FL - Lake Kissimmee - 2003/01/23



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Lake Kissimmee is a name more known for development than outdoor recreation. However, it is Florida's third biggest lake a haven for serious bass fishermen. The Lake Kissimmee State Park is little known and not heavily visited.




"The land that is now Lake Kissimmee State Park was once used by Native Americans because of the abundance of fish and game in the area, making it an ideal place to live for thousands of years. The park is named for Lake Kissimmee, the third largest lake in the state. The 5,930 acres of Lake Kissimmee State Park are teeming with plant and animal life. The park offers outstanding fishing, bird watching, picnicking, camping, boating and hiking on 13 miles of beautiful trails. For nature lovers and photographers few parks offer the variety of plant and animal life that Lake Kissimmee State Park has to offer.

From flood plain forest to prairie hammock there is a variety of seldom seen plants. The park's botanical bounty includes delicate mosses, butterfly orchids, sawgrass, cutthroat grass, fetterbush and gallberry. Expansive, colorful fields of lotus and pickerelweed stretch towards the sun.

Scrubby flatwoods are host to the Florida scrub jay, scrub oak and longleaf pine. In fact Lake Kissimmee State Park hosts over two hundred species of birds making it one of the best birding areas in central Florida. Some of the more notable species are the bald eagle, snail kite and whooping crane which can be seen on occasion.

Pine flatwoods are a good place to see bobcat, grey fox and wild turkey. Of course white-tailed deer, sandhill cranes, fox squirrel and otter may be seen here as well.

Lake Kissimmee State Park boasts of 50 species of plants and animals that are either threatened, of special concern or endangered that live within the park's boundaries.

Lake Kissimmee State Park is home to an 1876 cow camp. South central Florida was the heart of Florida's frontier cattle country and the life of early Florida cow hunters is interpreted at the parks living history demonstration. Walk down the dirt path and enter the year 1876 where you will find a cow hunter who is more than willing to talk about his life and times. Sample some of the camp coffee and view the herd of Florida scrub cattle, which were originally brought over by the Spanish in the early 1500's.

The operating hours of the cow camp are weekends and major holidays from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. "

My Trip




The weather continued cold as I went farther south into central Florida. I had scheduled 3 days in the Lake Kissimmee area to stay with some friends at a fishing camp called Camp Lester. Every day was windy and very cold. One night the temperature go down to 24 degrees for several hours. We harvested oranges and grapefruit from the trees in the yard and spent hours turning most of them into juice. In between squeezing sessions I walked around the camp and nearby trailer park, where I was approached by this sandhill crane. Unlike the cranes that were so difficult to get near in the Okefenokee, this bird came right up to me and obviously was used to getting a hand out.

I decided that it might be a more pleasant to hike rather than kayak as not only the temperature but the wind was not cooperating. Small craft warnings were flying and the wind was 20-25 knots out of the north. I went over to Lake Kissimmee Park and paid the $3.50 entrance fee. I stopped by the launch ramp to check our the facilities and found a very nice ramp on the canal that empties onto the lake.




There are 13 miles of hiking trails in the park and I had most of the day to explore them. The trails form roughly two figure eights of about 8 miles each starting at one end of the parking lot. The trail nearest the lake was the one i took first. It starts out on the edge of the pine woods, then crosses the open flatwoods. Grass is harvested on some of the land, apparently as part of the cow ranch associated with the park. The grassland gives way to a two track through the dense palmettos. Although it had not rained in some days, the trail was flooded out, necessitating a bushwhack of several 100 yards through the dense palmetto scrub.




This trail then transitions to a dense stand of very large live oaks. Their spreading branches makes a tight canopy overhead with long draperies of Spanish moss swaying in the stiff breeze. The brilliant sun of this clear, cold day penetrates only a few holes in the hundred foot high roof to spotlight widely dispersed palmettos. Underfoot is a thick carpet of leaf duff and litter. The ground is soft and spongy. Moss clings to the fallen limbs decaying on the forest floor and a musty smell of rotting wood and mulch speaks of the active process returning the nutrients to the soil. Bromiliads, epiphytes and mosses cover the upper side of every slightly horizontal branch. Living space is at a premium here and every square inch is being utilized. There are bugs and huge spiders everywhere. There are little holes scratched up in the leaf litter and before long I see the predator making them - an armadillo. In fact I will see 9 of these little tanks blindly investigating the ground looking for worms and bugs. Escapees from a zoo and a pet shop, the non-native South American animals are highly successful in their invasion of central Florida and are impacting the ecology of the pine flatwoods.

I finished up this trail and after a brief rest on the deck overlooking the canal at the park rest-room bath house (Closed this time of year), I started on the other trail in the park. This trail winds through the oaks and the flatwoods on the other side of the main entrance road from the other trail. It heads out to the lake and ends just as you approach Lake Kissimmee. The lake itself is shallow with many reed and grass beds and a very gradual slope to the shore. There were not many birds out on the water, perhaps because of the cold and wind.




The live oaks on this trail were even more impressive than those on the first trail. This live oak was as wide as it was tall and its trunk was massive.

In spite of not getting out on the water, I had a good time hiking in the park. The flora and fauna on the trails were more interesting than what I would have seen out on the lake - at least on this day.


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