Gator Creek Reserve
Explore the edge of the Green Swamp in one of Polk County's most popular hiking areas. Gator Creek Reserve lets you experience a mosaic of cypress swamps, hardwood forests and marshes interspersed with slightly elevated areas. With a series of adjoining loop trails, one of which is paved, this 2,700-acre reserve offers easy short walks or longer treks through several unique habitats. Some visitors even bring their bikes to enjoy this great outdoor experience.
Polk County and the Florida Communities Trust jointly acquired this 2,700-acre Environmental Land site for the purpose of protecting important water, wildlife and wilderness resources. Gator Creek Reserve falls within the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern, a designation protecting a resource of major statewide significance. Ecologically important for its valuable water resources, the Green Swamp is the headwaters for several major river systems, including Ocklawaha, Withlacoochee, Hillsborough and Peace Rivers.
Gator Creek Reserve has approximately seven miles of well-established trails, including one paved trail, that pass through shaded pine, cypress and oak forest and across creeks and wet areas.
With the diversity of plants and matrix of habitats found in the Green Swamp, Gator Creek is an excellent site for observing butterfly species that you may not commonly see in other parts of Polk County.
There is one large covered picnic area available on a first come, first served basis.
Cypress Loop Trail — (0.6 miles, Easy, Paved, Some Shade)
This paved trail gives you a chance to see a cypress dome up close. The trail opens up next to a pine flatwoods habitat.
Piney Wood Trail — (2.1 miles, Easy, Shade)
This trail meanders through a shaded forest of pines, opening alongside a cypress dome on the northwest side of the reserve, then passing through mesic pine flatwoods before connecting back to the parking area. This trail can be wet during the rainy season.
Tortoise Trail — (0.23 miles, Easy, Shade)
This shortcut trail divides Piney Wood Loop in half.
Gator Creek Loop Trail — (0.76 miles, Easy, Some Shade)
This trail crosses the Gator Creek Canal and a couple of tributaries. Enjoy a leisurely stroll under the shade of large pines and cypress trees.
Deer Run Trail — (2.9 miles, Moderate, Some Shade)
This trail wraps around upland mixed forest that consists primarily of live oaks, water oaks, and pine trees. Interspersed throughout the forest are scattered cypress domes where a number of animals such as owls, frogs and deer seek food and shelter. This trail isn't for the amateur hiker, but it's a favorite of joggers. Bring water!
Equestrian Trail — (2.9 miles, Moderate, Some Shade)
This trail is designated for horseback riders. The meandering trail travel across the landscape of the former ranch land, providing opportunities to view wild turkey, deer and hogs. This trails is also known to have Sherman fox squirrels along the pineland forest edges. There are no short cuts back to the parking lot on this trail, don't forget to pack water!
Cypress Dome Swamp
Freshwater swamps such as cypress domes contain water at least part of the year. Cypress trees lose their leaves in the winter, but bright green foliage appears again in the spring.
The flatwood community is dominated by pines such as longleaf and slash. Saw palmetto is abundant in the understory, along with gallberry, fetterbush and the occasional tarflower.
Gator Creek Canal
The blackwater stream community contains remnants of Gator Creek. The Gator Creek Canal construction occurred sometime between 1941 and 1958 in an effort to drain the area for flood protection and agriculture.
Look for foxes, Sherman's fox squirrels, bobcats and deer. You can also spot a variety of birds, including wild turkey, hawks, owls, woodpeckers and warblers as well as migratory birds. Alligators are in the wet areas. Gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes also make their home on this site..
This system is found in the Green Swamp and consists of pine flatwoods, live oak hammock and cypress swamp. Pine flatwoods are characterized by longleaf pine, Pinus palustris in Central Florida or slash pine, Pinus elliottii in South Florida, as well as an understory predominantly of saw palmetto, Serenoa repens. The pines are shade intolerant and require fire to maintain the system. Pine flatwoods also have a hardpan 8 to 10 feet below the surface. Flowering plants found in the system are Florida alicia, Chapmannia floridana, blazing star, Liatris spp. and deer-tongue, Carphephorus paniculatus. The live oak hammock forms a canopy and is dominated by live oaks, Quercus virginiana and their epiphytes spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, resurrection fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides, butterfly orchid, Encyclia tampensis and the terrestrial plant beggerweed, Desmodium incanum. The cypress swamp consists of the dominant tree bald cypress, Taxodium distichum and broard leaf trees, such as red maple, Acer rubrum and loblolly bay, Gordonia lasianthus.
Gator Creek Reserve is located in North Lakeland.
Take U.S. 98 north about 1 mile north of where the four-lane road changes into a two-lane road. The entrance is on the right.
9725 U.S. 98 N.
Lakeland, FL 33809
Hours of Operation
6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (Standard Time)
5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Daylight Savings Time)