Lake Wales Ridge and Crooked Lake, Florida, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - South - Florida - East Central - South - West Central -

Also known as:  Lake Caloosa

Remnants of desert sea islands 2.3 million years old host the hundreds of lakes along Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge. This large area encompasses a broad swath across the East Central, West Central and South Florida tourism regions. Called the ‘spine’ of the Florida peninsula, the ancient Lake Wales Ridge was once only a series of mid-ocean sand dunes until receding waters uncovered the rest of the state. This unique ecology has created a valuable glimpse into an environment that remained isolated for millions of years, allowing plants and animals to evolve here, completely separated from outside influence.

Even the many smaller lakes along ‘Florida’s Attic’ are somewhat unique: many are ‘sink’ lakes – collapsed sinkholes where rainfall percolated easily through the surface sands to dissolve caverns in the underlying limestone. Eventually, the surface ‘roofs’ of these sinks collapsed, leaving lakes that have existed in some cases for 50,000 years. And, although most lakes atop the narrow ridge are small, the underlying aquifer and drainage system created several very large lakes around the edges of the 100-mile-long ridge. Some of Florida’s most famous lakes are a part of this ridge drainage system, including Lake June in Winter, Crooked Lake, Lake Kissimmee, Lake Walk In Water, Lake Wales, Lake Istopoga, Lake Arbuckle, Lake Apopka, Lake Tohopekaliga and many smaller lakes where residents and visitors play, fish and relax.

Between four and ten miles wide, the Lake Wales Ridge is a desert environment and the highest point in the state. The Ridge itself is still dry, and the ancient sands support the famous Florida ‘scrub’ ecology of plants, animals and birds that are found nowhere else. Off the Ridge, typical tropical Florida climate provides plentiful water for citrus groves, cattle ranches, growing cities and recreational villages. The bounty provided by Lake Wales Ridge helped to make Florida the chosen vacationland of millions of visitors and the citrus capital of the United States.

Stretching southward from the Orlando area, the Lake Wales Ridge area of Polk and Highland Counties provides such crowd-pleasers as Cypress Gardens, the famous 71-bell carillon at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, and favored vacation destinations all the way down to Lake Okeebechobee. The marshes along the Lake Wales Ridge feed both the massive lake and the Everglades beyond.

Crooked Lake, or Lake Caloosa as it was previously known, is typical of some of the larger lakes along the Lake Wales Ridge. Nestled in a mix of farmland and residential areas, Crooked Lake is reputed to be nearly 7000 acres; recent official figures reduce that number to 3552 acres. This isn’t unusual as early estimates of lakes almost invariably over-estimated size, and the size of the lake is highly variable due to rainfall trends. Although used for irrigation purposes in the past, water levels are being protected currently and have increased since 1990. Maintaining higher water levels is considered critical to protecting the underlying aquifer to prevent the encroachment of seawater into this important water source. Still, 3500 acres is a large body of water and contains plenty of wetlands along its shore to provide habitat for water birds and spawning fish. Populated areas along the shore include Babson Park, Hillcrest Heights and Crooked Lake Park, but the lake is claimed by the larger town of Frostproof a couple of miles to the south.

Spring-fed Crooked Lake is a favorite among fishermen, and a number of fishing guides make their living leading visiting anglers to the ‘best bass fishing in central Florida’, as claimed by the locals. Reported to have some of the best water quality along the Lake Wales Ridge, Crooked Lake is especially noted for monster largemouth bass and crappie, although bluegill and catfish are also caught. The southern basin of the lake is sometimes called Little Crooked Lake and has a public boat launch. A number of private vacation rentals along the shore offer the perfect vacation location, with sandy beaches for swimming and plenty of room for water skiing, boating, jet skiing and paddle sports.

At the south end of the lake, the Crooked Lake Prairie Preserve provides over three miles of marked walking trails among Ridge dunes, hills and prairie grasslands. Only a couple of miles to the east, the Walk-In-The-Water section of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest provides hiking trails, a wildlife management area, year-round campground and access to Lake Wechyakapka , better known as Lake Walk-In-Water. Areas around Crooked Lake and the State Forest tract are home to a variety of birds and wildlife such as bald eagles, turkey, deer, gopher tortoises, scrub-jays, and an array of wading birds.

