Alligator Lake Recreation Area Hike

By Ted Nelson, Traveling Ted

No Shortage of Adventure Places in Florida

It is easy to find adventure in Florida. Just pick up a map and look for a spot of green or blue, and you will most likely find good hiking or canoeing. This is true whether you are down in the Everglades, the Keys, or even farther north near Orlando or Jacksonville.

A couple of years ago I was visiting a friend in Orlando. After a few days hanging out in this human jungle, I had to get out. I found Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge a few hours north and soon I was walking among tons of birds and alligators.

With interesting views like this, the Alligator Lake Recreation Area hike was off to a good start. (Traveling Ted)
With interesting views like this, the Alligator Lake Recreation Area hike was off to a good start. (Traveling Ted)

Florida Cold Snap

Earlier this year, I was visiting my father in the northern part of the state near the Suwanee River. A cold snap shut down our canoe trip as no one wanted to be on the water in frigid 30 degree temperatures. Instead of staying holed up in the RV park, we decided to hike Alligator Lake Recreation Area.

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Alligator Lake Recreation Area

Alligator Lake is located in Columbia County just outside Lake City, Florida. Lake City is about 50 miles north of Gainesville on I-75 and about 60 miles west of Jacksonville on I-10.

There are over 12 miles of trails in this park. We hiked the main 3 mile trail that circles the lake. As soon as you leave the parking lot, a beautiful cypress swamp full of Spanish moss laden trees is on your left. It seemed like a perfect place to see alligators, but there were none around today.

The trail around the lake is on top of a dike. It is raised up from the water and gives great perspective over the lake. This makes it an optimal place to view birds and alligators. The trail is super easy to hike as it follows an old road and there is no elevation gain.

Alligator Lake Recreation Area hike along the diked trail around the lake. (Traveling Ted)
Alligator Lake Recreation Area hike along the diked trail around the lake. (Traveling Ted)

Alligator Lake is Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail

The recreation area is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Over 150 species have been spotted here. Despite the cold day, plenty of birds were identified including the Florida staples of egrets, herons, ibis, and anhinga. We saw some waterfowl, coots, and hawks as well. We did not see 150 species, but we saw enough to stay interested. Unfortunately, we were still missing the namesake of the lake.

Looking for Alligators in Alligator Lake

This was not a surprise as alligators are not active in cold weather. Earlier on my Florida road trip, while canoeing the Hillsborough River, we missed out on seeing Big Moe. He is commonly seen at one bend in the river, but it was in the 40s on this day, so no shock that we had not spotted any alligators today either since it was even colder.

Halfway through the hike our luck changed. On the far end of the lake we saw a medium sized alligator not moving a muscle in the shallow water. It would have been a mild disappointment not to see an alligator on Alligator Lake, but we were not shut out. On normal temperature days, it is almost a guarantee that you will see an alligator or two if you keep your eyes open.

Towards the end of the hike we saw some pretty impressive cypress trees full of Spanish moss on the other side of the lake. It really makes for a haunting landscape with the bare trees and the hanging moss. We enjoyed the view of the lake and the trees on several benches along the way, which are perfect for a break.

White ibis in thick green vegetation at Alligator Lake Recreation Area. (Traveling Ted)
White ibis in thick green vegetation at Alligator Lake Recreation Area. (Traveling Ted)

Alligator Lake Is a True Recreation Area

Besides hiking, there is also fishing, boating, sand volleyball, a horseshoe pit, and a playground. The name of the place is no lie. We did see an alligator and there is plenty of recreation to be found, so we can verify the accuracy of the name. On this day we were the only people on the trails in the park thanks to the cold weather. It was just us, an alligator, and a lot birds: a familiar trend for many places throughout the normally warm Sunshine State.

Although there was slight disappointment at missing a day of canoeing, a hike around Alligator Lake was a nice consolation on an abnormally freezing day in northern Florida.

Copyright © 2014 by Traveling Ted. This article was written by Ted Nelson and originally published at Traveling Ted.

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