Central Florida’s Lake Country
Florida’s Best Kept Secret
By James and Dorothy Richardson
Ideally situated between
Orlando and Tampa, Central Florida is one of the state’s
best-kept secrets. There are over 500 lakes in which to play
and get close to nature. Well-kept gardens to admire. Museums
and great places to eat. Campgrounds in the most ideal settings.
Spend a weekend. Spend a month and be in the midst of some
of Florida’s best nature.
One of Central Florida’s largest counties – Polk – is blessed
with an incredible number of lakes – 554 to be exact. Canals that were
built originally for transporting oranges, the area’s largest crop, connect
many lakes, making them more accessible for recreation. Fishing, boating, and
water skiing are popular pastimes in many of the lakes.
Cypress Gardens once
had spectacular shows with stacks of water skiers gracefully
skimming across lakes in Winter Haven. Lake Eloise was the site of the first
water ski exhibition in 1943. Its purpose was to entertain military troops.
The show caught on and continued until 2002. The gardens were closed for
over a year,
but got a huge facelift. Now the shows will continue and Cypress Gardens
will have even more attractions than previously. From beautifully
to roller coasters, there will be plenty of things to do at the new Cypress
Fishing is a very productive sport in Central Florida. It claims
of “Bass Capital of the World”. Its many freshwater lakes and rivers
provide excellent habitat and cover for largemouth bass, bream, crappie, and
catfish. There are several popular lakes. Lake Kissimmee is in the eastern part
of Polk County and has almost 35,000 acres. It is a good bass and black crappie
lake. Connected by a canal to this one, Lake Hatchineha with 6000 acres has a
good population of largemouth and bluegill.
The 5000-acre Crooked
Lake is six miles south of Lake Wales. Lake Weohyakapka (nicknamed
Lake Walk-in-the-Water) contains 7000 acres. Both are good
The Winter Haven Chain of Lakes is a group of sixteen canal-connected lakes
known for its good fish populations. Numerous boat ramps provide
access. The Central
Florida Visitors Guide gives excellent information of access points and boat
ramps to the lakes of the county. There are several outfitters that can provide
guide service on the many county lakes.
Parks and Gardens
One of the most unique and convenient spots in Central Florida
is the Oak Harbor RV Resort. It is located on the 1000-acre
Lake Lowery in the northeastern part
of Polk County. Oak Harbor is unique because it is a seaplane base offering plane
rides, fishing packages, and a great place to park the RV in addition. There
are 125 RV sites – 35 are lakeside. Greg Anderson runs the place and says
his father started the business as a fish camp. It has been a seaplane base since
1970. The RV park was added to offer visitors that extra convenience. Oak Harbor
has cabins for rent also. Packages are available that include seaplane rides
and fishing excursions. See their website for details.
Nearly all the major
attractions of Polk County are centered around or are located
near one of its many lakes. That also holds true for the appropriately named
city of Lakeland, since there are several large lakes within its city limits.
Along Lake Mirror, Hollis Gardens is one of the county’s most scenic locales
and has an incredible varied assortment of plants. The gardens are arranged in
themed divisions, which the park calls ‘rooms’. There is a Yellow
Room for all that colored plants. A Tropical Room is a shrub-lined division with
a variety of exotic plants. And the list goes on. For being only an acre and
a half, Hollis Gardens is a very picturesque park situated beside a lake in downtown
Lakeland. A bonus -- the garden is free to tour.
Another garden paradise
is the Historic Bok Sanctuary. It is near Lake Wales in the
southeastern part of the county. The gardens surround a 205-foot
that houses a 60-bell carillon, which offers a daily recital filling the gardens.
Also on the grounds is a museum that explains the creation of the gardens and
Edward Bok’s dream. The early twentieth century Pinewood Estate shares
In the north central
part of Polk County, the Fantasy of Flight is an unusual museum
with the largest private collection of vintage aircraft. It
by different eras of aviation telling the story of flying. Actual aircraft,
like a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator, and a Japanese
Zero, and an accurate
replica of the “Spirit of St. Louis” are there. To get to the Fantasy
of Flight, take Exit 44 along Interstate 4.
Wetlands support a variety of wildlife. The Circle B Bar
Reserve in central Polk County is a 1267-acre tract that
preserves a section of wetlands to give visitors
a look at its diverse nature. Hiking and horseback riding trails wind through
the property. There is a section of hardwood forests where mainly live oak
trees provide shady spots for air plants. The live oaks
support Spanish moss and resurrection
ferns. Various wading birds frequent the marshes of Banana Creek.
Central Florida is birdwatcher’s paradise. The lakes offer habitat for
waterfowl and shore birds. The wetlands give shelter to wading birds and a wide
range of other species. The endangered whooping crane and wood stork have been
reintroduced into Polk County’s preserves. The wetlands are preferred by
the wood storks. The whooping cranes might be spotted in the Kissimmee Prairie
in the eastern part of the county.
There are more ways
to enjoy the near perfect weather of Central Florida. For the
golfer there are over 500 holes on many historic courses scattered
the county. Some of the courses were designed in the 1920s and are still popular.
A visit in the springtime might catch professional baseball training camps
in full swing. The American League’s Detroit Tigers uses Joker Marchant Stadium
in Lakeland. The Cleveland Indians plays at the Chain of Lakes Park in Winter
Haven. Other major league baseball team use sites in nearby locations at Orlando
(Atlanta Braves), Kissimmee (Houston Astros), and Tampa (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
Getting around Polk
County is easy. Interstate 4 connects Orlando to Tampa and
cuts through the county in an east west pattern. The north
south main route is
U.S. Highway 27. It passes through the middle-eastern part of Polk County.
U. S. Highway 98 runs from the northwest corner of the county
to the southeast,
taking a turn in the midsection near Fort Meade. The main towns of Polk County
are Lakeland, Winter Haven, Haines City, Polk City, and Bartow, the county
Central Florida has a lot going for it – ideal weather, countless opportunities
to enjoy outdoor recreation and its good nature, plenty of RV parks, and an excellent
location between Tampa and Orlando. Visit Polk County and discover one of the
best-kept secrets of Florida.
For More Information:
Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau
600 N. Broadway, Suite 300
Bartow, FL 33830
(863) 534-2500; (800) 828-7655
Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce
35 Lake Morton Drive
Lakeland, FL 33801
Winter Haven Chamber
401 Avenue B, NW, P. O. Box 1420
Winter Haven, FL 33882
(863) 293-2138; (800) 871-7027
6000 Cypress Gardens Boulevard
Winter Haven, FL 33884
Oak Harbor RV Park
100 Oak Harbor
Haines City, FL 33844
(877) 956-1341; (863) 289-6661
702 E. Orange Street
Lakeland, FL 33801
Fantasy of Flight
1400 Broadway Boulevard
Polk City, FL