Comprising 54,000 acres of prairie and wetlands, this fascinating park protects the largest remaining tract of its kind in Florida, including many of its threatened and endangered native species of flora and fauna. Established as a state park in 1997, this land is kept healthy by a balance of frequent prescribed burns and an abundant wet season, very similar to the way it was when indigenous people lived here, and of course when the early settlers arrived. Previously altered by modern human activity such as cattle ranching, agricultural practices, railroads, and military target practice during WWII, it has been mostly restored to its natural state, albeit still a work in progress. Note: unexploded military ordnances potentially remain on the property, therefore digging is prohibited, and visitors should leave the area and notify a ranger if a suspicious device is noticed.
But I’m not trying to scare you off, ha! This is a must-see park, and preferably for an overnight stay! In 2016, it was officially designated as Florida’s first Dark Sky Park. Due to its vast expanse, there is very limited light pollution, which enables spectacular views of the stars, planets, constellations, the ISS, the Milky Way, etc….with the naked eye! Campers can choose from 20 sites in the family campground or 15 sites in the equestrian campground, which all include water and electricity. The family campground also offers restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities. Those wanting the best nighttime sky views can opt for one of five “astro-pads”, but there are special restrictions such as red lights only and no camp fires. There are also three primitive campsites accessible only by hiking or biking 2.5 miles which accommodate four persons each (pack in/pack out).
A park this size surely consists of trails, and trails there are! Over 100 miles of multi-use trails offer a variety of sights, sounds, and endless opportunities to enjoy some of the wonderful species here such as blazing star, St. John’s-wort, the carnivorous pitcher plant, barred owls, burrowing owls, crested caracaras, bald eagles, and swallowtail kites.
On weekends and holidays from November through March, visitors can take a fun and educational prairie buggy tour with a ranger, exploring remote areas of the park. Tours are weather-dependent and reservations are required. Highly recommend!
This is such a unique and fantastic place to visit and explore, especially for an overnight (or a few) stay!