Protecting a remnant of what was once the vast Indian Prairie north of Lake Okeechobee as well as the marshy natural floodplain of the eastern shore of the Kissimmee River, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is all about wide open spaces.
On clear nights, the stars come out. This is Florida’s only dark sky park, with its own special camping area just for astronomers who set up telescopes and cameras to capture the night.
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Trailhead: 27.584143, -81.045166
Address: 33104 NW 192nd Ave, Okeechobee
Fees: $4 per vehicle, $2 pedestrian
Restrooms: at the visitor center
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 to sunset daily. Leashed dogs welcome but not recommended along Military Trail due to the alligator population.
At the junction of SR 60 and US 441 just west of Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction, head south on US 441 for 18 miles to NW 240th St (CR 724). A brown sign points the way to the state park.
Meet NW 176th Ave (CR 700A) after 12 miles. It connects to US 98 at Basinger. Continue another mile straight ahead. The road makes a 90-degree turn north onto NW 197 Ave. Continue straight ahead for another 7.9 miles, passing through the park gate and two trailheads. The road makes a 90-degree turn west. In 1.4 miles, it reaches the parking area at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park ranger station.
The enormity of this landscape grabs you on the 5-mile drive from the front gate to the ranger station.
A horizon-to-horizon landscape of layers of waving grasses recalls scenes of Nebraska or Kansas prairies, but with the signature saw palmetto of Florida.
Home to many species of birds, these open vistas also lend themselves perfectly to birding.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is the last place that the Carolina parakeet was seen, as commemorated with a sculpture at the visitor center.
One of the duties of this preserve to to keep the Florida grasshopper sparrow from going extinct. This federally-endangered species is found nowhere else in the world but the dry prairies flanking the Kissimmee River.
Touring Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
The preserve has more than 100 miles of multi-use trails open to hiking, bicycling, and equestrian use. Most of the trails are along old ranch roads.
During the winter months, volunteers lead guided swamp buggy ecotours along this road system, letting you get deep into the preserve without getting your feet wet.
Natural sloughs slice through the preserve, draining the prairies towards the Kissimmee River. They are not bridged. To follow the trails, you must wade through them or wait for them to dry out.
The sometimes-challenging terrain and big mileage is why the preserve is particularly popular with equestrians. There is one campground optimized for equestrian use.
Camping at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park has three separate developed campgrounds, a primitive campground, and two primitive backcountry campsites.
Campsites in any of the three campgrounds cost $16 (+ $6.70 reservation fee) and provide an outlet, potable water, and access to the bathhouse with its hot showers and washer and drier. 50% discount applies for Florida residents over 65 and those on disability.
To the east of the ranger station, the main campground is under the oaks in Kilpatrick Hammock.
While it tends to be booked up with repeat winter visitors in RVs, you can sometimes grab one of the quiet spaces along the inner rim.
The outer rim, with its prairie views, books up first and is also where park volunteers are housed in their RVs.
Sunrise and sunset put on such a show that all campers tote their camp chairs to the edge of the palmetto prairie to watch.
During the winter months, a volunteer leads star parties on a regular basis, a treat for campers.
This campground features a large bathhouse with a laundry area and outdoor sink for doing dishes.
West of the ranger station along Military Trail, the Equestrian Campground is tucked into the rim of the big live oaks of Kilpatrick Hammock.
The campground features direct access to the trails, a paddock, and space for horse trailers. However, it does not have a bathhouse. A single composting privy is shared among campers.
Astronomers will appreciate being able to point their telescopes into the crystal-clear skies north of the ranger station. There are no residences or towns close enough to create light pollution.
These are called the Astronomy viewing pads when you book a campsite. No campfires are allowed and you must only use red spectrum lights at night to not affect the eyesight of other campers.
Campers using this campground must walk to the main bathhouse in the main campground, about a quarter mile away.
A primitive campground with three distinct campsites is along the Prairie Loop Trail. You must carry your gear and your water in with you for 2.5 miles in either direction along the loop trail. Sites must be reserved.
Situated under the oaks, the sites provide access to spectacular stargazing. Just walk out along the Prairie Loop Trail briefly to see.
Campsite 1 has a picnic table and fire ring. It looks out to the northeast from under the oaks. Campsite 3, with picnic table and fire ring, is a small niche looking out over the prairie.
Campsite 2 is deeply shaded, the oaks forming a roof over a broad grassy area with a covered picnic pavilion. It’s great for a larger group.
Primitive camping costs $5 per adult, $1 per child.
There are two designated backcountry campsites along the Florida Trail, both with benches, a fire ring, and pitcher pump. Cowboy Crossing is the southern one, in a shady hammock immediately south of the River Trail junction.
Pine Island Slough campsite is the campsite for the Florida Trail, Kissimmee Prairie North, up along the northern boundary of the state park. Adjoining the slough, it is also in a shady oak hammock with benches and a fire ring.
There is a $5 fee for backcountry camping, payable at the park office if you are hiking in on the Florida Trail.
Biking at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
While all of the trails in the list of hiking trails may be biked, not all of them should be. We’ve encountered deep water crossings and deep soft sand that even our mountain bike tires couldn’t handle.
Military Trail is the top choice for biking at the preserve. It extends due west in a straight line out from the ranger station past the equestrian campground to the Kissimmee River.
The park entrance road also provides a solid unpaved surface for biking out to the main entrance from the campground.
Hiking at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
11.4 miles. See why Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is Florida’s only Dark Sky Park along this “big sky” section of the Florida Trail
The remainder of the named trails are former ranch roads with surfaces varying from soft sand to grassy. Slough crossings are common. Use a hiking stick for balance and expect wet shoes.
Since the landscape is so vast, it is easy to get lost. Carry a map and gps or compass and know how to use it.
The following trail list is taken from the park map that you can download at the bottom of this page. We’ve also encountered additional trails that connect to the Florida Trail at various points.
|Audubon Loop Trails||2.1 miles||loop|
|Pine Island Prairie Trail||3.7 miles||linear|
|Gum Slough Trail||4.2 miles||linear|
|Gum Slough Prairie Trail||1.8 miles||linear|
|McClure Hammock Trail||4.4 miles||linear|
|McGuire Prairie Trail||1.7 miles||linear|
|Grasshopper Sparrow Trail||4.0 miles||linear|
|Long Hammock Trail||4.3 miles||linear|
|Duck Slough Prairie Trail||1.6 miles||linear|
|Military Trail||6.3 miles||linear|
|Five Mile Slough Trail||3.2 miles||linear|
|Five Mile Prairie Trail||3.9 miles||linear|
|Raulerson Trail||2.3 miles||linear|
|Cutover Trail||2.1 miles||linear|
|East Military Trail||3.3 miles||linear|
|Peavine Trail||1.7 miles||linear|
|Kilpatrick Prairie Trail||2.6 miles||linear|
See our photos of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
…Mama, you got to move. And so it goes for the Florida Trail, as the flood-induced breach in a levee along the Kissimmee River south of KICCO means the trail must move in order for clear passage north from Kissimmee Prairie Preserve.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
7.7 miles. Discover a natural cathedral of ancient oaks and palms along a thin ribbon of public land fronting the Kissimmee River floodplain
11.4 miles. Ancient riverside forests and picturesque prairie panoramas along the Kissimmee River make a hike to Micco Bluff worth the walk
2.7 miles. Burrow deep into the oak hammocks surrounding a beauty spot of the campsite near the Kissimmee River on this short but satisfying hike