Each month, my husband and I visit one of the many great Florida State Parks. July took us to Lake Louisa State Park, 7 miles south of Clermont on Hwy 27.
It’s a beautiful park and well worth the stop whether you are interested in camping or just a nature lover out for a day trip. The park’s rolling hills border the northeast edge of the Green Swamp and the parkland takes in some 4,500 acres. There are 6 lakes and over 23 miles of trails.
Lake Louisa is the largest in a chain of some 13 lakes in the Clermont and Groveland area. It forms the northern park boundary. Full facility campgrounds are located in the center of the park near two of the smaller lakes called Dixie and Hammond. From the campsite, it’s an easy walk to go fishing, watch wildlife or snap a sunrise or sunset photo.
Twenty modern cabins are available for rent along Dixie Lake. They have porches with lake views and can sleep up to 6 people. All the full facility campsites and the cabins can be reserved up to 11 months in advance by going online to reserveamerica.com. In Lake Louisa State Park there are additional primitive campsites, equestrian camps, guided horseback rides and 16 miles of horse trails.
I spent most mornings hiking the trails. With so many miles to choose from I could pick a different route every day. The hiking trails, mostly grassy paths, are fairly well maintained. They connect for miles. It’s very easy to plan a short outing and loop back to your starting point. I was surprised how well marked the trails were.
My curiosity was up after seeing small engraved plaques on the trail posts. Each plaque listed the name of Riley Cowell, an Eagle Scout. Riley was just 15 and a sophomore when he came up with the idea to replace the trail markers here at Lake Louisa. He took on this work for his Eagle Project.
He started the project after hearing complaints about the conditions of the 10-year-old markers. Many had missing numbers and hikers were getting lost or confused. Each new post now has a number and arrows leading to the next marker(s) on the trail. All correspond to numbers on a park trail map. Small plaques on most posts have a sponsors name, Riley’s name, and the month and year, September 2015.
Riley started a Go Fund Me page, requested sponsors for each post, and raised over $2,000. In all 60 new marker posts were put up and numbered. Forty people spent a total of 400 hours over a long weekend getting them in place. Riley’s own time on the Eagle Scout project involved over 600 hours. Now 3 years later I certainly appreciated and benefited from all his hard work!
We enjoyed a combination of biking and hiking. If biking is your thing,then there are miles of paved roads. Just a ride from the full facility campground to the parking lot and picnic area at Lake Louisa is over 3 miles one way. Some parts of the pavement have a shoulder bike lane. If you didn’t bring a bike, one can be rented.
A Camp Canteen is open daily selling supplies along with rentals for bikes. kayaks, and canoes. If you’re a bird lover, there’s plenty of them around too as well as opportunities to see herons, ducks, red shouldered hawks, swallow tail kites, turkeys, and small birds like cardinals and bobwhite. Whitetail deer, alligators, racoons, and gopher tortoises are also in the park. Fishing is popular for small and largemouth bass.
There are piers at Hammond and Dixie Lakes just a short walk from the campsites and Lake Louisa has a swimming area and picnic pavilions.
The land for Lake Louisa was purchased by the state in 1973 and opened as a park in 1977. Much of the land still looks as it did 100 years ago. John and Louise Driggers Hammond settled the area around Lake Louisa in 1910.
Their homestead was much like a small town with a family house, turpentine still, shingle mill, sawmill, commissary, and combination church and school. For a time logs and other supplies were hauled by barge or steamboat across Lake Louisa to the sawmill. The present day swimming area was the site of a narrow gauge railroad. John and Louise had four children. John Hammond died in 1912. Louise Hammond died in 1972 at the age of 87 or 88 (her birth month uncertain) and is buried in the Winter Garden Cemetery.
In 1943, the Bronson family bought some of the land and used it for orange groves and a cattle ranch. There are still remnants of pasture land and their orange groves in the park today.
In 2001, there was a historic discovery. A severe drought that year caused extremely low lake levels and kayakers spotted the wreckage of a P-51 Mustang in Lake Louisa. An article concerning the discovery ran in the Orlando Sentinel. It took a week before the mystery of the plane was solved. A faded thank-you note from a Minneola woman provided a missing piece of the puzzle about the crash. The P-51 Mustang was flown by a young pilot First Lt. Dean Gilmore in November 1944. He had taken off from Bartow on a training mission and crashed, nose diving into the lake, then bouncing and exploding. He was flying low toward a setting sun. His body was recovered under a partially deployed parachute but the plane was lost in the lake. Gilmore was cleared of pilot error, but no one knows exactly what happened that day.
He had flown 91 reconnaissance missions during WWII and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Now just one day after his 23rd birthday he lost his life while training new pilots in Florida. A monument by the lake marks the discovery of his plane. During that same time period some Indian dugout canoes were found as well as arrowheads, spear points, ancient tools, and pottery.
Lake Louisa is quiet but close to a fast growing area of subdivisions and other private RV parks. Hwy 27 is busy place with strip shopping centers, restaurants, and plenty of gas stations. Clermont is just a few miles north with a cute downtown and some antique shops, restaurants, and gift shops. There is a nice waterfront park in Clermont on Lake Minneola where there are walking/ biking paths, picnic tables, benches, a small beach, and a kid’s playground, plus a water splash area. Lake Minneola has a small fishing pier and offers great sunset views.
We’ve booked another week at Lake Louisa in December and look forward to more time in this area with just a little less heat.