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.
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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. Do not enter flowing water. South Florida Water Management District oversees the Kissimmee River and can provide information on river levels and flooding along this section of the trail: 1-866-433-6312
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons. This region is very popular with deer hunters. Check the FWC website for hunting season dates: Yates Marsh / Chandler Slough / Micco / Starvation Slough, KICCO, Three Lakes WMA, and Prairie Lakes.
Free permits are required for all Southwest Florida Water Management campsites between Yates Marsh and Three Lakes WMA. You can obtain online as needed or call 561-924-5310 x3333 on weekdays 9-4.
There is a small fee for using the designated primitive campsites inside Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Pay when you reach the ranger station. A free permit is required for use of primitive campsites in Prairie Lakes, including Dry Pond Camp, Lake Jackson Campground, and Parker Hammock Camp. Thru hikers only need a Lake Jackson permit. Call 352-732-1225. Cell coverage is poor within this portion of Three Lakes WMA so do so in advance if possible.
To cross the S-65A lock (mile 221.9): there are now pedestrian gates on both sides of the lock and you may use them on your own (provided the lock isn’t in operation) during the following hours: Mon-Fri 7 AM-6 PM, Sat-Sun 5:30 AM-7:30 PM (Mar-Oct), 5:30 AM-6:30 PM (Nov-Feb)
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 at many of the campsites along the route but only work if primed. Leave water for the next hiker to prime the pump.
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.
It looks like a mountain ridge from a distance, but Chandler Slough is a ribbon of cypress strand through the flat Okeechobee prairies. This 4.3 mile Florida Trail section follows its rim, through beautiful oak hammocks and soggy marshes
Following the Kissimmee River north from where it empties into Lake Okeechobee, the Florida Trail is atop a dike above a vast expanse of open prairie in ranchland.
Alternating between moss-draped oak hammocks and the wide open prairies that characterize this part of Florida, the Florida Trail loop at Prairie Lakes provides one of Central Florida’s oldest and most scenic hiking destinations.
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.
Florida Trail Videos (Kissimmee)
How to order a copy of The Florida Trail: Florida’s National Scenic Trail, our limited edition full-color coffee table book that tells the comprehensive story of the first 50 years of routing, building, maintaining, and enjoying our statewide National Scenic Trail.