Mounds of moonvine and palmetto-dotted prairies leave strong impressions when you walk this windswept section of the Florida Trail between the Indian Prairie Canal and the Kissimmee River.
Homes swarm a portion of the original lakeshore, the high ground of Buckhead Ridge, behind the wall of the dike near the S-127 lock. But the rest of the scenery is decidedly wild, the footpath still the rough earthen dike underfoot.
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Length: 10.4 miles
Fees / Permits: none
Land Manager: Army Corps of Engineers
Just like all other segments of the Florida Trail around Lake Okeechobee, there is no shade save at the covered benches provided. This is one of the rare remaining unpaved sections, rough underfoot with shellrock atop the dike.
Due to dangerous bacterial growth in the lake in recent years, backpackers should obtain water from potable sources at trailheads or from taps on water control structures and locks.
The southern trailhead for this hike is the parking area along the south side of Indian Prairie Canal, the Indian Prairie boat ramp in Lakeport off SR 78 just south of the bridge over the canal. Follow the dirt road down along the canal to the well-defined parking area. Do not block the boat ramp.
You can use the parking areas at Okee-Tantie Recreation Area or Scott Driver Recreation Area for the northern end of this hike. Scott Driver is open 24 hours, but Okee-Tantie is day use only.
Alternatively, if you do not want to roadwalk along the SR 78 highway bridge over the Kissimmee River, squeeze a vehicle in along the approach to the levee on either side of the highway on the Buckhead Ridge side of the river. Do not block any gates. Parking on the south side of the river, if possible, saves you a quarter mile walk and the unnerving feeling of cars passing by at high speed on the bridge.
Starting out from the Indian Prairie Canal parking area, follow the entrance road back towards SR 78. Because there is no parking area on the north side of the canal, it’s necessary to cross the highway bridge over the canal to start your hike.
By the time you get to that gate, you’ve finished the first half mile. It feels like you’re retracing your steps in an mirror as you walk back along the canal out to the levee along the lake’s rim.
Unpaved, the trail has a rough natural surface and can be overgrown through this section. The limestone jutting from the two track atop the levee often contains fossils.
Stretching northward from Lake Okeechobee – and now firmly part of the lake as well, since the waters have been low on the west side for decades – Indian Prairie is a massive prairie ecosystem dotted with clusters of cabbage palms on slightly higher ground.
On the lake side, you’ll see them out there among a vast expanse of marsh. On the inland side, ranchers ditched and drained the prairie to provide pasture for cattle.
Still, the clusters of palms are evident, including where they form a rim along the original lakeshore. After 4.8 miles, you reach the first of several covered benches on this section. This one looks out over the lakeshore side of the prairie.
The benches provide the only shade you’ll find along this hike. Open ranchland gives way to a residential area in the distance as you pass the second bench.
You reach the community of Buckhead Ridge at the S-127 lock at 7.4 miles. This is the only potential exit point off the hike until it comes to the Kissimmee River several miles ahead.
From this point on, the residential area is the view to the left, while the sweep of marshes continues on the right. After a while, residences are obscured by vegetation along the Rim Canal.
As the levee begins to curve away from the lake, you’ve reached the basin where the Kissimmee River flows into Lake Okeechobee. Passing a final covered bench, keep alert within the next mile for the Buckhead Ridge campsite.
At 9.4 miles, this campsite is off the levee down where the grass meets treeline, towards the Kissimmee River. Be aware that airboats and other noisy boats pass by behind it in the night.
Turning due north to follow the Kissimmee River, the levee leads you right up to SR 78. It’s here you have to roadwalk over the Kissimmee River bridge to continue.
Use caution. Traffic moves at high speed and does not expect pedestrians or cyclists. On the opposite side of the river is Okee-tantie.
No matter which of the two recreation areas in Okee-tantie that you end at – Okee-tantie Recreation Area south of SR 78 or Scott Driver Recreation Area north of SR 78 – this is the northernmost point along the Okeechobee section.
It’s here that hikers have three different directions in which they can go along the Florida Trail: northbound along the Kissimmee River, eastbound towards Okeechobee, or back southwest the way you arrived here, from Lakeport.
Our slides from hiking and biking this segment of the Florida Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
3.7 miles. It looks like a mountain ridge from a distance, but Chandler Slough is a ribbon of cypress strand through the flat Okeechobee prairies. Follow its rim through beautiful oak hammocks and soggy marshes.
Encompassing the ancient shoreline of Taylor Creek and man-made marshes, this wetlands park is a gem for birding and wildlife watching just north of Okeechobee.
Learn about the Big O Hike around Lake Okeechobee.