The forecast threatened rain on my hike, so we opted to try something a little less remote rather than be miles out in the woods during potentially stormy weather. Being almost struck by lightning once, I don’t wish to experience that ever again if possible.
I had seen the listing of a park near the town of Bartow. An easy drive, we figured it would offer an outdoor excursion we could manage before the weather shifted. Initially we located a section of the park, but it just didn’t look right. A dirt road ended at a field with signage about model airplanes and horse trails.
“This looks like it would be the back of the property,” I mused. We backtracked and went down the road a bit after I looked through some photos on social media and saw what looked like a parking area in some of them. Scanning satellite images, I found the footprint of paved parking just a few miles down the road from where we had initially turned off.
Upon arrival we marveled over hilly terrain and the steep climb of the roadway to an area of higher elevation where the parking lot was plotted. Clearly a reclaimed area, we hiked up the hill to overlook the scenery.
“This is going to be marvelous for birding,” I exclaimed, delighted by the wet and dry habitats and brushy understory. Making our way down the hill, we headed to the bathroom and boardwalks we had passed on our way to park. Flush toilets – well the men’s at least – was open and that was good enough for me. If you’re sensitive about such things, considered yourself forewarned. The real excitement comes when you enter one of the elevated trails.
Like our beloved Highlands Hammock State Park, this area is a floodplain of a cypress wetland. High water marks on the trees indicated why this highly elevated walkway would be needed during the times when the Peace River overflows its banks. We strolled along as the breezy weather sent thousands of red maple seedlings – we affectionately refer to them as “whirly-gigs” – cascading down like pink snow. Warblers flew in in bunches, proving my avian hunch correct.
Perhaps one of the best kept secrets of our region, this boardwalk offers about a mile and a half of elevated bliss. I suspect during the buggy season it would be brutal but right now it is absolutely delightful. As we walked, the boardwalk meandered across various areas of the swampy terrain and offered options to take one of four spokes into different directions. We did nearly all of it and found ourselves at an overlook of the Peace River twice. We soaked up the silence and then added this park to our favorites list. You might want to do the same.
Want to go? Mosaic-Peace River Park, 2200 County Road 640 in Bartow. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.