When the great outdoors call your name, you can’t help but answer. Between lush flora, exotic and endangered animals and ample recreational opportunities, there are many reasons to explore Sebring.
Visit Archbold Biological Station, a world-renowned ecological research center, to explore Florida’s scrub habitat. It’s hard to imagine that the area was once the only part of Florida above water—an ancient island that gave birth to many endemic species that still live in the area. Both self-guided and expert-guided tours are available, bringing visitors face-to-face with rare plant and animal species not found anywhere else on Earth. Located within the headwaters of the Everglades, the research center is dedicated to living green and safeguarding the future by conserving natural resources. The on-site Learning Center, open to the public, was built for maximum sustainability and is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum-certified building.
More than 9,000 acres and 18 distinct natural communities constitute Highlands Hammock State Park, one of Florida’s most revered parks. A tranquil sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of modern life, this state park showcases primitive, natural Florida with breathtaking grandeur. An expansive canopy of towering oak and hickory trees, abundant ferns and caladiums, rare and exotic birds, alligators, panthers and otters call this park home. Visitors wanting an escape from civilization can explore by foot, bike, boat or tram. Choose among several trails—one of which crosses the hauntingly picturesque Cypress Swamp. The hour-long tram ride provides a narrated educational tour, bringing guests to areas of the park otherwise closed to the public. A museum providing a history of the park is also on-site. And with a little patience, you’ll likely hook a fish.
Quiet solitude greets visitors at Lake June-in-Winter Scrub State Park, an incredibly rare ecosystem. Sugar-sand paths and trails meander through the park, in one of Florida’s most endangered natural communities. Scrub habitats contain the highest concentration of rare plants and animals in North America. The highly endangered Florida scrub jay—adorned with bright blue feathers—can be spotted flitting about, along with more than 100 other species of birds. Hikers may also spot the occasional otter, bobcat or black bear. Bordering the park is Lake June-in-Winter. This natural, freshwater lake provides ample space to fish, boat or kayak. While on the water, visitors should keep an eye out for wading birds, osprey and bald eagles.
Experience the untouched great outdoors of Florida on the grounds of Avon Park Air Force Range. Although still an active military facility, it is open to the public for a variety of recreational activities. Along its 22 miles of hiking and nature trails, visitors are immersed in several extraordinary Florida ecosystems, including oak hammocks, prairies, scrublands and pine plantations. For a true Florida outdoor adventure, stay overnight at one of the several campgrounds. Ponds and lakes are scattered throughout, offering enjoyment for anglers of all skill levels. The area is also listed by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area and is home to dozens of federally listed species, including the roseate spoonbill, burrowing owl and the endemic Florida scrub jay.
Ideal for wildlife viewing, Sun ‘N Lake Preserve features more than 1,300 acres of natural habitats, freshwater marsh, cypress swamp and South Florida flatwoods among them.
Multiple trails traverse a variety of landscapes, some providing a casual nature experience, others offering a more intense hike. Bike enthusiasts will enjoy miles of thrilling and scenic trails beneath the hammocks, while anglers will appreciate three fishing platforms and opportunities to catch largemouth bass, catfish and more. Wildlife can be spotted throughout the park, and visitors delight in searching for alligators, armadillos, panthers, bears, bobcats, deer, snakes and turtles. Birding is very popular here, and dozens of species can be found, including the bald eagle, great horned owl, great blue heron, snowy egret and osprey.
Kayakers are guaranteed to have a memorable journey down Arbuckle Creek, a remote, winding waterway that runs through many cattle ranches. The creek provides an otherworldly experience to adventurers paddling through the ancient cypress forests. The area remains virtually undisturbed by human intervention because of its proximity to Avon Park Air Force Range. Majestic cypress trees provide shady cover for explorers on the water and the local wildlife, including deer and alligators. Gorgeous plants and flowers decorate the creek banks, providing breathtaking views. The creek is generally not crowded, so visitors don’t often see many other people during their watery excursions. This “Old Florida” experience is one you do not want to miss.