Lake Kissimee State Park is big, beautiful and full of history and wildlife
Old Florida lives on at Lake Kissimmee State Park — the majestic oak trees, native wildlife from eagles to alligators, even the pioneers and their long-horned cracker cows.
This 6,000-acre state park in Central Florida offers scads of recreational outlets: 13 miles of excellent hiking trails, birding, kayaking, fishing, camping.
In addition, it is home to an entertaining and interesting living history exhibit on weekends, when a Cracker cowboy takes up residence at an 1876-era cow camp.
Fifteen miles east of Lake Wales, Lake Kissimmee State Park is in a less-visited part of the state that is worth exploring. The region is two hours from any urban center and has remained less developed as a result. It encompasses three lakes — the smaller Lake Rosalie and Tiger Lake plus Kissimmee, Florida’s third-largest lake.
Lake Kissimmee State Park preserves large areas of sprawling live oak trees, which shelter picnic grounds and campsites.
For campers, the park is far enough from city lights to have starry skies. Abundant wildlife guarantees sightings of sandhill cranes or deer or other animals. (Be warned, though: The drone of airboats in the distance does break the solitude.)
You don’t have to have kids along to be enchanted by the Lake Kissimmee Cow Camp. It operates from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends, October through April.
There, a feisty cracker “cow hunter,” as these pioneers were called, stays in character as he gives a tour of his campground and answers your question. He has a pot of coffee simmering on the open fire, a wagon outfitted with the necessities of the day and nearby, a herd of Cracker cattle– hardy looking creatures with big Texas-style long horns. They’re descendants of cattle first brought to Florida in the 1500s by the Spanish. They’re fun to observe for city folks, who rarely see cattle up close.
Kayaking and canoeing at Lake Kissimmee State Park
For a pleasant short paddle, it’s easy to rent kayaks or canoes at the park and paddle along the shoreline of the large lake. Here’s information on boat rentals.
For a challenging 11-mile paddle, try the Buster Loop Trail, which combines three lakes, two creeks and a canal, all in a loop. Here’s our guide to the Buster Loop Trail.
Details for visitors to Lake Kissimmee State Park:
- 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 the Kenilworth Lodge, about which we’ve written.
- Lake Kissimmee State Park state park website
- Reservations through ReserveAmerica
Things to do near Lake Kissimmee State Park:
- Great birding near Lakeland: Circle B Bar Reserve
- A scenic drive in Old Florida cow country
- Yeehaw Junction Historic Desert Inn