Crooked Lake Prairie
Come enjoy the shoreline of Crooked Lake, the second-largest lake in Polk County. Whether you like to fish, hike or take pictures, Crooked Lake Prairie is a great place to visit. One trail leads to the scenic area overlooking Crooked Lake, and the other loops through the scrubs, where you can search for Florida scrub-jays. But watch out for the native prickly pear cactus, or you might step on one of the gopher tortoises' favorite foods!
This 525-acre property was acquired by Polk County Environmental Lands program in 1997 for the purpose of protecting water, wildlife and wilderness resources. Crooked Lake is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water. The historic lakebed covers 5,538 acres. This property protects more than two miles of the lake's shoreline. For centuries, the only people who fished Crooked Lake were the American Indians. Over the years, archaeologists have found canoes in Crooked Lake that pre-date Columbus' arrival to the New World. Similar canoes are displayed at The Depot Museum in Lake Wales. Upland resources include 130 acres of scrub on the Lake Wales Ridge, a globally imperiled ecosystem. Previous owners used the property to grow a variety of crops, including tomatoes and pineapples, and as grazing land for cattle. At one time, there was a nine-hole golf course on the north part of the property.
Two hiking trails help you experience this pristine preserve. One leads to a scenic viewing area overlooking Crooked Lake, and the other traverses the scrub community. You can enjoy fishing on the shoreline and observing nature.
You might catch a glimpse of bald eagles, osprey and other birds searching for food along the shore. Migratory birds along their seasonal travel route also use the preserve. A small population of Florida scrub-jays makes its home in the scrub. Signs of wildlife such as tracks, scat, nests and burrows, are seen more often than the creatures that made them. Look for gopher tortoise burrows and the tracks of sand skinks, rabbits and deer.
One picnic area is located near the entrance just a short walk down the Scrub Trail. A second picnic area is located on the Lake View Trail where the trail reaches the lake's edge.
Portable restrooms are available.
Paved parking areas are available.
Lake View Trail — (0.4 miles, Easy, No Shade)
A leisurely walk brings you to a boardwalk that traverses a marsh on the edge of Crooked Lake. Stop to rest at the seating area on the boardwalk and enjoy the view.
Scrub Trail — (1.6 mile loop, Moderate, Some Shade)
This trail meanders through scrub and scrubby flatwoods. Follow the painted blazes and posts as the trail winds through the open, sandy terrain of a classic scrub habitat. At about the halfway mark, there's a bench perfect for taking a break.
A fire-dependent scrub community of 130 acres is located on the Lake Wales Ridge, a globally imperiled ecosystem. The most prevalent trees found here are scrub oaks, which provide acorns, a major food source for the Florida scrub-jay.
Saw palmetto and scrub oaks dominate the scrubby flatwoods community. Longleaf and slash pines make up the overstory, with groundcover plants that include wiregrass, elephant's foot and goldenrod.
A small lowland area almost void of trees and dominated by grasses and wildflowers, this seasonal wetland serves a vital role in the reproduction of wildlife.
This habitat serves as the transition from the lake to the uplands. The open fields of tall grasses are seasonally spectacular with the bloom of colorful wildflowers.
Watch for Florida scrub-jays, bald eagles, ospreys, turkeys, and wading and migratory birds, as well as sand-skink tracks, rabbits, deer, coachwhip snakes and gopher tortoises.
This site consists of wet prairie and scrubby flatwoods. Wet prairies are very wet during the summer season and drier during winter season. Plants characteristically found in this habitat are the milkweed Asclepias perennis, pale meadowbeauty Rhexia mariana and buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis. Scrubby flatwoods white sand, trees like slash Pinus elliottii or longleaf pines Pinus palustris and several species of scuba oaks including sand live oak Quercus geminata, myrtle oak Q. myrtifolia. Herbaceous plants include tarflower, Bejaria racemosa, feay's palafoxia, Palafoxia feayi and Florida milkweed, Asclepias feayi.
Crooked Lake Prairie is located just south of Babson Park.
From Lake Wales:
Travel south on US 27 and turn left (east) onto Hwy 640/Alturas-Babson Park Cutoff Rd. This road becomes SR 17. Travel south through Babson Park, then turn right (west) onto Cody Villa Road and go approximately 1.3 miles. Turn right (north) at the intersection of Minute Maid Road and Ohlinger Road. The entrance is approximately 100 yards on the left (west).
985 Ohlinger Road
Babson Park, FL 33827
Hours of Operation
6 a.m. — 6:30 p.m. (Standard Time)
5:30 a.m. — 8 p.m. (Daylight Savings Time)