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, nearly 50 miles long, was the switch from the west side of the Kissimmee River north of Basinger to the east side in 2014.
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CAMPING AND LODGING
Random camping is not permitted along the Kissimmee section. Free permits are required for all Southwest Florida Water Management campsites between Yates Marsh and Three Lakes WMA.
You can obtain them 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.
Walk-in accommodations are available at Westgate River Ranch. Rooms start around $180 but a discount may be offered on weekdays. Ask. Camping at River Ranch is $48 and includes access to a very nice bathhouse.
Dogs are welcome along this section of the trail. If you bring your dog with you, be mindful of the alligator population along the waterways that serve as water sources for you and your dog.
Alligators are common in the Kissimmee River marshes and the canal systems that connect to it. The largest alligators are said to be in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, which is also the home of a rare colony of whooping cranes.
Kissimmee Prairie was the last known place where flocks of Carolina parakeets were last seen before they went extinct in 1918 due to over-hunting for plumage. A monument at the park office showcases this little-known fact.
Deer are common residents of the hardwood hammocks along this section, and we’ve been startled by very large wild hogs more than once. You’ll see gopher tortoises throughout the upland sections, as well as flocks of wild turkeys.
Water along this route has agricultural runoff in it. Potable water sources are limited.
Park staff strongly advises against filtering water along Military Trail in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park because of the alligators. Avoid filtering water near culverts, since alligators often den inside them.
If you need to filter water, don’t do so at dawn or dusk, when you might be mistaken for a deer by a prowling alligator.
Along this section, you’ll need to cross the Kissimmee River twice. Once is along the infamous SR 60 roadwalk using the highway bridge. The other is across the S-65A Lock between Kissimmee Prairie and KICCO.
Provided the lock is not in operation, use the pedestrian gates to cross the lock 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).
This entire section of the trail is open to hunting with the exception of roadwalks and the portions at Westgate River Ranch and Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons.
In advance of your hike, check the FWC website for hunting season dates for Yates Marsh, Chandler Slough, Micco Bluff, Starvation Slough, KICCO, Three Lakes WMA, and Prairie Lakes.
This region is very popular with deer hunters. We counted more deer stands per mile through Three Lakes WMA than anywhere else along the entire Florida Trail.
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.
Most of this section is well away from any communities big enough for a store. Okeechobee is an important resupply stop for northbound thru-hikers.
There is a small country store in Basinger on US 98 about a mile from the trail crossing.
Westgate River Ranch is the next resupply stop within an easy walk of the trail. Their General Store has a deli and a Starbucks.
Items are expensive, but it’s your only option along this section other than a maildrop to River Ranch.
At the north end of the section, Kenansville has decent basic resupply and hot food at the Kenansville Country Store.
However, that’s if you can catch a ride there. It’s about 8 miles south of the trail.
PARKING & SHUTTLE
It’s best to leave a car behind the gates of a recreation area or park when backpacking.
Gate codes and parking passes are available from South Florida Water Management District through the same website you use to reserve campsites.
If you need assistance with a shuttle, join the Florida Trail Hikers Facebook group and ask for assistance.
There are a number of volunteers in the area who can help. The trail isn’t close to many communities, so they have to come a very, very long way. Be sure to compensate them for their gas and time.
Driving distances in this region are enormous. It can take an hour and a half to drive between Kissimmee Prairie Preserve and the KICCO lock, for instance, which is otherwise a 12 mile hike.
Flooding is a serious concern along this section of the Kissimmee River, since the Florida Trail sticks to the low-lying areas along its floodplain.
Always check on flood conditions in advance of your hike, and keep alert to changing weather conditions.
South Florida Water Management District can provide information on river levels and flooding along this section of the trail: 1-866-433-6312
Because of its proximity to deep sloughs and steep drop-offs, the trail can be dangerous when flooded. Do not enter flowing water.
Long distance hikers will deal with a handful of roadwalks along the Kissimmee section, connecting together public lands that don’t quite touch.
Most are short connectors. A handful are on unpaved roads used by visitors accessing recreation areas. A couple are along major highways: US 98 and SR 60.
The most dangerous of these is the roadwalk between KICCO and Three Lakes along SR 60. It stretches 5.3 miles along a two-lane high speed highway with heavy traffic.
Stay well off the road shoulder. The north side of the highway has the broader shoulder.
Be cautious on the roadwalk between SR 70 and Platts Bluff since the road is narrow and drivers aren’t expecting hikers.
Watch out for distracted drivers along the roadwalk sections of this hike. John was run off the road on his approach to Platts Bluff by a driver who then backed up and cursed him out for being there.
