Central Florida / Kayak & Canoe / Parks & Forests

Buster Island Loop: Challenging kayak trail circles Lake Kissimmee State Park

Rosalie Creek, one of the most scenic sections of the Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail.

Rosalie Creek, one of the most scenic sections of the Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Map of Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail.

Map of Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail.

This is a kayak trail that presents a challenge – 11 miles, three lakes, two creeks and a canal, all in a loop you paddle counterclockwise.

The trail nearly circumnavigates Lake Kissimmee State Park, most of which is located on land encircled by lakes and streams that form Buster Island.

Lake Kissimmee State Park is located on the Lake Wales Ridge east of Lake Wales. It’s a great park for camping, hiking and wildlife.

The pros: 

When we finished the Buster Island Paddling Trail – it took us almost seven hours — we felt a sense of accomplishment, and we enjoyed the wild scenery and birds along the way.

There was a bald eagle that flew overhead, several storks, lots of wading birds, coots and moorhens and a gator or two.  It was a peaceful paddle where the only sounds we heard for hours were birds.The only boats we passed were a few fishermen on the lake and two motor boats and one air boat on Tiger Creek.

The cons:

This trail is not for everybody. Paddling along the shores of large lakes can be windy and, because the view doesn’t change much, may get tedious.

It is a very sunny trail; not a good one for summer.  And there are many miles of scenery that is OK but not spectacular.

The details: 

The trail was designated the 53rd state paddling trail in fall 2015.

You start in the least attractive section, the Zipperer Canal, where you must paddle two miles against a strong current. Until the end, when it reaches Lake Rosalie, the canal is straight and lined with tall grass but few trees.

Where the Zipperer Canal enters Lake Rosalie. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Where the Zipperer Canal enters Lake Rosalie. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The trail includes almost two miles along the shore of Lake Rosalie.

The trail includes almost two miles along the shore of Lake Rosalie.

The highlight, however, is the swiftly flowing Rosalie Creek with many twists and turns and the best scenery in the 11 miles. Because the current is so strong on Rosalie Creek, it’s an easy paddle where you can enjoy the natural beauty. Once you reach it, however, it would be very difficult to turn around.  And there really is no other way to reach Rosalie Creek, home to wonderful  cypress trees and live oak trees along its banks.

The Z.ipperer Canal, as seen from a bridge near the launch site

The Zipperer Canal, as seen from a bridge near the launch site.

A few tips for tackling the Buster Island Loop:

  • The park concessionaire rents kayaks and canoes. They are located on the east side of a dam on the Zipperer canal, and you must start the trail on the west side, so you have to somehow convey it (on your car, with a kayak-trolley or by carrying it) about a block. Here’s information on boat rentals.
  • You put in at a boat launch located on the road to the historic Florida Cow Camp. After dropping off your kayak, move your car to the parking lot near the marina.
  • There are very few places to land and picnic. Your best bet is along Rosalie Creek and a few spots on Tiger Creek.

    Gopher tortoise shells in the woods along Tiger Creek.

    Gopher tortoise shells in the woods along Tiger Creek.

  • Another good place to stretch is a sandbar at the mouth of Lake Kissimmee as you exit Tiger Creek. (Look for the osprey nest.) This is near the end of the paddle, however.

    Cows along Tiger Creek on the Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail.

    Cows along Tiger Creek on the Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail.

Woodstorks at the entrance to Rosalie Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Woodstorks at the entrance to Rosalie Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

  • It can at times be difficult to find the spots where you exit each lake. Rosalie Lake was pretty easy. On Tiger Lake, look for picnic-shelter roofs along the opposite shore. (It would make an excellent stopping point but it is private property marked no trespassing.) The last roof is where Tiger Creek flows out of the lake.
Lake Kissimmee is huge -- 35,000 square feet.

Lake Kissimmee is huge — 35,000 square feet.

  • Tiger Creek is wider with sections where watchful cows remind you that you are in cattle country. It has a few air boats and motor boats.
  • On Lake Kissimmee, watch where boats emerge and paddle in that direction until you see a tall sign that marks the entrance to the canal.

My recommendation? This is best for strong paddlers who are intrigued by an 11-mile route where you don’t cover the same stretch twice. Do it for the challenge.

If you’re just looking for a pretty place to kayak or canoe along the Lake Wales Ridge, we can enthusiastically recommend Arbuckle Creek, about an hour south of Lake Kissimmee.  It’s an easy out-and-back paddle along a creek with spectacular scenery.

Resources:

Details for visitors to Lake Kissimmee State Park:

  • The Florida Cow Camp at Lake Kissimmee State Park, open on weekends, is an entertaining living history exhibit. Here’s a guide to visiting Lake Kissimmee State Park from Florida Rambler.
  • For campers:  Every one of the 60 Lake Kissimmee State Park campsites is shaded by oak hammock, and they are separated by vegetation to provide privacy. While my colleague Bob Rountree camped there during one visit, no fewer than four deer crossed behind his site and through a common area where the campfire ring is shared.  Campsites are $20, including water and electric.
  • Want to really get away? There are two primitive camping sites you reach via a several mile hike. Primitive campsites are available for $5. Day use is $5.
  • If you’re not camping, there is a fishing-themed motel right outside the park entrance at Camp Mack, a big RV park.  Also in the region is a dude ranch, Westgate River Ranch. A bit further away, we recommend the historic railroad hotel in Sebring: the Kenilworth Lodge.
  • Lake Kissimmee State Park state park website
  • For campground reservations, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks.

Things to do near Lake Kissimmee State Park:

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