Circle B Bar Reserve is an amazing wilderness area in Polk County, right in the center of Florida. I’d heard of Circle B Bar Reserve before. I don’t know if I passed signs or heard of it through the grapevine, but for some reason, I thought it was an actual ranch that people live on. I guess because of the first part of the name. As it turns out, it used to be a cattle ranch before being purchased to be restored to its natural state.
This is one of those places where you will have to visit more than once just to see the entire thing, and you will want to see it all more than once. We spent four hours at the reserve and I don’t know that we saw half of it. My favorite thing about the reserve is that it is like visiting several parks all in one place. It doesn’t matter if you are into birds, reptiles, photography, or hiking this is a great place for you to visit.
One of my favorite trails was Shady Oak. This one is .7 miles and as you can guess it’s a nice shaded walk among large oak trees. We heard two owls calling back and forth, and we actually saw an owl fly over us while we were trying to figure out where the calls were coming from. They are great at camouflaging themselves. I watched the owl land in a tree and then could not see him to save my life. We also saw a pileated woodpecker while walking on this trail. I enjoyed it so much when we got to the end I was very tempted to turn around and walk it again, but there was too much else to see.
Shady Oak was one of my favorite trails, but it could not top Alligator Alley. These two trails are the best example I saw of two completely different habitats in pretty much the same place. Be forewarned, Alligator Alley is labeled as mostly shady but the first third of it was very sunny and hot the day we were there.
The Alligator Alley trail runs along Lake Hancock. We started on the end that the Heron Hideout trail runs into. It’s a fairly narrow strip of water and we saw several alligators (as one might expect) as well as softshell and other turtles and of course plenty of birds. I saw great egrets, white ibis, and anhinga. A lady on the trail told me the anhinga’s name. I see these birds pretty often but we always call them snake birds because they swim with their head and neck above water sometimes and it looks like a snake sticking its head up out of the water. I basically cannot go to a park without learning something new! We also saw several raccoons walking on and near the trail.
Then we got to the part of the trail where you are looking out on Lake Hancock.
Have you ever watched an over-the-top horror movie based on some animal? At least some of the people who wrote those must have walked on this trail. To be clear, there is no horror here, but picture this. You look out over the peaceful, clear lake. The sky is blue and the water is calm. You start to notice there are things floating in the water. Those are not things floating. Those are huge alligators EVERYWHERE. I have no guess as to how huge, but if I could see them that far out on the lake they were big. It was pretty awe-inspiring.
There are also opportunities to see alligators up close and personal, at the edge of the lake. I didn’t see any up on the trail, but that’s always a possibility. Kids would love the reserve and especially this trail. I plan on bringing my nephews but will have a talk with them when we get there about respecting wildlife, from the birds to the alligators so they remember to give wildlife the space they need.
I’ve already been back to the Circle B Bar Reserve to get some early morning pictures but I went on the same trails as the first time since I knew what I wanted pictures of. I have to go back again soon though, I still have half of the trails left to explore!
Here’s what you need to know to play tourist:
4399 Winter Lake Road
Lakeland, FL 33803
Circle B Bar Reserve
Shark Valley Loop Trail
Brooker Creek Preserve
The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature
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