Almost 85% of the Lake Wales Ridge landscape has been altered from its natural state by a hundred years of farming, citrus orchards and cattle grazing. As people have become more aware of how the natural environment creates inter-linking systems of water quality, water tables and micro-climates, efforts have increased to preserve as much of the unique Lake Wales Ridge habitat as possible. A number of research projects, private donations of land, and state and federal purchases are slowly building a base of habitat preservation for such rare or endangered wildlife as the scrub jay. Found nowhere else in the world, this relative of the common bluejay lives among the unusual scrub vegetation growing along the ridge such as scrub lupine, scrub mint, pygmy fringetree, scrub plum and the exceedingly rare Florida ziziphus. The legless sand skink ‘swims’ just below the surface of the sand, leaving wavy trails on the surface. Burrowing owls and other variations of desert creatures such as the gopher tortoise inhabit this rare environment. Some species are so rare that the Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge has several sections of protected land that is not open to the public. Maintaining the scrub environment requires proscribed burning of the surface plants at intervals. One reason the scrub environment has been reduced is human control of fire. In these closed environments, fire can be used to maintain the necessary delicate balance between plants, animals and their environment.

A number of state and federal tracts have been developed with hiking and interpretive trails to allow ecology-conscious visitors the chance to experience the ancient ecosystem and perhaps get a glimpse of the elusive scrub jay. Visitors can see Lake Wales Ridge scrub at The Nature Conservancy’s Catfish Creek, Tiger Creek and Saddle Blanket Lakes Scrub Preserves in Polk County and at their Lake Apthorpe Scrub Preserve in Highlands County. Some of these preserved areas contain examples of the many small sink lakes. The Archebald Biological Station near Lake Placid offers interpretive videos and a wealth of information on Lake Wales Ridge ecology and scientific study. The casual tourist can see examples of Lake Wales Ridge scrub lands a few miles either side of US 27 between Lake Wales and Lake Placid where the low shrubs and exposed sands are visible directly from the car windows. Lake Kissimmee State Park, Lake Arbuckle State Park and Lake Arbuckle State Forest all contain examples of ancient Lake Wales Ridge scrub.

Although new development has been curtailed on most of Lake Wales Ridge itself, there are still areas around the perimeter and in existing towns that have real estate available. Some of the most charming selections are often the older lakefront bungalows and cottages built during the early half of the last century. These homes exude the type of rustic ambiance seldom found in new construction – an ambiance that seems a perfect fit for the Central Florida lake landscape. New condos and developments are also available and offer every amenity. Many private rentals can be found for a week or a season of relaxation in unhurried Southern style.

The entire Lake Wales Ridge is within an hour or so of the famous amusement kingdoms around Orlando, the mysterious and seemingly endless Everglades, and a huge number of smaller historical and entertainment destinations that will please all ages. Campgrounds, RV parks, public beaches, excellent freshwater fishing, golf courses, horseback, cycling and hiking pathways, and numerous canoe and kayak trails assure that visitors can experience the vacation of their dreams. Numerous small fishing camps, Mom-and-Pop resorts, motels and hotel chains offer lodgings catering to every need. Central Florida and the Lake Wales Ridge area are truly a Lakelubber’s paradise. Won’t you come and explore the Florida scrub and experience the special ambiance of life on one of the many lakes? Don’t forget the fishing gear!

*All statistics refer to Crooked Lake

Things to do at Lake Wales Ridge and Crooked Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Wildlife Refuge
  • State Park
  • State Forest

Fish species found at Lake Wales Ridge and Crooked Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Sunfish

Lake Wales Ridge and Crooked Lake Photo Gallery

Lake Wales Ridge and Crooked Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 3,552 acres

Shoreline Length: 23 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 120 feet

Average Depth: 13 feet

Maximum Depth: 45 feet

Drainage Area: 31 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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