With its spreading moss-draped oaks and tall hickory trees, dark floodplain forests of cabbage palms and beautiful riverside campsite, Hickory Hammock is an extremely appealing hiking destination. As of 2014, it is no longer a part of the linear Florida Trail, but is a worthwhile day hike or overnight backpacking trip to enjoy the old growth forest along the Kissimmee River floodplain, including dense palm hammocks with wild citrus trees and grand old live oaks, as well as the namesake hickories. Wildlife is abundant, especially raptors—caracara and sandhill cranes are common here. Hickory Hammock campsite, an easy overnight destination, has ample space for large groups. The trail now ends at the FWC Equestrian Campsite.
Length: 4.3 miles
Lat-Long: 27.402100, -81.169300
Fees / Permits: free permit required in advance for camping
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: Yes, at the equestrian campsite
Backpackers must contact the South Florida Water Management District in advance for a free permit for camping along this segment of trail.
There are now two southern trailheads, so take your pick. The original trailhead is a dirt parking area along US 98 west of the Kissimmee River, 1 mile west of the Istokpoga Canal, and 27 miles west of the junction of SR 70 and US 98 in Okeechobee. It’s where the 0.2 mile blue-blazed trail starts.
A brand new trailhead is at the Istokpoga Canal, 1 mile east of the old trailhead. This trailhead has a restroom and picnic tables on site, boat ramps, primitive camping with free permit in advance (camp host on duty), and the trail here continues 0.8 miles north from the parking area to join the old junction with the blue-blazed trail from the other trailhead.
The northern trailhead is now the equestrian campsite, via a marked road off US 98.
From the Hickory Hammock trailhead, hike in on the blue-blazed side trail for 0.2 mile to the junction with the main trail. Turn left to follow the orange blazes. You enter a lush oak hammock, the canopy so thick it prevents much sunlight from reaching the forest floor. This environment is perfect for bromeliads – air plants – to thrive, particularly wild pine and butterfly orchids. Sprays of wild pine that fall to the ground sprout from the leaf litter like pineapples.
The trail strays into wetlands near the Istokpoga Canal, and takes you through the first of several jungle-like floodplain forests of tall cabbage palms; this one boasts wild grapefruit trees, which fill the air with a luscious scent in late winter. After 2.3 miles, you reach the Hickory Hammock campsite up a short blue blaze to the left. Sign the register at this roomy campsite under the oaks, which has a picnic table and fire rings, and don’t be surprised to see an armadillo snuffling under the picnic table. There seem to be hundreds of them along this section of the Florida Trail. Twisting and turning through floodplain forests – which may or may not require wading, depending on the river’s level – the trail rises slightly through a scrub area, and drops through the first of a chain of lovely oak hammocks.
At 4.3 miles, you reach the equestrian campsite, where picnic tables set under a pole barn invite hikers to stop and rest a spell. Camping is permitted here too, with restrooms and non-potable water available.