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?
It is no longer a state park, having been transferred to Florida Fish & Wildlife management more than fifteen years ago.
But 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.
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.
A compelling scenic hiking destination, it offers options for both day hiking and backpacking as well as very short excursions into the live oak hammocks from its multiple trailheads.
Full details on this hike, including a trail map, are in our full-color guidebooks Florida Trail Hikes and 50 Hikes in Central Florida.
Disclosure: As authors and affiliates, we receive earnings when you buy these through our links. This helps us provide public information on this website.
Guthook Guides GPS-driven map-based guide to the Florida National Scenic Trail with thousands of waypoints from The Florida Trail Guide. Works offline. For iPhone and Android.
Length: 11.4 miles in two loops
Trailhead: 27.9277, -81.1249
Fees: $3 per person day use fee
Restroom: vault toilet at Lake Jackson
Land manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife
The entrance fee is payable at the iron ranger at the Prairie Lakes trailhead. Leave the receipt stub visible on your dashboard.
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. All campsites have picnic tables and a fire ring.
A large group camp along the west side of the North Loop is suitable for Scouting and youth groups. It includes picnic tables, an outdoor ampetheatre setting, and a vault toilet. It is along one of the roads in the preserve.
Permits are required for camping. Call the above number weekdays during office hours. Although vehicles can access the Lake Jackson campsite, it is for tent camping only. Thru-hikers may camp at Dry Pond or Parker Hammock without a permit.
Be aware of hunting seasons and wear bright orange clothing if hiking during hunts. Links for permits and hunt dates provided at the bottom of this page.
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.
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: Three Lakes North (Orlando section)
NORTHBOUND: Three Lakes to Green Swamp East (Western Corridor section)
SOUTHBOUND: Three Lakes South
See our photos of the Prairie Lakes Loop
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.