The easiest way to reach this southern stretch of US-17 from I-4 is by way of Country Road 557. It is the first exit west of the busy US-27 and I-4 interchange west of Walt Disney World.
US-17 is a less congested way than US-27 to head down to south central Florida.
CR-577 will take you south onto US-17 in the old citrus town of Lake Alfred. From there, just follow the road south to Punta Gorda through some of the best of Old Florida.
Here are some of the towns you will see, from north to south. Make sure to get off US-17 and go a block or two east or west to see the real town not just the commercial district along the highway.
HAINES CITY is an old citrus city of 20,000 people that is south of the populous US-27 intersection with I-4, and is at the northern end of Florida's largest citrus growing area. It was founded in 1885, and is home to the grand old Polk Hotel. (click on photo to read more)
WINTER HAVEN is known as the "Chain of Lakes City because it is located among 50 lakes, 24 of them connected by canals you can take a boat through. It is a water skiers haven and was the home of the late Cypress Gardens and current home of Legoland. (click on photo to read more)
FORT MEADE is the oldest city in Polk County and has preserved many of its historic houses and buildings, including the old Christ Episcopal Church. The oak canopied streets give a feeling of Old Florida. Union General George Meade is the town's namesake, and future Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was stationed here during the Seminole Wars. (click on photo to read more)
WAUCHULA is the seat of Hardee County and is sometimes called the "Cucumber Capital of the World". These days, the cuke's more spherical cousin, the watermelon, is even more important to the local economy. So are the huge cattle ranches in the area and the cowboys who still ride the ranges. Wauchula has a lot of good old southern charm. (click on photo to read more)
ARCADIA is a worthy contender for the capital of Florida's cattle country. Cowboys are everywhere to be seen in the area, and the annual rodeo is a big event. The charming old downtown area has a lot of good antique stores, and its historic district is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. (click on photo to read more)
PUNTA GORDA is at the end of US-17 on Charlotte Harbor, a large bay at the mouth of the Peace River. It is located on a "fat point" of land that juts into the bay. Punta Gorda is a boating mecca and enjoys many waterfront residential development in town and across the harbor in Port Charlotte. Much redevelopment has taken place since Hurricane Charley smashed the town in 2004. (click on photo to read more)