Circle B Bar Reserve in Florida

This must be the best kept nature secret in Florida and to top it all, its FREE!

If you enjoy walking nature trails and ever find yourself in Florida, this place should not be missed. About 50 miles from Orlando near Lakeland in Polk County, you will find the Circle B Bar Reserve.

 

On arrival, visit the Nature Discovery Centre to learn about the local area and about the wildlife which can be found at the reserve.  Just outside the centre, pick up one of the Trail maps. Choose which trails interest you and then hit them!

We didn’t do all of the trail, but we did do:

Shady Oak

Alligator Alley

Eagle Roast

Heron Hideout

Marsh Rabbit Run

Wading Bird Way (1/2)

At the very least, I would recommend Alligator Alley and Heron Hideout. We visited after two very unseasonably cold days and as a result, the reserve was teeming with wildlife.

 

Shady Oak Trail

This trail is a lovely stroll between the oaks, which are laden with Spanish moss commonly found in Florida. We didn’t see any wildlife here, but it was an enjoyable tranquil walk with great scenery.

 

Alligator Alley Trail

This is when things started to warm up. This path runs between Lake Hancock on the left and a swamp on the right.

The banks of Lake Hancock had birds lined up looking for food and we observed mostly Ibis, Great Herons and Anhinga along here. We watched an Anhinga catch his lunch, which was actually too big for him to eat. He tussled with it for some time before he accidentally dropped it back into the lake. He jumped straight in after it but we couldn’t see where he resurfaced, so we aren’t sure if he managed to find it again!

I took this video but unfortunately I missed the bit where he dropped his lunch; It would have been a great You Tube moment!

On the other side of the path there was a swamp. The swamp was abundant with smaller birds flying in and out of the foliage and the occasional alligator watching us keenly.

This ones head was around 30cms long at a guess; clearly i didn’t use a measuring stick 🙂

Further along Alligator Alley, we found an Eagles nest and this Herons nest. If you look closely you can see one of the adult herons standing in the nest.

Herons Hideout

This trail is a short walk back to the car park or can be used to connect up to Marsh Rabbit Run. We found a  number of water birds here, including Herons, Egrets and some Whistling Ducks.

Limpkins like the one above, can be found all around the reserve. They make the strangest of sounds which is similar to that of a a crying baby! They like to eat snails, so you will often find large empty snail shells littered around the reserve.

Marsh Rabbit Run

Marsh Rabbit run follows beside Banana Creek Marsh and is where we saw even more birds including this Great Egret.

I was amazed that every where I looked, I could see another bird going about its daily business. I don’t think I have ever seen such a high concentration of wildlife in one place. This trail was partially shaded, which was a relief because the Florida sun had become strong by mid afternoon.

We had heard that there were some baby alligators to be found and we eventually came across 4 like this one. They were approximately 25cms long, so small, that many people weren’t noticing these cute little fellas!

 

Wading Bird Way

As we turned into Wading Bird way, we were lucky to spot this Osprey in a tree in-front of us. He had just caught his dinner, which you can just see between his feet. He stayed long enough to kindly allow me to take a couple of shots, before he flew away to enjoy his feast.

Wading bird way is a trail which runs between two lakes.

We had heard that a very large alligator measuring approximately 12 feet lives here.  We looked out across the lake and spotted a large alligator head, which then submerged and a trail of bubbles started to move in our direction. At this point, we thought it was a good time to continue walking! I have since seen this YouTube footage and he is scarily huge!

Eagle Roost

This was our last trail of the day and the area surrounding the trail was baron and we weren’t close enough to the waters edge to see anymore birds.

However, as we approached within a respectful and lawful distance of this protected gopher tortoise hole, this guy kindly let me take a quick photo of his butt before he disappeared at speed indoors!

We returned to the car park and I was excited to see this Armadillo foraging for food. Isn’t he cute?

Driving out of the reserve, we saw a family of Wild Boar making lots of noise as they moved around looking for food. This is the first time I have seen Wild Boar in the wild and it was quite a sight!

I have been visiting Florida on and off since 2000 and I can’t believe I have only just come across this amazing place. I had a thoroughly enjoyable day at Circle B Bar Reserve and would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who enjoys wildlife and nature.

