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Lake Kissimmee State Park: Where Old Florida lives on

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.

Lake Kissimmee State Park Cow Camp entrance. (Photos: David Blasco)
Lake Kissimmee State Park Cow Camp entrance. (Photos: David Blasco)

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, when a Cracker cowboy takes up residence at an 1876-era cow camp, which operates weekends from October through April.

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.

On weekends in the winter season, a ranger re-enacts life at an 1870s Cow Camp at Lake Kissimmee State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)
On weekends in the winter season, a ranger re-enacts life at an 1870s Cow Camp at Lake Kissimmee State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

Lake Kissimmee State Park preserves large areas of sprawling live oak trees, which shelter picnic grounds and campsites.

Lake Kissimmee State Park camping is among the best in the state. 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. Its hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends during the fall to spring season.

Deer along a trail at Lake Kissimmee State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)
Deer along a trail at Lake Kissimmee State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Lake Kissimmee State Park kayaking and canoeing

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.

The Cracker cows at Lake Kissimmee State Park are descendents of those brought here by Spanish explorers. (Photo: David Blasco)
The Cracker cows at Lake Kissimmee State Park are descendents of those brought here by Spanish explorers. (Photo: David Blasco)

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. 

Lake Kissimmee State Park camping

Hiking trail at Lake Kissimmee State Park.
Hiking trail at Lake Kissimmee State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
  • 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, Camp Mack, a Guy Harvey lodge.
  • Lake Kissimmee State Park state park website

Glamping at Lake Kissimmee State Park

Lake Kissimmee does not offer cabins in the park, but there is an alternative to camping — glamping. Be prepared, however, to pay for the privilege, with the luxury tent experience priced at $210 a night.

With a queen bed, linens, electricity, rugs, chandeliers, a K-cup coffee maker and a heating/cooling unit, the park concessionaire offers 100-square-foot “pioneer tents” with luxuries.

The glamping tents are adjacent to the family campground and share the bath house a short walk away.

Reservations and glamping info at Lake Kissimmee State Park.

Lake Kissimmee State Park
14248 Camp Mack Road, Lake Wales FL 33898
863-696-1112

Map of Lake Kissimmee State Park
Map of Lake Kissimmee State Park


Things to do near Lake Kissimmee State Park:

Notes from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning a trip, especially to areas hard hit by hurricanes.

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