Chandler Slough is a significant natural feature in the middle of the Okeechobee prairies. It’s especially noticeable as you’re hiking the Florida Trail, since from a distance it looks like a mountain ridge. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s a low gash in the landscape where water pools and flows towards the Kissimmee River. But the illusion of elevation comes from the majestic cypresses that rise from the slough. It’s a serious haven for birds, as are the surrounding natural lands protected by the South Florida Water Management District. It’s a different sort of place, this meeting of prairie and forest, a juxtaposition in the middle of Florida’s prime cattle country. And it’s uniquely appealing, despite a few places where mud and muck will bog you down as you pick out a crossing where tributaries find their way from cattle ranches into the slough. What’s amazing, however, is for the 4.3 miles along this section of the Florida Trail, you’re never more than a mile or two from US 98, passing along the southern rim of Basinger. You’d never know it until you looked at a map. Try it for yourself. Just step gingerly over the cow pies!
Length: 3.6 miles
Lat-Long: 27.381779, -80.993269 and 27.383295,-81.041467
Fees / Permits: free permit required for group camping
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Bug factor: moderate
Be aware of water conditions. If the trail is flooded near the US 98 stile near the Chandler Slough Bridge, you probably don’t want to take this on. If the trail is dry and you plan to camp, you’d better haul your own water in. A hiking stick is recommended, since you’ll hit mucky and wet spots in any season.
The oak hammocks are islands in an otherwise open, flat prairie floodplain of the Kissimmee River. Chandler Slough West is just one segment of the Kissimmee South section. It makes a good day hike, or you can plan to backpack from Platts Bluff to the Micco Landing Trailhead, if you’d like to make an overnight trip of this section to experience all of Yates Marsh and Chandler Slough.
Access points to Chandler Slough West are all along US 98 in Basinger, north of Okeechobee. They include the Chandler Slough West and Micco Landing Trailheads along US 98 just east of the Kissimmee River, and the stile just west of the Chandler Slough bridge on the east side of Basinger.
Enter Chandler Slough West over a broad, ladder-like stile just west of the bridge over the slough along US 98 in the village of Basinger. Once you’re into the forest, it’s an almost instant immersion in the slough—if the water is high, you’ll be slogging across open ground and through the wall of cypresses that rises to greet you within the first mile. In fact, the bottom of this broad open area has a lot of aquatic plants in it, so you can pretty much guarantee that in the rainy season, it’s under water. It’s not the easiest walking to start, since the land is shared with cattle (watch those cow pies!) and a bit roughed up by hogs. Tall white PVC pipes with blazes atop them lead the way across this open space, tall so they are visible when the taller-than-my-head dog fennel starts taking over.
The trail narrows to pass through a wall of cypress, a strand where knees rise out of the footpath. Once you pass through this opening, there’s another open field. Beyond it, you discover the magic that lies at the heart of the forest. Along the edge of the slough are a series of lush oak hammocks reminiscent of those so popular for campouts along the hiking loops at Lake Kissimmee State Park. Gnarled live oak branches dip low, their limbs furry in resurrection fern. Orchids peep from the crooks of trees. The earth is rich and dark underfoot. You enter the first of these hammocks after 0.8 mile. In the hammock, the trees form living sculptures, intricate structures festooned with bromeliads. After the first mile, the trail heads towards a fenceline and follows it. You can see the slough well off to the right across the pastures.
Turn right when you reach the slough past the sign that says “Private Property – No Trespassing.” A double-blaze guides you to the fenceline. The slough is off to the right, lined with cypress and dense with aquatic plants. You face a cell tower – a landmark for this part of the trail. The trail takes a sharp left towards a stand of cypress in the distance. At 1.3 miles, you enter the next oak hammock. The footpath continues to lead you in a zigzag from oak hammock to oak hammock until you emerge into the cordgrass prairie, a place that can flood easily. Expect to wade here in the rainy season. In fact, you’ll cross an outflow from a floodplain forest at 1.5 miles that looks like it would be a perpetual water source—and a perpetual source of shoe-sucking muck. The trail heads back towards the fenceline soon after. Look off to the right for an eagle’s nest high up in an old slash pine.
It gets a little tricky to follow the blazes over the next stretch, where you veer away from the fence to the left and head towards some oaks. The trail starts its zigzag again from oak to oak, and PVC pipes provide a few blaze posts out in the open areas before reaching a large oak hammock at 2.1 miles. Look for the “Heart of the Forest” here, the image I won first place in the Footprint magazine cover category with in the 2009 Florida Trail Association photo contest. It appeared in the Summer 2009 issue. It’s a lovely place to take a break or pitch a tent, with water not far off beyond the edge of the hammock. Leaving this hammock, you cross a cordgrass marsh (with a slough providing a permanent water source) and climb up a small bluff to another beautiful hammock. If I could only camp in one place along this section of the Florida Trail, this would be it. Besides the easy to reach water source, the few feet of elevation change makes for an outstanding view out over the prairies. I understand an official designated campsite may be built here.
The trail continues along a (when I visited) dry streambed, leading you deeper into the lush oak hammocks. Be sure to “Close Gate Behind You,” as the sign instructs, at the tricky wire-hook gate between cattle pastures. The trail turns left and circles the floodplain of a cordgrass marsh with a pond in the middle, staying to the shade of the hammocks. You can hear a bit of buzz from US 98 in “downtown” Basinger. At 3.2 miles, the next trick is crossing a wide open wetland, a cypress slough minus the cypress (some cypress still stand in the distance to the right). Follow the blaze posts or the tractor road – either way, you’ll still probably get your feet wet as you jump from hummock to hummock between the mucky spots. On the other side, the trail goes through another a wire gate to wander behind some residences and past an old shed.
About 0.2 mile past the shed the trail makes a sharp right to follow the fenceline towards US 98. Another gate provides access to a cow pasture, this one to the left. The trail hugs the fenceline under the trees, and it’s likely you’ll encounter cows here.
At 3.5 miles, you can see US 98 up ahead. Continue straight ahead to US 98. Blue blazes cross the road to the Micco Landing Trailhead, and, beyond it, the Micco Landing Campsite. The Florida Trail continues via orange blazes along US 98 east.