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  • Katie Featherstone

    Wow, I can’t believe how much wildlife you saw. Amazing! 🙂

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes it was an awesome day 🙂

  • This looks so cool and exactly like something I’d LOVE to do! I’m such a huge animal lover and I love spotting animals in the wild. I can’t believe how much you saw!! Ospreys and armadillos and alligators! Such an abundance of wildlife there…. seriously what a hidden gem. Fantasics photos too!

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes it certainly is! what I like about Florida is they love their nature and wildlife. There are so many places to go and see this kind of thing, although this is the best wildlife spotting I have every done !

  • AMAZING! IT LOOKS SOOO BEAUTIFUL AND WITH SO MANY UNKNOWN ANIMALS!

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes it is, but thanksfully we didn’t run into a single snake that day – which I was very relieved about 🙂

  • I do think this is Florida’s best kept secret you know – and it’s free?? Awesome! I love the look of the shady oak trail and I cannot believe how much wildlife you saw, that’s amazing, I love the armidillo, I have never seen one and would love to (ever since I saw an advert for a Dime Bar years ago, do you remember?). Check out the size of the alligator that had been spotted as well, what a biggie! #feetdotrave

    • Sam H Travels

      Hahaha oh yes i do remember that advert! I enjoyed shady oak trail too. I took so many photos along there. The Spanish moss hanging from the oaks fascinated me.

  • 1AdventureTraveler

    How fun the Circle B Reserve in Florida. There is so much to do there and I will definitely need to check this place out. I must admit the trail along the Alligator Alley has me a bit scared since I do know that alligators love to warm themselves in the sun 🙂 I pinned this for later use. Great photos and thanks for sharing 🙂 #feetdotravel

    • Sam H Travels

      Glad you have pinned it for the future and I hope you get to visit sometime. We were told if we walked along alligator Alley we would definitely see gators. I think it definitely pays to walk slow and take in everything around you. Alligators are keen observers after all 🙂

  • A Romanian in Russia

    Only knowing that that alligator can be around, it would have made me afraid of my own shadow :)) It looks like a great place to see wildlife! So glad you shared this secret with us! I would love to go and visit it someday! Great pictures!

    • Sam H Travels

      Thank you! Yes I was so excited to find this place. I just had to share it with everyone 🙂

  • Maria Salomonsen

    Wow, what a fantastic place! Definitely saved on my list of places I’d like to visit when I go to Florida this May. Maybe I’ll be lucky and spot that gigantic ‘gator (holy cow that was big..!)
    Cheers,
    Maria @ http://momentumtravels.com

    • Sam H Travels

      Lol, yes he is. If he’s around I think u will definitely notice him 😉

  • That is a superb photo of the Anhinga! Looks a great place to explore, it does look like one of Florida’s best kept secrets! #feetdotravel

    • Sam H Travels

      The Anhinga is one of my favourite birds out in Florida and a bird I had never heard of until I visited. They are sometimes called the snake bird because when they are in the water, all you can see is their head and neck. They are often seen on the banks with their wings spread drying off.

  • Wayfaring Sarah

    Stunning! I haven’t made it over to florida yet but this is not at all what I expected it to be like! Beautiful nature and amazing that’s is free to visit!

    • Sam H Travels

      I think so many people feel Florida is about theme parks. This was the first post in my Florida series, during which I hope to show people there is more to this state than theme parks.

  • Oana A. Nicolescu

    Wow, this place is amazing. I cannot believe how much wild life you saw here – I would love to see one armidillo but I would freak out if I saw one alligator. My heart will stop for sure if I saw that monster from the video – such a huge creature. Fantastic photos, the ones with the birds are my favorites.

    • Sam H Travels

      It really made my day seeing the Armadillo and after I got this footage I came across quite a few in different locations. They don’t seem to care that you are there…. i guess there mind is set on finding food 🙂

  • Travel Lexx

    So so cool and so many amazing hikes. I am a bit apprehensive about all the alligators just hanging out so close to the trails but I would go with the flow – gotta have a bit of adventure once in a while! Thanks for sharing – going straight onto my Florida list!

    • Sam H Travels

      Great! I hope you get to visit soon 🙂 As Lisa says, the gators are just part of the landscape and I tend tonfeel if you respect eachother space, everyone will remain happy 🙂

  • Lisa

    I’m from Florida so I agree this is a wonderful spot to see the real Florida. Alligators are just part of the landscape there, just pay attention and no worries. Your beautiful photos really caught the real wildlife life there in their natural habitat.

