: this hammock is older than many in the state of Florida. A dense mat of sword ferns and cinnamon ferns flourishes in the shade.
As you pass a bench, keep looking up: the cabbage palms and some of the oaks are of statuesque size and bearing.
In fall and winter, a smattering of orange and yellow adds color to the canopy from hickory and sweetgum leaves turning colors.
The trail curves past a bench at 0.3 mile. Watch for a deep gash in a tall slash pine, the mark called a catface, a slash made to coax sap out of the tree to be processed into turpentine.
The trail follows a causeway through a marshy area, where loblolly bay and sweetbay magnolia thrive, slowly creating a bayhead that’s deeply shaded by the hammock canopy.
The forest becomes denser, crowded with the fronds of young cabbage palms. Wild oranges drop onto the trail, becoming a food source for raccoons and opossums.
As you see more pines, you know you’re coming to the end of the loop. Turn right to exit this half-mile loop.
Learn more about Highlands Hammock State Park
See our photos of the Young Hammock 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
Burrowing deeper into the swamps than the adjoining Fern Garden Trail, the Richard Lieber Memorial Trail spans from an enormous oak to a wonderland of wet
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