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.
Length: 0.5 mile
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: at the main picnic area near the park entrance
Highlands Hammock State Park is off US 27 at Sebring. Park along the one-way loop on the Main Park Road to reach this trail. 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. A dense mat of sword ferns and cinnamon ferns flourishes in the shade. The term “young” is relative: this hammock is older than many in the state of Florida. 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.