You’ll encounter people driving in to the various vehicle-accessible campsites within the Kissimmee PUA, KICCO WMA, and Three Lakes WMA. At Westgate River Ranch, expect to encounter both residents and tourists.
If you get into an uncomfortable situation, move on and/or call law enforcement. Camp hosts are at the WMAs during hunting seasons.
Important landmarks along the Kissimmee section with mile 0 at Scott Driver Park / SR 78 in Okee-tantie to Canoe Creek Road north of Kenansville.
0.0 – Scott Driver Park
9.2 – SR 70
14.8 – Platts Bluff County Park
18.1 – Yates Marsh trailhead
18.9 – Chandler Slough trailhead
21.6 – Chandler Slough East trailhead
28.3 – Micco Landing trailhead
39.9 – Oak Creek trailhead
42.3 – Starvation Slough trailhead
63.0 – Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park office
73.6 – S-65A Lock
75.3 – Town of KICCO Campground
77.1 – Rattlesnake Hammock trailhead
84.2 – KICCO trailhead
84.9 – Westgate River Ranch Resort
89.2 – Osceola FMA parking area
96.1 – Three Lakes trailhead
107.8 – Lake Jackson Campground
111.2 – Prairie Lakes trailhead
111.3 – Canoe Creek Road
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These are the trail segments that make up the Florida Trail along the Kissimmee section, south to north.
14.9 miles. Panoramic views across cattle ranches and the channelized Kissimmee River are the highlights of this connector from Lake Okeechobee to natural lands north of Okeechobee
3.3 miles. Weaving between oak hammocks and pastureland along the Kissimmee River, Yates Marsh is not a wet walk but a pleasant linear hike.
2.7 miles. Burrow deep into the oak hammocks surrounding a beauty spot of the campsite near the Kissimmee River on this short but satisfying hike
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.
11.4 miles. Ancient riverside forests and picturesque prairie panoramas along the Kissimmee River make a hike to Micco Bluff worth the walk
7.7 miles. Discover a natural cathedral of ancient oaks and palms along a thin ribbon of public land fronting the Kissimmee River floodplain
13.3 miles. Hike the southern extent of one of Florida’s largest prairie ecosystems while connecting the Kissimmee River with the heart of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
11.4 miles. See why Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is Florida’s only Dark Sky Park along this “big sky” section of the Florida Trail
10.1 miles. Ancient live oaks break up the expanse of cattle pastures and prairies along the Florida Trail adjoining the Kissimmee River in KICCO
We have not yet written up details for the following trail segments northbound.
S-65A to Platts Bluff. 6.5 miles. Between the S-65A Lock and SR 70, traffic is almost non-existent. North of SR 70, the road leads into a dead-end community but is very narrow with no shoulders and has a sharp curve at one point. Residents drive fast.
Micco Bluff to Starvation Slough. 2.4 miles. Traffic is low along this dead-end road north of Basinger, which is mainly used by local ranchers and hunters / airboaters accessing the public lands that the Florida Trail crosses.
River Ranch. 2.3 miles. Traffic is minor along this jog through a commercial vacation destinations, but hikers must walk from the KICCO WMA main gate to a stile into the Packingham section of KICCO along the roads of River Ranch.
SR 60 / Three Lakes. 7.2 miles. The most dangerous roadwalk on the Florida Trail, SR 60 combines heavy high speed traffic with narrow shoulders and many semi trucks passing by. After 5 miles northbound, the trail turns off onto a lesser-traveled dirt entrance road into Three Lakes WMA for another 2.2 miles in the sun up to the trailhead.
Due to high speed traffic on highways, we do not recommend hiking the gaps unless you are working on a section or thru-hike and don’t want to skip it.
Loop & Side Trails
Loop and side trails in the Kissimmee section provide excellent destinations for day hikes and overnighters.
In Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, dozens of different routes can be explored on foot or by horseback or mountain bike through their extensive trail system across the prairies and marshlands.
Enjoy Florida’s own big sky at the only state park in Florida where starry skies fill the horizon and an extensive network of trails – including the Florida Trail – provides access for exploration
Sample habitats found around the hammocks that dot the vast Kissimmee Prairie with this short loop around an old homestead site
11.4 miles. Enjoy the counterpoint of moss-draped oak hammocks and expansive prairies at Prairie Lakes, one of the older and more beloved pieces of the Florida Trail
Florida Trail Connections
These sections of the Florida Trail connect to the Kissimmee section.
…Mama, you got to move. And so it goes for the Florida Trail, as the flood-induced breach in a levee along the Kissimmee River south of KICCO means the trail must move in order for clear passage north from Kissimmee Prairie Preserve.