One of the best destinations for birders visiting the Prairie Lakes Unit of Three Lakes WMA is the three-story tower overlooking Lake Jackson.
The hike to it is primarily along a berm that offers outstanding perspectives on both marshes and prairies.
An easy walk, it is nonetheless as far back in the preserve as you can go by road. A loop option through a palm hammock extends the 0.8-mile round trip to a mile.
A side trail interconnects with the Florida Trail, enabling the tower trailhead to be also used for access for a hike across all of Prairie Lakes.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1 mile round-trip with small loop
Trailhead: 27.89150, -81.17370
Address: 1702 Prairie Lakes Rd, Kenansville
Fees: $3 per person
Restroom: Vault toilets at Lake Jackson and Group Camp
Land manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife
Open sunrise to sunset unless camping. Leashed dogs permitted. Campsites must be reserved by calling ahead.
This is a popular destination for deer and turkey hunters. Check on hunt dates before planning your hike and wear bright orange during hunts.
From US 441 and SR 60 in Yeehaw Junction, follow US 441 north 14.1 miles to Kenansville. Turn left on Canoe Creek Rd at the Kenansville Country Store. Continue 9.5 miles north, passing Lake Marian Paradise and Sunset Ranch, to reach the entrance to Prairie Lakes. Inside the gate, pass the Prairie Lakes trailhead and continue another 5.1 miles along the unpaved road to where it ends. It makes a sharp right at a large canal just before it approaches the trailhead.
A kiosk at the trailhead and a sign pointing towards the tower orient you as to the direction to take, a continuation of the former ranch road you drove in on.
A broad, deep canal sits directly to the north of the berm that this trail follows to the tower.
Following the two-track road, you’re slightly elevated above its surroundings, providing a nice angle for spotting birds in the prairie grasses and along the canal.
At the Palm Hammock Trail sign, take a right to follow the yellow blazes into a lush palm and oak hammock.
The blazes puzzle through the open but tree-dense understory before emerging on the blue-blazed connector between the Lake Jackson Trail and the Florida Trail.
By taking a right, you can join the Florida Trail in a half mile to take a long hike (8+ miles) either northbound to the Prairie Lakes trailhead or southbound through Three Lakes South.
To stay on your hike to the tower, turn left. The blue blazes quickly meet the berm that you walked off of to join the Palm Hammock Trail. Turn right.
The berm trail curves northward, affording nice views across the adjoining wet prairie.
The berm narrows significantly as it approaches the tower and is well shaded on both sides. We arrived near sunset, which was blinding. An early morning visit is best.
Once you reach the tower, you’ll find a platform at ground level that affords good views of the marshes for birding. A picnic bench also adjoins the tower.
If you want to see a broad sweep of Lake Jackson, however, you’ll need to ascend. There are platforms at each level.
At the very top, the roofed tower provides a panorama of the shallow marshy lake to its far shore.
On the return trip, skip past the signs for the Palm Hammock Trail.
Return back along the berm along the prairie and canal to complete this 1 mile round-trip hike.
Learn more about Three Lakes WMA
See our photos from the Lake Jackson Tower Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Enjoy the counterpoint of moss-draped oak hammocks and expansive prairies at Prairie Lakes along one of the older and more beloved pieces of the Florida Trail.
The 2.2-mile Sunset Ranch Trail at the Prairie Lakes Unit of Three Lakes WMA provides an easy day hike for birding near Lake Marian.
Protecting a marshy peninsula on the eastern shore of Lake Tohopekaliga, this remote preserve provides a panorama of natural wetlands from its boardwalk.