Spook Hill: A Vintage Roadside Attraction in Lake Wales, Florida

Lisa Fritscher June 16, 2012 No Comments

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Our RV in Lake Wales, Florida

The new RV is great, but it’s needed quite a bit of work lately!

When they find out that we RV travel full-time, people generally ask Dad and me two basic questions: How do you decide where to go, and what do you do when you get there? Our standard response to the first is, we make it up as we go along. For the second, we can have fun in a parking lot, literally. We proved that to ourselves when the power was out a few weeks ago. We went to a hotel for a few days until we could have it repaired, but found ourselves climbing the walls. So we went back to the RV, pulled out a board game, sat in the car with the air conditioner running and played the game. It was a nice change of pace.

It’s a good thing that we honed those skills early on in our RV adventures, because we have found ourselves stuck in some odd locations over the years. Most recently, it was Lake Wales, Florida. Dad and I both grew up in Lakeland, less than an hour from Lake Wales, and had both been there before. It’s a very quaint and picturesque small town, but not exactly known for being a “happening” place to be. It is, however, the location of the dealership where we purchased our new RV.

Downtown Lake Wales Florida

Downtown Lake Wales is quaint and friendly

The new RV is a good bit longer and heavier than the old one, so we needed to upgrade the weight distributing hitch and sway control combination. We were in Clermont, Florida, at the time, so we had to stop in Kissimmee to do the upgrade. After two adjustments we still weren’t happy with the ride, so we headed down to Lake Wales to have our dealer adjust it. The plan was to spend one or two nights in Lake Wales having the adjustments done and weighing the rig a few times at the nearby CAT scale to get everything distributed properly (for more info read about RV weights and measurements). As it turns out, however, that hitch system was not right for us at all. We ended up in Lake Wales for a month waiting for delivery of a new premium ProPride hitch.

The unexpected delay, however, gave us the opportunity to explore Lake Wales and the surrounding area. Among other attractions, we saw Spook Hill, which I thoroughly enjoyed as a child.

Spook Hill

Spook Hill is a true vintage roadside attraction. Gravity hills, where cars seemingly roll uphill, became hot tourist spots with the development of the automobile and were extraordinarily popular during the car culture days of the 1950s and 1960s. Many such hills exist around the country, each with its own local legends and lore.

Spook Hill Florida

Spook Hill is kitschy but tons of fun!

Located just outside downtown Lake Wales and a short drive from the famous Bok Tower, Spook Hill is a fun, if silly, look at pre-Walt Disney World Central Florida. The spot is a bit tricky to find, so put Spook Hill Elementary School (yes, the school’s mascot is a ghost!) into your GPS and then follow the signs from there.

I loved Spook Hill as a kid and I still enjoy it today, despite the city’s brilliant idea to build a housing complex on one side and an elementary school on the other a few years ago. Dad tells me that it was even better when he was a kid, when there was nothing around but citrus groves and a lake. The concept is simple: Stop and read the roadside sign that tells the legend, and then pull forward to the painted white line. Put your car in neutral and take your foot off the brake. Your car will apparently roll backward uphill.

According to the legend, the spot was once the site of a great battle between a Seminole chief and a man-eating alligator. The chief called upon the Great Spirit to help him defeat the gator, which was threatening the tribe. The battle turned the lake to blood and created a smaller secondary lake, but the chief was victorious. When he died years later, he was buried on the shores of the lake. Over the years, circuit riders and citrus growers noticed that their horses labored when going downhill. Eventually a fisherman and merchant parked his truck on the hill but was terrified to find it rolling backwards and uphill on its own. The legend spread rapidly and soon locals and visitors alike began lining up to experience the phenomenon for themselves. You can find a more detailed account of the legend at http://www.spookhill.info/legend.htm.

Is it an optical illusion? Did the Seminole chief and the man-eating gator really exist? Decide for yourself at this retro attraction.

Tips for Parents

Spook Hill White Line

Just pull up to the white line and put your vehicle in neutral, then hang on tight!

Spook Hill is a throwback to Old Florida. Don’t expect high-tech thrills or virtual reality enhancement. The attraction is entirely natural except for the billboard and painted white line. Many people claim that the effect looks best at night, when the school and houses are not quite as visually distracting.

Pay attention to your surroundings. Although locals are familiar with the spot and are generally careful to watch for visitors, the road is still a public thoroughfare and your car will not stop rolling on its own until after you round a slight curve. Be prepared to steer and to apply the brakes if necessary.

Spook Hill is probably not worth a long drive on its own. But tacked onto a trip to Bok Tower or the Florida’s Natural Grove House, the hill is definitely worth a stop.

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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