Alternating between moss-draped oak hammocks and the wide open prairies, the Florida Trail at Prairie Lakes has been a compelling hiking destination since its inception.
Built across what was then a state park, it is the backbone of a larger figure-8 loop called the Prairie Lakes Loop.
Many hikers focus on the loop experience, and with good reason: it’s double the beauty, and easier for day hiking and overnight logistics.
But the diagonal of orange blazes offers its own gentle immersion in botanical wonders for those tackling the Florida Trail in linear sections.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 8.1 miles linear
Trailhead: 27.927929, -81.122952
Address: 1702 Prairie Lakes Rd, Kenansville
Fees: $3 per person
Restroom: Vault toilets at Lake Jackson and Group Camp
Land manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife
Open sunrise to sunset unless camping. Leashed dogs permitted.
All campsites (including the group campsite) in the Prairie Lakes Unit must be reserved in advance by calling FWC at the above number.
This is a popular destination for deer and turkey hunters with many deer stands visible along the trail. Check on hunt dates before planning your hike and wear bright orange during hunts.
From US 441 and SR 60 in Yeehaw Junction, follow US 441 north 14.1 miles to Kenansville. Turn left on Canoe Creek Rd at the Kenansville Country Store. Continue 9.5 miles north, passing Lake Marian Paradise and Sunset Ranch, to reach the entrance to Prairie Lakes. The Prairie Lakes trailhead is on the right just inside the gates. It is the ending point for this hike.
To reach the starting point, drive another 4.6 miles on this dirt road, passing several turnoffs, including one to Lake Jackson. The start of this hike is at a stile over the fence between Three Lakes South and Prairie Lakes. Pulloff parking may be difficult. If so, drive another half mile to reach the Lake Jackson Tower trailhead as an alternative starting point, and add a half mile backtracking the road to your start point or use the tower connector route as shown on the trail map.
The Florida Trail enters the Prairie Lakes Unit over a stile over a barbed wire fence. Although Prairie Lakes is a part of Three Lakes WMA, it is managed differently.
Cross Road 16 and continue into an oak hammock on the other side. Watch for blazes as the trail makes its way through the shade.
After a little more than a half mile, the trail emerges into a more open, scrubby area before reaching a fenceline.
At a break in it, a blue blazed side trail heads west from a sign for the Lake Jackson Observation Tower.
Taking this side trip adds 1.2 miles to your hike, but offers excellent views of the lake from a tower several stories tall.
Beyond the junction, blazes lead you along the fence and along a string of oak hammocks for the next mile.
You emerge at Road 18. This provides an access point with limited pulloff space for parking.
At 1.8 miles, at a bench under the oaks with a white-blazed bridge stretching over an ephemeral waterway on the right, you’re at the south junction of the South Loop.
Do not cross the bridge. Painted on oaks draped in Spanish moss, the orange blazes lead north along the berm from the bench.
In a quarter mile, at the next bench along the berm, the trail now crosses it on a footbridge over an often-flowing waterway.
Curving left, the footpath leads into a grand hammock of cabbage palms and ancient live oaks. Orange blazes lead you through this natural maze.
A bench sits in the shade above a trickle of a tributary at 2.3 miles. At the edge of the hammock, it’s almost a shock to emerge from the woods.
The trail makes a beeline across a tallgrass prairie with a lone oak in its middle. At the north side of that prairie, keep alert for signage for Dry Pond campsite.
This backpacker’s campsite is at 3.4 miles. True to its name, this shady flat expanse under the live oaks has a view across a prairie beyond.
A picnic table provides a place to take a break. There is a pitcher pump, but it often stops working.
It’s a quarter mile more to the Lake Jackson campground; the trail passes right behind Campsite #3. Car campers have access to these sites, which must be reserved.
Closer to the lake there’s a vault toilet and a very large parking area. If you’re backpacking and in need of water, the lake is a viable source to filter.
Leaving the campground, the trail emerges on the entrance road to Lake Jackson and follows it briefly before rejoining the woods on the far side.
Walk down a corridor where marsh fern occupies the wetland beneath the loblolly bay trees. The trail veers left after the straightaway to enter the next oak and palm hammock.
After zigzagging through this lush forest, the footpath joins a dirt road to cross a culvert over a waterway. It follows the south edge of North Canal.
The steep-sided manmade waterway that connects Lake Jackson and Lake Marian. Meet the north junction of the South Loop at 4.7 miles.
The junction is at the south end of a footbridge over the canal. Predictably, the south junction of the North Loop is on the north side of North Canal.
Parker Hammock campsite is just 0.2 miles west along the white blazes. However, to stay on the Florida Trail, turn right to track the orange blazes up to Prairie Lakes Rd.
Benches facing the canal are on both sides of the canal at the trail / road intersection. Continue across the road and the trail curves left into an oak hammock.
This brief traverse through the oak hammock ends when the trail enters an expanse of pine flatwoods that will surround you for most of the remainder of the hike.
Tall longleaf pines dominate the pine savanna, with prairie grasses and saw palmetto as the dominant understory.
Pass through one island of oak hammock and emerge into another vista of pine savanna within sight of a fire tower.
The wall of trees up ahead is a cypress strand known as Pole Cypress Ponds, and the trail leads you right into it.
To cross this often-wet cypress swamp, a boardwalk winds through it, with a bench atop it at 6.4 miles.
On the north side of the slough is more pine savanna, sometimes damp underfoot. Look for glistening crimson sundews, carnivorous plants that thrive in this acidic habitat.
There are fewer pines and more prairie grasses, and no buffer from traffic noise along Canoe Creek Road, which is not very distant.
A mowed path curves through the prairie and parallels Prairie Lakes Rd briefly before crossing it to reach the Prairie Lakes trailhead at 8 miles.
This is also the north end of the North Loop. If you are hiking through, continue a tenth of a mile to Canoe Creek Rd for this 8.1 mile section.
It is where the Kissimmee, Orlando, and Western Corridor sections of the Florida Trail meet. The Kissimmee section ends, and the Orlando section picks up north of the road.
The Western Corridor follows the road north into St. Cloud for a combination of roadwalk, sidewalk, and bike path leading to the Green Swamp well west of Orlando.
Learn more about the full route of the Florida Trail through Three Lakes
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.
See our photos of the Florida Trail at Prairie Lakes
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Florida Trail, Three Lakes South
8.5 miles. Winding through picturesque prairies and primordial oak hammocks, the Florida Trail showcases the best of Three Lakes WMA south of the Prairie Lakes Unit.
Prairie Lakes Loop
Enjoy the counterpoint of moss-draped oak hammocks and expansive prairies at Prairie Lakes along one of the older and more beloved pieces of the Florida Trail.
Sunset Ranch Trail
The 2.2-mile Sunset Ranch Trail at the Prairie Lakes Unit of Three Lakes WMA provides an easy day hike for birding near Lake Marian.
Florida Trail, KICCO North
3.4 miles. Take in a panorama of marshes busy with birds in the Kissimmee River floodplain at River Ranch along the northernmost reaches of the Kissimmee River