102.9 miles (Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie & Sebring). Following the Kissimmee River north, the Florida Trail heads into the heart of Florida’s cattle country. Okeechobee is well known for its ranches, which the trail crosses and skirts along public lands in the river floodplain.
From its once sinuous path, the Kissimmee River was straightened into a ditch more than a half-century ago by the Army Corps of Engineers, causing much harm to Lake Okeechobee. It’s been more than a decade since river restoration work started, breaking down dikes and dams to restore portions of the old floodplain channel, and it is slow work. It’s been a lot of work for trail maintainers, too. As the waters rise, the trail gets rerouted. The most significant reroute in recent years was the switch from the west side of the Kissimmee River north of Basinger to the east side.
- 6/19/17 EMERGENCY CLOSURE: the dike south of the S-65A lock has been breached just south of the lock. Hikers should avoid the Florida Trail south of KICCO and north of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park ranger station until further notice.
- The Florida Trail is presently closed between Okee-tantie and SR 70 due to removal and reconstruction of a culvert under the levee.
- Work is underway to shift the Micco Landing to Starvation Slough section away from the road to a permanent trail corridor going through the Micco Landing trailhead and emerging at the Oak Creek trailhead. Watch for signage for trail relocations in either direction. Meanwhile, dogs living near the Basinger Dairy may come out of their yards and charge at you.
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on symbols for details and directions.
The trail starts out from Lake Okeechobee at Okee-tantie with the same feel as it has around the lake. You’re atop a tall dike, with views of the channelized river and cattle ranches. Once it reaches the S65-E lock, it leaves the dike and becomes a roadwalk through ranchland up to Platts Bluff, crossing SR 70 along the way. The bluff has a swinging rope for swimmers and access to a natural oxbow in the river. Entering Yates Marsh – which is rarely marshy – you walk into pine flatwoods, the first natural habitat of the hike since you left the Big Cypress Swamp. It’s a good omen of things to come. Along the rest of the route, majestic oak hammocks and cypress strands punctuate the many open prairies, some of which served (or still serve) as cattle pastures. The hammocks of Chandler Slough are quite showy.
Where the trail reaches US 98, there is a campsite and trailhead to the northwest at Micco, and the trail too will eventually follow that route. For now, it’s a roadwalk up Micco Landing Road, a quiet dead-end road surrounded by ranches, to reach Starvation Slough. The next dozen miles stick close to the river floodplain, staying largely in the shade of oak hammocks – including the stunning “Cathedral South” – before emerging into the wide open prairies that characterize most of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. The park offers a bit of respite at the campground, which has laundry facilities and a hot shower at the bathhouse. Continuing north, you hike through more open prairie along sloughs that drain towards the river, with a wade or potential swim-across at Pine Island Slough. Be sure to check ahead about crossing the S-65A lock, which can only be done during certain hours.
Crossing the Kissimmee River at the lock, you enter KICCO, which stands for Kissimmee Island Cattle Company. The next nine miles meander through the ghost town of KICCO on a bluff along the river as well as sites where homesteads once stood. Cattle wander freely here as you follow the route that cattle drives took in the 1850s. Leaving KICCO, it’s a short roadwalk through River Ranch, a destination “dude ranch” resort with primitive camping, upscale glamping (including in large teepees), and a lodge. They feature a rodeo on weekends.
Leaving the roadwalk over a stile into public land, the trail rejoins the Kissimmee River floodplain, ascending to a dike with great views to the east. Cattle roam freely here so be sure to leave gates as you find them. This segment ends at SR 60, where the trail continues east as a roadwalk for 5.4 miles along one of the busiest and deadliest two-lane highways in Florida. Be very cautious along this section. After a walk up the entrance road of Three Lakes WMA, the trail becomes a footpath again. Three Lakes has open prairie with scattered hammocks, and generally very little water or shade. Crossing the stile into Prairie Lakes, the trail traverses a series of habitats that make this piece of the Florida Trail a compelling destination for day hikes and backpacking. Rural Canoe Creek Road, the decision point between the Western Corridor and Orlando sections, marks the end of the Kissimmee section.
14.9 miles. Atop a levee adjoining the channelized river for more than half of the journey, the trail provides sweeping views of ranchland to the east and across the river to the west. Nearly six miles of this segment is a roadwalk through a rural community.
3.3 miles. The Florida Trail through Yates Marsh traverses pine flatwoods, open prairie, and palm hammocks – all of which are home to free-roaming cattle – with a side trail leading to a pretty primitive campsite with pitcher pump. A very short roadwalk connects Yates Marsh to the next segment.
Florida Trail, Chandler Slough East
2.7 miles. Through thickets of palm hammock and open cattle ranches, the Florida Trail in this segment draws close enough to the Kissimmee River for placement of another nice primitive campsite under a canopy of live oaks. A connecting roadwalk of 3.3 miles leads to the next segment.
3.9 miles. Entering the rim of a lengthy cypress strand, the Florida Trail weaves in and out of wetlands and some of the most beautiful old-growth live oak hammocks you’ll see along the trail.
