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, 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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
Lake Kissimmee State Park
14248 Camp Mack Road, Lake Wales FL 33898
Things to do near Lake Kissimmee State Park:
- 7 fun and funky things to do in Lake Wales
- Bok Tower Gardens: Beautiful oasis atop Florida ‘mountain’
- Lake Wales Ridge area offers hiking, paddling, history and more
- Lake Placid charms with clowns, caladiums, good eatin’ and great stories
- Lake Wales Ridge State Forest for hiking, camping, exploring
- Kayaking Arbuckle Creek, unexpected wild beauty at a bombing range
- Highland Hammocks State Park: Forest canopy shades trails and camping,
- Tiger Creek Preserve: Nature Conservancy preserve hikers’ heaven
- Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park: Camp under starry dark skies
- Drive the Cracker Trail: Scenic route through cow country
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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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.