Florida has many wild and rugged stretches of land which preserve the state in its native habitats. Parks have all different levels of development and Mabry Carlton is certainly one of the more raw landscapes we’ve encountered in the state. The unique wilderness is a combination of dry prairie, freshwater wetlands, mesic oak hammocks and pine flatwoods.
The Reserve is located off exit 193 off I-75. Following some back roads for about 4 miles we reached the park which was well marked. There is an entryway with public facilities such as parking, an information stand, some pavilions and rest rooms. There was no one visibly attending the park, but the hours of operation are posted by the front gate which is locked nightly. The hours center close to sunrise and sunset, with various warnings not to get locked in. There was only 1 other vehicle present.
If you are an explorer and really want to escape to wilderness this is an excellent place to go. The park has boundaries on the Myakka river which is another scenic and massive wildlife area. Mabry Carlton is 24,589 acres of land which is criss crossed with 80 miles of primitive trails. Depending on the time of year you go it can be very dry or flooded. Summer rains keep many of the undeveloped trails muddy and wet such that you would need high waterproof boots. By mid November into April the rains have dried up and the trails would be more manageable for hiking in boots.
What to see
As this is very natural terrain it is expected that you will see lots of critters. In just one hour we saw an alligator, a snake, turtles and many types of birds. There are also bobcats, many kids of birds and small mammals which call the forest, prairies and lakes home. It is advisable to be prepared to encounter venomous and dangerous animals, stay on the trails and proceed with caution. Even when the elevation is not so dramatic it is beautiful to see the changes in landscape in the different habitats
What to do
We very much enjoyed hiking the trails which cross through many habitats. The trails are made for horseback riding, biking, geocaching and orienteering. It is possible to engage in primitive camping as well. Visitors to the park enjoy bird and animal observation, guided tours take place at certain times and plentiful maps show all the possible trails and their intersections throughout the park.