Florida Trail, Micco Landing to Starvation Slough
10.5 miles. Following a roadwalk through vast ranchlands and dairy farms, the Florida Trail parallels the route of the Kissimmee River north between Basinger and Starvation Slough, an access point for airboaters to the river marshes.
Florida Trail, Starvation Slough to Kissimmee Prairie
20.9 miles. Starting at Starvation Slough, where there is a campsite, this segment of trail stays close to the Kissimmee River floodplain, weaving in and out of grasslands, marshes, and hammocks, some with old-growth trees. Inside Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, it continues for 16 miles through open prairies dotted with hammocks and sloughs before reaching the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park office and campground.
Florida Trail, Kissimmee Prairie to KICCO
12.8 miles. Heading north from Kissimmee Prairie Preserve’s campground, walk amid Florida’s own “Big Sky” in the dramatic prairie landscapes of the Kissimmee Prairie, a bird-rich sanctuary protected by one of Florida’s largest state preserves. Crossing the S-65A lock, the trail continues along the west side of the Kissimmee River to the ghost town of KICCO.
Florida Trail, KICCO South
9 miles. From the ghost town of KICCO, the Florida Trail follows an old cattle drover’s path along the river through the remains of frontier homesteads. Active cattle ranching continues in this area, which is a mix of levee fill and oak hammocks edged with marshes and wet prairies.
Florida Trail, KICCO North
4.7 miles. Between the KICCO trailhead south of River Ranch and SR 60 north of River Ranch, this segment involves a roadwalk through the dude ranch resort (a resupply stop) plus several miles along the floodplain itself to the Kissimmee River bridge on SR 60. There is a gap in the trail here where thru-hikers follow a roadwalk east along both busy SR 60 and the entrance road to Three Lakes for 7.1 miles.
8.5 miles. Amid this 64,000-acre wildlife management area north of SR 60, you feel a real sense of the Florida frontier landscape, with open pine savanna and prairie dominating the horizon and the occasional oak hammock for shade and camping.
Florida Trail, Prairie Lakes
7.1 miles. The Prairie Lakes Unit of Three Lakes WMA has a distinctly different feel, with a broad array of habitats along this stretch making this a good day hike. The trail meanders through old-growth oak and palm hammocks, younger oak hammocks along the rim of vast prairies, amid longleaf pine and wiregrass, and through a cypress dome on a boardwalk.
Prairie Loop Trail
5.2 miles. At Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, the Prairie Loop Trail provides a long day hike or a short backpacking trip, with a portion of it sharing the Florida Trail route along Military Trail. Much of it is in open prairie, but a pretty primitive campground is tucked in an oak hammock halfway along the loop.
Prairie Lakes South Loop
5.5 miles. At Prairie Lakes, the South Loop traverses open prairie and slips through showy palm hammocks with ancient live oaks. On the side used by the Florida Trail, it stays close to the floodplain of Lake Jackson; on the south side, it draws close to Lake Marion. It can be hiked as part of a 10.8 mile figure-8 or as its own loop from Parker Hammock.
Prairie Lakes North Loop
5.3 miles. At Prairie Lakes, the North Loop showcases pine flatwoods, open prairie, and cypress sloughs. The Florida Trail follows the south side of the loop. It can be hiked as part of a 10.8 mile figure-8 or as its own loop from the Prairie Lakes trailhead.
- FLOODING is a serious concern along this section of the river, since the Florida Trail sticks to the low-lying areas along its floodplain. Always check flood gauges in advance of your hike, and keep alert to changing weather conditions. Because of its proximity to deep sloughs and steep drop-offs, the trail can be dangerous when flooded.
- It’s important to keep alert to blazes and signs through this section. The trail in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is still a work in progress, so the route and its campsites may shift.
- Free permits are required for all Southwest Florida Water Management campsites. You can obtain online as needed. There is a small fee for using the designated campsites inside Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Pay when you reach the ranger station.
- Water in all canals and the Kissimmee River itself along this route has agricultural runoff in it from cattle ranches. Potable water sources are important but rare. Where available, filter from flowing water rather than standing water. Pitcher pumps are being installed at many of the campsites along the route.
- Alligators are common in the canals, ditches, and along the river. In Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, it is not safe to filter water along Military Trail because of the very large alligators that live there. When you filter water, don’t do so at dawn or dusk, when you might be mistaken for a deer. Avoid filtering water near culverts as well, since alligators often den inside them.
- Airboats can surprise you at any time along the dikes and marshes adjoining the Kissimmee River. They are boats run by a large high-powered fan, so they can also run across shallow marshes and land.
- Be sure to go into Okeechobee for resupply before starting this section. There is a small store in Basinger. Once you’re north of US 98, resupply at River Ranch. It’s expensive, but it’s your only near-the-trail option until you reach Christmas or St. Cloud. At the north end, Kenansville has decent basic resupply and hot food if you can catch a ride there.