In the heart of the Kissimmee prairies, Yates Marsh is not so much a marsh as it is open pastureland edged with dense oak and palm hammocks and stretches of natural pine flatwoods.
You never see the Kissimmee River as you zigzag between patches of shade along this section. For Florida Trail thru-hikers headed northbound, this is the first place to enjoy dry natural habitats since leaving Big Cypress.
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Length: 3.3 miles linear
Address: NW 144th Trail, Okeechobee
Land manager: South Florida Water Management District
Phone: 561-924-5310 ext. 3333, weekdays. Ask for Kim Willis.
The official trailhead is at the north end of this section. To hike south to north as this hike is described, park or get dropped off at Platts Bluff County Park [27.29623,-80.99382] to start a linear hike to the Yates Marsh trailhead.
A free permit is required from South Florida Water Management District to camp at Yates Marsh. Obtain online or call the above number.
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.
To reach Yates Marsh trailhead, follow US 98 north from Okeechobee 12 miles to Lofton Rd. Turn left. Continue down Loftin Rd for 5.2 miles, passing two trailheads on the right for Chandler Slough East before crossing the railroad tracks. The Yates Marsh trailhead is on the left just after the railroad crossing and before the S-65D Lock.
For Platts Bluff County Park at the south end, follow SR 70 west from Okeechobee for 7.5 miles to NW 128th Ave. Turn right and continue 5.6 miles, going through a sharp left turn at one point, until the road ends at the park.
Starting from the shade of the live oak canopy at Platts Branch County Park, follow the orange blazes north along the dirt road that exits the park beyond the boat ramp. After walking past homes and mailboxes, you come to a yellow barrier you have to step over.
After 0.7 mile, a stile leads into Yates Marsh on the left. For a thru-hiker, after a week or more of levees and roads, this expanse of tall longleaf pines and tall grass is bliss. The trail is out in the open, following blazed posts.
As you get close to a dense line of pines, the trees sport orange blazes. The trail crosses an old jeep road on a berm continues towards the pines, winding its way through stands of wax myrtle. Just past a pair of cabbage palms, the trail makes a sharp right into the shade.
Following the trail between young cabbage palms and the shade of the oaks, watch for a sign around 1.5 miles marking the turnoff to the right for the Yates Marsh South campsite. It is off the main trail just 0.2 mile down a blue blaze.
Take the side trip to sit at the picnic table in the shade of the oak hammock. A water pump along the side trail provides non-potable water. The campsite has a grill and a picnic bench, and nice camping spots beneath the oaks or out in the open prairie.
Along the main trail, walk past a marsh with a fence on the right. If the pitcher pump isn’t working, there is a large water hole at a culvert, looking like a gator hole or cattle wallow.
Stepping out into a broad open pasture through a cattle gate, the trail continues straight ahead across it towards the far trees. You see a blaze on a cabbage palm to your right.
At a double blaze, the trail turns away from the fence on to the left and leads you into the shade of the distant forest.
Enter an oak hammock under the limbs of a very large live oak. The trail makes an immediate jog to the left, down what appears to be a slightly raised berm under the oaks. Count to ten, and the trail turns right into a very dense palm hammock.
As the trail emerges from the hammock, it jogs left. There is a marsh beyond a fenceline on the right, a prime spot for seeing caracara and sandhill cranes. Four cabbage palms rise through a grand old oak.
The trail jogs to the right, skirts along the shade of the oaks, and faces straight ahead, pointed at a cell phone tower near what looks like a water control structure along the still-ditched Kissimmee River. The trail then makes an obvious bend to the right.
Around 2.5 miles, the trail reaches a junction of worn paths and a two-track road. Follow the orange blazes down the road through open pastureland.
Passing through two more cattle gates, you can see the cell phone tower over the lock on the Kissimmee River to the left. The trail continues to follow the two-track road towards the lock.
As it approaches the road that leads to the S-65D Lock, there is a second campsite within Yates Marsh, this one designated Yates Marsh North on the reservation website. It is set in a pretty oak hammock decorated with bromeliads in the trees.
If you camp at this dry campsite, be aware that there is a railroad track close by, close enough that if a train goes by you can certainly hear it pass.
After 3.3 miles, you reach the gates marked “trailhead.” This is the trailhead for Yates Marsh, with a large parking area where a kiosk has a map that shows the route.
Thru and section hikers: the orange blazes of the Florida Trail exit along the entrance road, headed up a roadwalk connector to Chandler Slough East. Cross an active railroad track and watch for a stile on the left hand side of Loftin Rd to enter the next in-the-woods segment of the Florida Trail through Chandler Slough East. It’s a mile roadwalk between segments.
NORTHBOUND: Chandler Slough East
SOUTHBOUND: Okee-tantie to Platts Bluff
See our photos of Yates Marsh
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