Circle B Bar Reserve: Real Florida Nature
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
If you want to see alligators in their natural habitat, Circle B Bar Reserve in Polk County Florida is the place to go! I saw more wildlife here than I did in the Everglades. There are no fences or large crowds, just raw, natural and open Florida.
Circle B Bar Reserve was my favorite place to take visitors while we lived there. It is located in Central Florida and only about 40 minutes from Disney and Tampa. It offers a FREE look into Florida marsh and lake life, including alligators, a variety of birds, frogs, turtles, raccoons, butterflies and more.
Fun: 4 stars
Difficulty: Very Easy EASY Moderate Hard Very Hard
Distance: 0.2 to 5 miles, you can pick
Elevation Gain: Zero, its Florida
Terrain: Uneven dirt paths, tree roots exposed along trail, part-shade
Time: 1 to 3 hours
When to Go: Anytime of the year. Visit in the morning during the summer to escape the heat
Well-kept bathrooms and water fountain in visitor’s center
Port-a-potty near parking lot if visitor’s center is closed
Picnic tables with gazebo
THINGS TO BRING
Running type stroller if needed for small children. The trail is dirt and often has tree roots exposed making for a bumpy ride.
Good walking shoes
On arrival to Circle B Bar we would usually obtain a map from the visitors center or from an outside kiosk near the visitor center. The map also contained pictures of the wildlife and plants we may see along our adventure. My kids loved finding as many items off the map as they could while we walked.
There are trail routes ranging from .2 to 5 miles. My favorite route is a 2.5 mile loop and includes Shady Oak Trail to Alligator Alley to Heron Hideout. This route is 90% shaded and includes views of the oak trees, Lack Hanock and Florida marshes. First, Shady Oak takes you through a canopy of Oak Trees. We often counted the many butterflies here and once saw an armadillo.
As you approach the lake you will turn onto Alligator Alley and you will see the lake on one side of the trail and a marshy ditch on the other. Alligators may be on both sides of the trail. In the lake, watch for gator eyes and a nose that may be sticking just barely out from the water.
In the ditch you may see gators lounging in the tall grass soaking up some rays. If you are lucky you may see a gator cross the trail or swimming in the water. Most of the time gators are just lazy and don’t move at all.
There is a gazebo off Alligator Alley that provides a beautiful view of the lake and the variety of birds that live around it. I saw an eagle swoop down and snag a fish from the lake and a large Blue Heron scoop up a fish and eat it whole.
As you come to the end of Alligator Alley you can get back to the parking lot and visitors center quickly by taking Heron Hideout or you can make the hike longer by continuing on a different trail.
Another good route for wildlife observing is accessing the Marsh Rabbit Run via the Heron Hideout. You can make this a 2.3 mile loop by connecting Heron Hideout -Marsh Rabbit Run-Wading Bird Way-Windmill Whisper-Treefrog Trail.
This area is sometimes closed during alligator nesting months (July through September) if the gators have nested too close to the trail. We visited at the end of October once, just shortly after the trail was opened again, and saw about a dozen newborn gators.
Marsh Rabbit Run is also where I saw the back of an extremely large gator named Humpback. Here is a YouTube of an amazing shot of this gator that went viral at Circle B Bar.
As you proceed along the trail you will get better at picking out the animals. Try to keep your voices down and walk slowly to allow ample opportunity for wild life viewing. There are many animals here that are great at blending in with the environment.
There have never been any incidents at Circle B Bar Reserve and we want it to stay that way. Keep to the trail and do not harass the animals. Here is some of the wildlife you may see.
At the end of each visit to Circle B Bar Reserve we would visit the Polk County Discovery Center (visitor’s center) which has several interactive exhibits, a tree house and an underground fox hole for the kids to play in.
This was probably my kid’s favorite part of the Circle B Bar experience and I would use it as incentive for the kids to keep walking. The Visitors Center also has a bathroom, drinking fountain and wonderful air conditioning.
PROS & CONS
Great way to see Florida wildlife---better than the Everglades
Fun visitor’s center for kids
Short drive from Tampa or Orlando
If you or your children need fences between you and animals for any reason, do not go here---there are no fences---but this is actually a pro for us, as long as you stay a safe distance and let the animals be.
Circle B Bar Reserve is located in Lakeland Florida and is only 40 minutes west of Disney and 40 minutes east of Tampa. The address is 4399 Winter Lake Rd, Lakeland, FL 33803.
OTHER NEARBY ADVENTURES
Bok Tower Gardens (40 minutes)
Legoland (30 minutes)
Disney World (40 minutes)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I'm Corrine! I'm an outdoor enthusiast, mother of four, wife, nurse and runner. I believe God gave us this beautiful earth to explore, enjoy and protect.
My goal is to inspire you to get outside and create your own amazing memories as a family. Life is precious and there are too many adventures to be had to spend life on the couch or in front of a screen.
Join me and my family for "Adventures off the couch!" Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest @outdoorfamfun.