When the Florida Trail was first being built through Central Florida in the 1970s, 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?
Transferred to Florida Fish & Wildlife management in the 1990s, Prairie Lakes is no longer a state park, but the trail remains a compelling destination for hikers.
Intentionally crafted to enable you the option of backpacking or day hiking, the Prairie Lakes Loop offers a Figure-8 double loop.
The FT, 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.
Providing six different potential routes, the double loop traverses the heart of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes as it tacks between Lake Jackson and Lake Marian.
To hike the full loop or just the 5.4-mile North Loop, use the Prairie Lakes trailhead just inside the preserve entrance.
To tackle the 6-mile South Loop, the Lake Jackson parking area at the end of Boat Ramp Rd is your best option for parking, and has a vault toilet on hand.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 11.4 mile loop
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 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.
From the intersection of US 441 and SR 60 in Yeehaw Junction, just west of Florida’s Turnpike, take US 441 north 14.1 miles to Kenansville and turn left on Canoe Creek Rd at the Kenansville Country Store. Continue 9.5 miles north, passing the dedicated trailhead for the Sunset Ranch Trail before you turn left into the main entrance. The Prairie Lakes trailhead is on the right. Other access points are possible along the loops. See our Florida Trail, Three Lakes WMA details.
Start your hike by crossing the entrance road to the FNST sign. Follow the mowed path into an open pine savanna, a picturesque prairie with scattered pines.
After it curves away from the road, it draws closer and closer to a distinct line of cypress before it enters the strand on a boardwalk.
A bench is perched along the boardwalk. Exiting the Pole Cypress Ponds strand, the trail enters a healthy pine flatwoods made up of mature longleaf pines.
Pass by a fire tower and then under a power line at 1.5 miles, entering a beautiful stretch of oak hammock with large live oaks.
Emerge into another stretch of pine flatwoods, crossing a sand road at its edge before entering a second oak hammock with an open understory.
The trail pops out into the open along a berm beside North Canal, where benches face the water.
At 2.2 miles, cross Road 16 – labeled on Google Maps as Prairie Lakes Rd – and pass another set of benches before you face white blazes up ahead at a bridge over the canal.
This is the north end of the North Loop, your decision point. Straight ahead takes you back to your car; crossing the bridge starts you on the South Loop.
Cross the bridge. Take a right on the other side to stay with the orange-blazed Florida Trail route.
It follows North Canal, a man-made connector between Lake Jackson and Lake Marian.
After using a forest road to cross a culvert, it enters a tangled jungle of palm and oak hammock. Keep alert for blazes.
Emerging into a more open understory, it meets an old grade and turns right to follow the straightaway along the edge of a bayhead.
Cross unpaved Boat Ramp Road at 3.3 miles. The trail parallels it briefly before diving into another lush palm and oak hammock.
It’s here you walk through Campsite #3 at Lake Jackson Campground. A vault toilet and the trailhead are a short distance down the access path to the right.
Burrowing into scenic Kettle Hammock, the trail meanders beneath ancient oaks laden with large bromeliads and delicate orchids.
At 3.8 miles, a sign points to Dry Pond campsite, an open flat area under the oaks. A picnic table overlooks a prairie, and an unreliable pitcher pump is provided.
Emerging on the open prairie, the trail leads you through tall grasses and under a lone oak.
Once it enters the next palm hammock, you pass a bench above a sluggish stream. Watch for orange blazes, as the trail zigzags through the dense, dark maze of trees.
Cross a canal on a long bridge over flowing water to a bench perched on a berm. The trail swings left and continues along the berm.
Reaching the next bench at 5.4 miles, you’re at the south end of the South Loop. Leave the orange blazes here and turn left to cross the bridge.
The remainder of the hike will be along the white blazes. Cross Road 16 before paralleling South Canal.
Like North Canal, it connects the two lakes. The trail sticks close to it before crossing a footbridge over it at 6 miles.
Reaching the rim of a vast prairie, the trail skirts along it to connect a series of oak hammocks.
As you draw close to the wetlands edging Lake Marian, a plank bridge crosses an ephemeral waterway. Soon after, it enters a shady corridor.
Amid this series of oak and palm hammocks, the narrow corridor yields to an open understory where following the white blazes is essential.
After a peek of a wet prairie to the east, the trail reaches a junction with a berm at 7.4 miles. A sign points to Lake Marian.
The round-trip of 0.4 miles down the berm is worth the view of Lake Marian from the observation deck at its end.
Returning to South Loop, turn right to continue north. The trail continues through oak hammocks heavily laden with bromeliads in its canopy.
Reaching Road 16, cross it one last time. Enter a continuation of the oak and palm hammock, where giant air plants are nestled high in the live oaks.
You meet the orange blazes at the north end of the South Loop in front of the bridge at 8.3 miles.
Cross the bridge and make a left to start along the west side of the North Loop, following the white blazes.
A short side trail leads to Parker Hammock campsite, where a picnic bench and pitcher pump sit in deep shade.
The trail itself circles the hammock before emerging into scrubby flatwoods, where saw palmetto crowds the footpath.
At 8.8 miles, a sign calls your attention to a half-mile side trail through the open scrub to the Group Camp, which has a vault toilet.
Shaded by oaks, the trail still offers prairie views. Crossing a forest road, it meets a fence corner at 9.5 miles and follows the fence briefly.
When the trail joins the bluffs above Parker Slough, enjoy the shade and the setting, the canopy of oaks and the large cypress below.
After crossing a bridge, the trail drops into the floodplain itself, and there are cypress knees in the footpath.
At a Y intersection with a forest road, stay left. Reach a picnic table at 10.3 miles before crossing Road 19.
The trail leaves Parker Slough behind and enters the pine-dotted savanna, which sweeps to the horizon.
Staying along its rim, it works its way around it to within sight of Canoe Creek Rd, curving south. Return to the Prairie Lakes trailhead at 11.4 miles.
Learn more about the Florida Trail at Three Lakes WMA
See our photos from the Prairie Lakes Loop
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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Hugging the eastern shore of Lake Lizzie, Lake Lizzie Conservation Area encompasses more than a thousand acres along several lakes set among a vast mosaic of prairies, pine flatwoods, and scrub forest