Photo by Linda Fish.
Just 20 minutes from the town of Lake Wales is the ancient island of the Lake Wales Ridge, harboring rare plants and animals only found in Central Florida. With two main entrances at Wakeford Road and Pfundstein Road, over ten miles of hiking trails offer an ever-changing array of wildflower blooms, wildlife viewing possibilities and opportunities to enjoy nature’s solace. During breeding season look for young Bald Eagles, Barred Owls, Swallow-tailed Kites or swooping Great-crested Flycatchers chasing insects in the air. Year-round you can hear Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-dove and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Look for migrant Northern Waterthrushes, Black-throated Blue Warblers or American Redstarts. Keep your eyes peeled for animal tracks on the trails’ white sand. If lucky, you’ll see Gopher Tortoises, Gopher Frogs, River Otters, Striped Mud Turtles, Pine Snakes or Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies. Named after a pristine blackwater stream, the preserve contains hardwood swamps, hammocks, scrubby flatwoods, seasonal ponds and longleaf pine wiregrass habitat—something for everyone. There are no facilities, so plan ahead. Be sure to download a georeferenced trail map at the trailhead or website and check out the bird and plant lists.