The sunshine state of Florida may be world-famous for its mega-theme parks, amusement centers and enticing warm beaches, but it is also home to a diverse ecosystem of natural habitat, verdant forests, gorgeous lakes and beautiful gardens.

Polk County in Central Florida is a great base not only for exciting outdoor activities but for charming golf courses and heritage sites as well.

Outdoor enthusiasts should not miss Lake Kissimee State Park for a full day of nature tripping. Its scenic lake is the perfect place for fishing or canoeing. A relaxing picnic in the park will treat you to occasional sightings of white-tailed deer, bald eagles and bobcats. The Park also features a living history demonstration of the lives of early cow-hunters in an authentic cow camp dating back to 1876.

For a closer study of nature, the park’s 13 mile trail will lead hikers to a more opulent setting of rich and impressive flora and fauna. Horseback riding is also available for the first six miles of the trail. Another great hike is available at the Caloosa Nature Trail of Babson Park Nature Center.

It features a desert-like ecosystem exhibiting unique species of plants and animals peculiar to this environment. If you are passionate about bird watching, then you want to visit the Great Florida Birding Trail and the Circle B-Bar Reserve.

A visit to the beautiful and romantic gardens of Polk County should be in your must-do list. First stop is Lake Mirror Park where the lovely Hollis Garden is located. It showcases more than 10,000 species of stunning flowers and ornamental shrubs with shade trees scattered about. Then proceed to the wonderful Bok Tower Gardens where a 205 foot tower is the centerpiece of many smaller gardens showing a vivid display of colorful flowers.

It also features acres of towering trees of oaks and pines among ferns and palms dotting around the park. Schedule your visits at 1 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon to witness the daily recital of romantic carillon. You also want to visit the picturesque Cypress Gardens located within the water park complex of Splash Island to alternate your tranquil garden walks with the exciting slides and pools of the water park.

If you have an appetite for heritage and fine dining, head to downtown Lake Wales where you will find dozens of charming restaurants considered to be Florida’s finest. Cuisine choices are plenty. You can have whatever strikes your fancy with the abundance of Italian, Cuban, Mexican, Chinese, Thai and American restaurants to choose from.

The striking architecture of its many buildings and little specialty shops are also a feast for the eyes. If you happen to visit on a Friday, don’t miss on the weekly Farmers Market where you can shop for fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs as well as pretty flowers and ornamental plants on lovely little pots.

To know more about this quaint historical town, visit the Depot Museum and Cultural Center. You can also participate in local cultural events held at the Lake Wales’ Arts Center and Little Theatre.

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