11.4 miles. Alternating between moss-draped oak hammocks and the wide open prairies that characterize this part of the state, the Florida Trail loop at Prairie Lakes provides one of Central Florida’s oldest and most scenic hiking destinations.
When the Florida Trail was first being built through Central Florida, attention fell on a brand new state park called Prairie Lakes State Preserve. Where better to showcase trail building skills than a landscape that had such outstanding scenic beauty? Prairie Lakes falls between two major lakes – Lake Jackson and Lake Marian – in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Although it is no longer a state park, having been transferred to Florida Fish & Wildlife management more than fifteen years ago, it remains a compelling destination for hikers and birders, who are now joined by anglers and hunters.
Intentionally crafted as a backpacking destination, the trail system offers a Figure-8 loop on which the thru-trail, blazed orange, follows the west side of the South Loop and the east side of the North Loop. The opposite sides of the loops are blazed white.
Be sure to check ahead regards hunting and wear bright orange when hiking during hunting seasons. A day use fee of $3 per person is payable at the iron ranger at the kiosk at the North Loop trailhead. Display the receipt on the dash of your car.
Three campsites – Parker Hammock, Lake Jackson, and Dry Pond – offer backpackers choices. Lake Jackson has a vault toilet, but is also accessible by vehicles and close to where you’ll hear airboats at night. The other two campsites are primitive, with picnic tables and a pitcher pump. Unless you’re thru-hiking the Florida Trail, it’s necessary to obtain a free permit for camping at Prairie Lakes. Call FWC at 352-732-1225.
From US 192 in St. Cloud, follow Canoe Creek Rd – which is east of Neptune Rd and west of Michigan Ave – due south for 25.4 miles. The entrance to Prairie Lakes is well marked. Turn right on Prairie Lakes Rd, and continue 0.1 mile to the primary trailhead on the right side of the road. A secondary trailhead is much deeper inside the preserve near Lake Jackson.
The 5.4-mile North Loop showcases wide open prairie, particularly within the first two miles in either direction from the trailhead. As we discovered, the trailhead itself is one of the best places to catch a sunrise or a sunset, thanks to the panoramic view to the south.
Along it, you’ll also find a boardwalk through a cypress dome, a ramble along a cypress-lined creek, and the Parker Hammock campsite, tucked neatly under the canopy of oaks not far from the trail junction with the South Loop.
The 6-mile South Loop begins on the south side of the footbridge over Parker Slough. It keeps largely to the oak and palm hammocks near the lakes, providing sweeping views of prairie from under the shade of the oaks. Side trails lead down to the lakes.
At Lake Jackson, a walk between the campsites takes you down to the boat ramp area and view along the shore. At Lake Marian, there is an observation deck to perch on for the panorama. The loop comes together again at a bridge north of Road 18.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Three Lakes North
NORTHWEST: Florida Trail, Canoe Creek Roadwalk
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Three Lakes South