One of the largest expanses of open prairie remaining in the Southeast, the Kissimmee Prairie straddles the Kissimmee River between the southern fridge of suburbia in Kissimmee-St. Cloud and the north shore of Lake Okeechobee. At Three Lakes WMA (which includes the Prairie Lakes Unit), hikers can feel the grandeur of this vast prairie ecosystem. Once one of the last open ranges for cattle in the region, these conservation lands encompass nearly 64,000 acres, much of it low-lying and wet. These wet prairies around Lake Kissimmee are crucial wintering grounds for sandhills cranes and whooping cranes. Providing several different hiking routes, the Florida Trail offers backpackers a place to explore this unique landscape.
Length: 26.9 miles with shorter options available
Lat-Long: 27.92837, -81.125028 (Canoe Creek trailhead)
Type: loop or linear (if following the FNST)
Fees / Permits: $3 per person or $6 per vehicle
Difficulty: moderate to difficult (if wet)
Bug factor: moderate to annoying (if wet)
In the rainy season, hiking here may mean a wade. At other times, finding water may be an issue. Please check hunting regulations before visiting, as hiking access is limited during certain hunting seasons. Be sure to wear blaze orange if hiking during hunting season.
SR 60 access: 5.1 miles east of the Kissimmee River along SR 60. The entrance is on the north side of the highway.
Canoe Creek Trailhead: This is the primary trailhead for day hiking and for leaving a car overnight. A fee is charged. The access road for the trailhead along SR 523 (Canoe Creek Road) is 21 miles south of the junction of Canoe Creek Rd and US 192 in St. Cloud, and 8 miles north of Lake Marian. Look for signs leading back 0.1 mile to the parking area on the right.
US 441 access: hikers climb over a stile on US 441 just south of Fontana Drive, several miles south of Forever Florida in Illahaw. No parking.
From the Prairie Lakes trailhead, day hikers and backpackers have several options.
Heading north, it’s 9.4 miles to where the Florida Trail emerges onto US 441 (no parking available at this end) and quite a beautiful hike through open pine savannas and cypress domes. You can do a portion of this segment as a round-trip, utilizing the Three Lakes campsite (5.7 miles north) for an overnight stay.
Heading south, it’s 17.5 miles along the Florida Trail to a hunt camp check station just off SR 60. On this southerly route, the Florida Trail follows the west side of the South Loop and the east side of the North Loop (with good signage at trail junctions).
You can hike just the North Loop (5.5 miles) or South Loop (5.6 miles) as a day hike, or combine the two loops (11.1 miles total) for a long day hike or overnight backpacking trip. Can’t decide? the North Loop provides access to an observation tower over Lake Jackson, with some of the region’s best birding.