Heartland ChapterServing DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, and Polk counties
Organized in 1976 as the Lake Kissimmee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, the Heartland Chapter covers the heart of Central Florida, from the Green Swamp south through the southern reaches of the Lake Wales Ridge, along both the Peace and Kissimmee Rivers.
The chapter began with trail building and maintenance as our primary mission, and completed the initial building and maintenance of the trails in the Richloam Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest as well as Hickory Hammock along the Kissimmee before turning these trails over to adjoining chapters. In addition to numerous side and loop trails on public lands, the chapter maintains a swath of the Florida National Scenic Trail from the Green Swamp to Bluff Hammock.
Under the guidance of master carpenter Roland Alderman, bridge building became the chapter’s forte. Many of our original bridges withstood the hurricanes of 2004. There are always new trails being blazed under the direction of our dedicated section leaders and advisors. We invite you to come out and hike with us!
The Heartland Chapter maintains the Florida Trail through Green Swamp East and along the Kissimmee River between SR 60 and Bluff Hammock. The chapter also takes care of loop trails at Lake Kissimmee State Park, Avon Park Air Force Range, Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, Tenoroc FMA, Tiger Creek Preserve, Saddle Creek Park, and Paynes Creek Historic State Park.
Along the Kissimmee River, the Florida Trail follows a historic cattle drovers route, passing through hammocks that once sheltered pioneer homesteads and through the ghost town of Kicco. Wooden sidewalks and a cemetery are reminders of an era of steamboat travel on the Kissimmee River more than a century ago. Scenic views of the river are interspersed with walks through the woods and bridge crossings over sloughs.
Lake Kissimmee State Park is one of Central Florida’s most popular weekend backpacking destinations thanks to two gentle but interesting loop trails. Both the Buster Island Loop and the North Loop keep hikers in the shade of ancient oaks for the majority of their walk, and provide beautiful primitive campsites under the spreading oak trees. The park is unparalleled for wildlife watching. You’ll see many deer as well as rare creatures like the Florida scrub-jay and Audubon’s Crested Caracara.