Along the west side of the Kissimmee River, cattle ranches once stretched to the horizon. Pioneer settlements such as the community of KICCO – which stands for Kissimmee River Cattle Company – thrived along the river’s bends.
As the Army Corps of Engineers straightened the river in the 1960s – a hydrological mistake – river traffic from Kissimmee and St. Cloud eventually dried up. Work is slowly underway to undo these environmental wrongs.
CYCLISTS: KICCO Grade is open for off-road biking throughout this entire segment of trail. Do not ride on the Florida Trail footpath sections in KICCO where they diverge from KICCO Grade.
Resources for exploring the area
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Trailhead: 27.760620, -81.191872
Length: 10.1 miles linear
Restrooms: portalets at Town of KICCO Campsite
Land manager: South Florida Water Management District
To obtain a gate code to drive into the trailheads at KICCO Grade, apply online or call weekdays 9-4 at 1-866-433-6312.
This is also the number for free camping permits for the three campsites in this section: Town of KICCO, Rattlesnake Hammock, and Long Hammock.
Cattle roam this section of trail, including bulls. Use caution around them and pay attention to your water sources before filtering to avoid the cow pies.
Hunting is allowed in KICCO WMA. Check hunt dates in advance and wear orange during hunts.
If you run into water flowing over the trail, particularly if you are hiking southbound, turn back or make your way to the road for the return trip. KICCO Grade Rd is on the high ground of this section.
From the junction of SR 60 and US 441 just west of Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction, drive east on SR 60 for 20 miles. Cross the Kissimmee River and turn left soon after into the large entrance for River Ranch, which has its own turn lane. Follow River Ranch Rd to where you see the teepees. Turn right and follow the dirt road past the teepees between the fencelines to the KICCO WMA gate. Park here along the circle for the north end of this hike.
To drive to the KICCO Grade trailhead, use your gate code to open the gate (a tumbler lock). Drive in and lock the gate. Drive all the way to the end of KICCO Grade road, which is a limestone road that kicks up a lot of dust. Beware of loose cattle, hikers, equestrians, and cyclists on the road. The road ends just around the corner past the Tick Island Slough gate at a sign that says “Handicapped Hunter Parking.” Park nearby but not in that particular spot.
From the end of KICCO Grade Rd, follow the orange blazes along the road, curving around to pass the gate to Tick Island Slough, the former route of the Florida Trail southbound before it flooded.
The blazes follow the fence due north before tacking into the dense grove of live oaks, their limbs creating a solid canopy overhead. Watch for blazes leading from tree to tree.
After the trail crosses KICCO Grade Rd, it stays mostly within the shade of the clusters of live oaks. After dipping through a ditch, the trail reaches the Town of KICCO campsite after 1 mile.
The picnic table for the backpacker campsite adjoins the river, with access for filtering water. Beware of alligators as they like to gather here. Additional under the oaks are vehicle-accessible off KICCO Grade Rd.
Leaving the campsite, the trail veers northwest away from views of the river, crossing a footbridge over a ditch before briefly joining KICCO Grade Rd through a cattle gate. The trail parallels the road for a stretch before crossing it.
Walk beneath the shade of oaks bordered by prairie as the trail threads its way between ditches and mounds that break up the landscape.
After 2.7 miles you reach Rattlesnake Hammock, one of our favorite campsites on the Florida Trail. Set in a grove of live oaks in what was once the Godwin Homestead along the 1850s cattle drive route down the Kissimmee, it’s a beauty spot.
Leaving the campsite – which has no water source – the trail passes where the ranch house once stood before emerging into open pasture at the Rattlesnake Hammock trailhead.
The trail follows KICCO Grade Rd north through pasture for more than four miles, not our favorite part of the hike. This is where we’ve encountered cows, calfs, and bulls up close.
As it curves westward, it follows a natural bend in the Kissimmee River, using the road to navigate between the marshes on either side.
Turning off the road at 7.2 miles, just past a shed and cattle pens, the trail works its way between oak hammocks and a patch of scrub forest before rejoining KICCO Grade to cross Ice Cream Slough, a potential water source.
After slipping between oaks and open prairie spaces on the west side of KICCO Grade, it once again crosses the road for the final stretch into Long Hammock. Long Hammock campsite sits off the trail down a short blue blaze at 8.8 miles.
The last bit of the trail swings towards the river again but does not reach it. It works its way through dense underbrush under the oaks and briefly adjoins a slough.
Finishing up, it comes up to the old camp host shed by the KICCO gate. Ignore the signage as the mileages are old. Pass through the pedestrian gate if your car is parked outside the fence.
NORTHBOUND: River Ranch roadwalk to KICCO North
SOUTHBOUND: Kissimmee Prairie North. There is a designated campsite, Pine Island Slough, 5.7 miles south of the end of KICCO Grade. Random camping is not permitted in the state park. If you overnight, you must also reserve a free site at Town of KICCO and leave your car the, adding a mile to your hike.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
With up to 6.2 miles of trails – many of them a bit wet – SUMICA is one of the natural lands in Polk County where birding is especially superb.
Florida Trail, Three Lakes WMA
At Three Lakes WMA / Prairie Lakes Unit, the Florida Trail traverses one of the largest expanses of open prairie in the Southeast, the Kissimmee Prairie.