Lakeland Highlands Scrub
Lakeland Highlands Scrub is a 551-acre conservation area that is like no other in Polk County. Located in south Lakeland, it is home to one of the largest undeveloped scrub properties on the Lakeland Ridge, one of a series of elevated sandy ridges along the backbone of an area known as "peninsular Florida." This area used to be surrounded by water, but now, the Lakeland Highlands Scrub rises more than 230 feet above sea level.
The Polk County Environmental Lands Program and the Florida Communities Trust Preservation 2000 Program jointly provided funding to acquire the Lakeland Highlands Scrub. This purchase was to protect the important natural resources on the site that was left relatively natural by the previous landowners.
Lakeland Highlands Scrub has one shaded half-mile trail and several multi-use trails that cross and loop around one another through the open dry prairie, pine flatwoods, marshlands and basin swamp. The terrain includes wooded areas, sandy soils, grassy trails and a boardwalk over the wetlands.
There are two covered picnic areas with tables available on a first come, first serve basis at the main entrance.
Portable restrooms are available.
Stabilized parking areas are available.
Tortoise Trail — (2.2 miles, Moderate, No Shade)
This multi-use trail winds through scrub with oaks and pine, and scrubby flatwoods with saw palmettos, wire grasses and goldenrod. Other trails loop and cross this trail. These trails are open with very little shade. Portions of this trail are very sandy, which may be strenuous for some visitors. The beginning of this trail takes you to a boardwalk over a lily pad covered marsh. A small observation deck provides covered bench seating to take a break and view the wildlife.
Shady Oak Trail — (0.6 miles, Easy, Shaded)
This trail passes through the shade of the large oaks and longleaf pines for a leisurely walk through historic sand hills and scrub that have been undisturbed for generations.
This fire-dependent scrub community covers 140 acres, with the most prevalent trees being sand live oak, dwarf live oak and Chapman oak.
Saw palmetto dominates the scrubby flatwoods community. Longleaf and slash pines make up the overstory, with groundcover plants that include wiregrass and goldenrod.
The half-mile Shady Oak Trail loops through the shade of the xeric hammock community. The area consists of historic sandhill and scrub communities that have not burned for many decades.
Look for gopher tortoises, armadillo, eastern indigo snakes, Florida scrub-jays, eagles, osprey and several wading bird species. You might also spot an owl, fox or bobcat.
Lakeland Highlands Scrub is composed of scrubby flatwoods, live oak hammocks, sand pine scrub and a wet weather pond. Scrubby flatwoods has white sand, trees like slash Pinus elliottii or longleaf pines, Pinus palustris and several species of scub 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. The live oak hammock is dominated by live oaks, Quercus virginiana and their epiphytes spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, resurrection fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides.
Sand pine scrub is characterized by having white sand and dominated by sand pine, Pinus clausa. It is said to be the oldest community found in Florida. The white sand allows rain water to filter quickly to the aquifer. The understory thickets are composed of scrub oaks, rusty lyonia, Lyonia ferruginea and a variety of lichens. Wildflowers consist of scrub mint Conradina grandiflora and garberia, Garberia heterophylla. The wet weather pond normally has water during the summer, the wet season and is dry during the winter, the dry season. The characteristic tree of the pond is water tupelo, Nyssa aquatica. Floating plants include spatter-dock, Nuphar luteum.
Lakeland Highlands Scrub is located in west central Polk County between the cities of Lakeland, Bartow and Mulberry.
From State Rd 37 (South Florida Avenue):
Turn east on State Road 540A. Travel east for about three miles. Turn right (south) onto Lakeland Highlands Road, which dead-ends into Lakeland Highlands Scrub.
From US Hwy 98 South (Bartow Road):
Turn west on State Rd 540A. Turn left on Lakeland Highlands Road, and continue until it dead-ends into the parking area.
6998 Lakeland Highlands Rd.
Lakeland, FL 33813
Hours of Operation
6 a.m. — 6:30 p.m. (Standard Time)
5:30 a.m. — 8 p.m. (Daylight Savings Time)