In the northern extent of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, prairies hold court horizon to horizon.
It is an immersive landscape, one that is designated an official Dark Sky Park and Florida’s only one, an excellent reason for an overnight trip to Pine Island Slough.
Meeting the Kissimmee River again as this segment leaves the state park for water management lands, the river’s marshes and their scaly residents assert themselves along the trail.
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Trailhead: 27.584209, -81.045357
Address: 33104 NW 192nd Ave, Okeechobee
Fees: $4 per vehicle, $2 pedestrian
Restrooms: at the park office
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Hikers coming into the park along the Florida Trail need to stop at the park office to pay your entrance fee and camping fee for use of the designated campsites along the trail. Camping costs $5 per adult, $1 per child. Random camping is not permitted.
At the north end of this section, the S-65A Lock must be crossed. You must arrive there and cross 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). You cannot cross when the lock is being used.
Once you cross the lock into KICCO WMA, you have another 1.1 miles to go to reach the KICCO Grade trailhead, and hunting is allowed along that stretch of trail. Check hunt dates in advance and wear orange during hunts.
North of the state park, South Florida Water Management District manages KICCO WMA. To obtain a gate code to be able to park at KICCO Grade, apply online or call them weekdays 9-4 at 561-924-5310 x3333 and ask for Kim Willis.
Kim can also help with free camping permits for KICCO. To leave a car overnight in KICCO and backpack north to it, you must reserve a campsite even if you are not using it.
While leashed dogs are welcome on this trail, this is not a good habitat for them due to the large alligator population in the sloughs and marshes along the trail.
This section is extremely dangerous if the river floods. If you run into water flowing over the trail at or north of the park’s north boundary, turn back.
It is a very long drive between the two trailheads for this section, plus you absolutely must apply for and receive a gate code in advance to access KICCO Grade to be able to drive down it and park at the northern trailhead for this segment. Plan for a 1.5 to 2 hour drive, depending on the condition of KICCO Grade, if you drop a car at the north end first and then drive to the south end to start. It’s smart to do so the night before hiking, camping near the start if sites are available.
KICCO Grade trailhead: From the junction of SR 60 and US 441 just west of Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction, drive east on SR 60 for 30 minutes. Cross the Kissimmee River and turn left soon after into the large entrance for River Ranch. 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. 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.
Kissimmee Prairie trailhead: From the junction of SR 60 and US 441 just west of Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction, head south on US 441 for 18 miles to NW 240th St (CR 724). A brown sign points the way to the state park.
Meet NW 176th Ave (CR 700A) after 12 miles. It connects to US 98 at Basinger. Continue another mile straight ahead. The road makes a 90-degree turn north onto NW 197 Ave. Continue straight ahead for another 7.9 miles, passing through the park gate and two trailheads. The road makes a 90-degree turn west. In 1.4 miles, it reaches the parking area at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park ranger station.
Heading north from the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park park office, follow the blazes to and through the Stargazers Campground and into the open prairie.
The first obstacle you meet is Sevenmile Slough. Sometimes it is dry enough to cross on a narrow spit of land on the left. Usually it is not.
The trail follows a series of sand roads put in place when this was ranchland. They may be roughed up from swamp buggy or ranger vehicle use.
Surrounding you is the wide open prairie that is so distinctive for this portion of the Kissimmee basin that there is a endangered sparrow found only in this habitat, the Florida grasshopper sparrow.
The trail tends northwesterly for a stretch before crossing Five Mile Slough, another potential wade at 2.4 miles. Just beyond it is the rare welcome shade of an oak hammock.
The next stretch of prairie is long and immersive and shadeless. It also leads northwesterly until the trail reaches a junction at Gum Slough, where there is a large marsh and water flowing beneath the road in culverts.
Watch for blazing north of here. Blazing is quite rare throughout the park because there is little that can be blazed. The trail meets the Pine Island Slough Trail and follows it due north to the park boundary before making a sharp turn west.
Pine Island Slough campsite, the only designated campsite for this segment, is at 5.7 miles. Set in a hammock adjoining the slough, it has a fire ring and picnic table.
The trail follows the north boundary fence of the park for the next 2.5 miles, surrounded by prairie on both sides.
A sign marks the north boundary of the park. The trail turns north into South Florida Water Management District land surrounded by marshes.
When it reaches a graded road, it turns left to continue to the S-65A Lock. Cross the lock using the pedestrian gates, closing each one behind you.
Once you’ve crossed the lock you are now west of the Kissimmee River in KICCO WMA. Continue 1.1 miles straight ahead, crossing several concrete weirs before you reach the trailhead to complete this 11.4 mile section.
NORTHBOUND: KICCO South. Free permits are needed for campsites.
SOUTHBOUND: Kissimmee Prairie South. There is a designated campsite, Cowboy Crossing, 6.8 miles south of the state park office. Camping is also available at three campgrounds around the main complex. Random camping is not permitted in the state park.
See our photos of the Florida Trail, Kissimmee Prairie North
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
On a day hike into one of our state’s largest prairies, sample Florida’s own big sky at the state’s first International Dark Sky Park
Trail Map (PDF) Reserve Campsite Official Website
Trail Map (PDF) Hunt Dates Gate Code / Campsite Official Website