Last week, I had the pleasure of a LONG hike. I was part of a group led by Tropical Trekker Lori Burris on a backpacking trip up the Kissimmee River from Lake Okeechobee to Bluff Hammock. It’s been a while since I’ve spent that many days out on the trail, sleeping in my teeny Nomad lite backpacking tent, glad I was carrying only 30 pounds or so in my pack, water included.
This is a section of the FT that I’d only sampled before, so it was good to walk it, make notes in prep for guidebook update, take hundreds of photos and a handful of videos, and generally get away from the computer, the writing, and civilization. The only thing I missed was indoor plumbing, which we lucked into a couple times.
From Okee-tantie to Basinger, the Florida Trail is relatively unheralded. To the S-65E lock, it’s a dike walk, much like the Big O, paralleling the Kissimmee River. From 35 feet up, you can see for miles across ranchland where cows roam and sandhill cranes chatter. A not-unpleasant roadwalk connects the lock with Platts Bluff, where there’s a rope swing into the river and the shade of live oaks to enjoy.
Yates Marsh isn’t marshy at all, but open prairie with tall longleaf pines and a lush hammock for camping. But Chandler Slough, new to the Florida Trail, is an amazing addition, with the trail weaving through a series of palm hammocks and ancient stands of live oak, all looking like they once defined the natural shoreline of the Kissimmee River. Chandler Slough East campsite, aka Tangerine Hill, is a gem.
But my favorite part – after a stroll through a cypress swamp that was dry this time of year – was the portion of Chandler Slough south of the town of Basinger, where the trail zigzagged across prairies to luxuriate in the shade of oak hammocks reminiscent of those at Lake Kissimmee State Park. LOTS of them. Plans are for another campsite to be added to this area.
In all, we covered nearly 50 miles, with the well-loved Hickory Hammock a highlight to wrap up the trip.