    • Sam H Travels

      Thanks Lisa. I enjoy watching nature just going about it’s business and I felt so privedged to see so much of it here!

  • I remember on my last trip to Florida I saw plenty of gators when we took an air boat ride. I never saw an Amarillo though! They look pretty cool!

    • Sam H Travels

      They are so cool and I just love their adorably faces 🙂

  • Shona Grant

    So many trails to choose from and with such varying landscapes. A great spot to get back to nature!

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes it is. I will definitely visit again when I am in the area 🙂

  • philandgarth

    OMG that gator video is just so scary!! You saw some amazing wildlife, looks like you had a great adventure 🙂

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes we had a great time. Probably one of the best things I have experienced in Florida and certainly much better than visiting Mickey Mouse 😉

  • Tracy McConnachie Collins

    What an amazing place! I would love to have a walk along those trails though not too sure about the one near the huge alligator 😱

    • Sam H Travels

      Be brave and visit 🙂

  • David Johnston

    Circle B Bar Reserve looks like a great place to experience Florida’s wildlife. I’m amazed how much you got to see there, from baby gators to an Armadillo. Your photos of them are fantastic, especially the gator’s heard emerging from the water like that. Pinned for future reference if I ever head to Florida.

    • Sam H Travels

      Thank you David 🙂 I hope you get to visit some day.

  • Andrea On Vacation

    I saw that youtube and decided I’d never walk down any path called Alligator Alley 🙂 What a great place- and its all free!

    • Sam H Travels

      Haha! I can see you point 😉

  • ThriftyTrails

    Oh my goodness you saw so much different wildlife! The picture of the bird with the fish is great, you should submit it to natgeo. You must be really light on your feet for the animals not to be startled by you!

    • Sam H Travels

      Thank you 🙂 Funny enough, the animals don’t seem to worry at all about people being around.

  • Oh! we sooo want to see the armadillo! Your photos look amazing. Would love to go.

    • Sam H Travels

      I hope you get to visit. I guarantee you will have a great day 🙂

  • Now this is music to my ears and eyes! Loved reading about this reserve and all the hikes! Does this bird eating its lunch have a hole in their head lol? :O How long would it take to do all the trails? All the wildlife encounters seem amazing!

    • Sam H Travels

      I see what you mean about the Anhinga looking like he has a hole in his head lol. He has a really long neck and he was tussling with the fish, so his head was bent down a bit to create that illusion 🙂 We walked VERY slow on the trails we did because there was so much to photograph and look at. It is easily a half day activity and if you take a picnic, someone could spend the whole day doing all the trails.

  • Two Small Potatoes

    This looks like a fantastic place for hiking! I already commented on your Twitter video of the armadillo, but I have to say again that he’s incredibly adorable. So many wildlife – this would be heaven for us. How is this place free??

    • Sam H Travels

      I agree! I watched the Armadillo for ages and he didn’t seem perturbed at all that I staring at him lol

  • Stunning photos! This place looks amazing. I can’t believe all the wildlife you saw. Pinning this for future reference. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sam H Travels

      I couldn’t believe it either 🙂

  • Wow, that’s quite a day of wildlife watching! Our record for spotting wildlife is dismal. Maybe we’ve been in the wrong places, as Circle B Bar clearly is the place to be! 😉 Thanks for sharing all of your great photos!

    • Sam H Travels

      I think it definitely helped that there had been two cold days prior to our visit. When the warm day came along the wildlife were all out and about 🙂

  • Christina

    Wow what a cool hike! The trees were absolutely gorgeous and the trail seemed peaceful and clean. I cannot believe how many animals you came across. I would have been so scared had I seen some alligators – and you saw four! Very nice pictures and post.

    • Sam H Travels

      Yes this place is very clean. There is a big respect for nature and wildlife, which includes no littering!

  • This place looks amazing! Love walking in the nature and this park has so much to see. Your photos are perfect!

    • Sam H Travels

      Thank you! I am very pleased with the photos too 😀

  • Aisha Sylvester

    I absolutely LOVE your photos! They really brought the reserve to life (sometimes a little too much lol those alligators creeped me out a bit lol). Sounds like you had a great day, thanks for sharing!

    • Sam H Travels

      LOL, yes the alligator is quite a scary sight isnt it !