One of the largest expanses of open prairie remaining in the Southeast, the Kissimmee Prairie straddles the Kissimmee River in Central Florida.
The bulk of the prairie lies between the southern fridge of suburbia in Kissimmee-St. Cloud and the north shore of Lake Okeechobee.
Home to the rare endemic grasshopper sparrow and whooping cranes, it contains both wet and dry grasslands and vast panoramas of scrubby saw palmetto.
Once largely a cattle ranch, Three Lakes WMA protects nearly 64,000 acres of this windswept landscape, Florida’s own “Land Between the Lakes.”
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 36.8 (26.6 of which is the Florida Trail)
Trailhead: 27.927929, -81.122952
Address: 1702 Prairie Lakes Rd, Kenansville
Fees: $3 per person
Restrooms: Vault toilets at hunt camps and Lake Jackson
Land manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife
Open sunrise to sunset unless camping. Leashed dogs permitted.
All campsites (including the group campsite) in the Prairie Lakes Unit must be reserved in advance by calling FWC at the above number.
This is a popular destination for deer and turkey hunters with many deer stands visible along the trail. Check on hunt dates before planning your hike and wear bright orange during hunts.
From the intersection of US 441 and SR 60 in Yeehaw Junction, just west of Florida’s Turnpike, it is 14.7 miles to the south entrance of Three Lakes WMA. For the more popular main entrance, take US 441 north 14.1 miles to Kenansville and turn left on Canoe Creek Rd at the Kenansville Country Store. Continue 9.5 miles north, passing the dedicated trailhead for the Sunset Ranch Trail before you turn left into the main entrance. A major trailhead for the Florida Trail / Prairie Lakes Loop is on the right just inside the entrance. Continue down the unpaved road (a map is helpful, see link at bottom of page) to find parking for the Group Camp, Lake Jackson, and the Lake Jackson Tower.
The north entrance for Three Lakes WMA is less used by recreationalists as it has no trailhead parking and like the south entrance, no road connection to the Prairie Lakes Unit. It is at Williams Rd off US 441 6.1 miles north of the Kenansville Country Store, and features a hunt camp just inside the entrance.
About the Preserve
The lakes in question are a trio: Lake Kissimmee dominating the western edge of the preserve, with the smaller Lake Jackson and Lake Marian to its east.
While you never see Lake Kissimmee while exploring Three Lakes WMA, it has an outsized influence on the hydrology of the other lakes.
All three interconnect via a series of low-lying marshlands. The only place this is obvious is along the Florida Trail and Road 10 at Fodderstack Slough.
Here, a permanent causeway ensures passage across the marsh between Lake Kissimmee and Lake Marian. Expect to see alligators and plenty of birds around this permanent wetland.
The prairie landscape is otherwise dotted with hammocks where palms and oaks grow lushly, their upper limbs decorated in bromeliads and ferns.
Canals dug for the sake of the former cattle ranching operation have shade trees along them, and are bridged along the various trails.
Pine flatwoods with a palmetto understory form a part of the vast mosaic of habitats, where cypress strands and domes punctuate the view.
One of the more interesting and accessible strands is Pole Cypress Ponds, with its own boardwalk along the Florida Trail just a 1.4-mile round trip from the Prairie Lakes trailhead.
For the sake of birding, photography, fishing, and hunting, a series of old ranch roads are maintained throughout the preserve.
The primary roads are broad and generally well-graded. Some secondary roads narrow to a single lane and can have rough spots for passenger vehicles.
Roads are signposted at intersections with numbers such as “Road 7” or “Road 10.” Download a copy of the map below to identify the roads you want to explore.
Don’t count on smartphone navigational maps to be quite so smart about this preserve.
A fence divides the Prairie Lakes Unit from the Three Lakes South unit, with the gate between the two generally closed to vehicular traffic.
A gate also blocks access between Williams Rd and Canoe Creek Road, so there is no direct way to drive between the three units of the preserve.
While the Florida Trail proves an end-to-end traverse spanning over 26 miles, there are shorter hikes for day use.
Both day hikers and backpackers will appreciate the long-standing Prairie Lakes Loop circling the Prairie Lakes Unit as a stack of two roughly 5-mile loops that meet at Parker Hammock.
At Three Lakes WMA / Prairie Lakes Unit, the Florida Trail traverses one of the largest expanses of open prairie in the Southeast, the Kissimmee Prairie.
The Lake Jackson Tower Trail is less than a mile round-trip, including a jug-handle loop along its adjoining Palm Hammock Trail.
The Sunset Ranch Trail makes a two mile loop to an observation point on the east shore of Lake Marian.
You can also follow the Prairie Lakes Loop on a 1.3 mile round-trip on its southeast side from Parker Hammock to an observation deck along Lake Marian.
All numbered roads in Three Lakes WMA are open to cycling if not otherwise posted. Most roads are well-packed limestone but do have ripples and puddles at times.
Keep in mind that shade is very limited along the road system at Three Lakes, so dress accordingly and carry plenty of water for your ride. The white road surfaces are reflective.
Use the same entrance points and parking as listed under Directions for your ride. Cell service is sporadic across some of the more remote portions of the preserve.
Car campers with tents and van campers can make use of the Lake Jackson Campground, an oak-shaded complex near the lake.
It offers a vault toilet and easy access to the lake for boating, paddling, and fishing. Sites have picnic tables but there is no potable water. Call FWC to reserve a space.
Backpackers may use Lake Jackson Campground as well, but also have four others to choose from along the Florida Trail.
In the southern unit, Godwin Hammock is a true beauty spot sitting at the edge of the live oak hammock with a sweeping prairie view. It has a pitcher pump and picnic table.
In the northern unit, the Three Lakes Campsite is in the pine flatwoods but does pick up road noise at night, being in proximity to Florida’s Turnpike.
Neither Three Lakes nor Godwin Hammock need to be reserved in advance. For the two other backpacker’s campsites in the Prairie Lakes Unit, free reservations are necessary.
Dry Pond is 0.7 mile south of Lake Jackson Campground but has a wilderness feel, with an expansive view and a lovely live oak canopy.
Parker Hammocks is within a tenth of a mile of the intersection of the North and South Loops and is inside a lush live oak hammock.
Both locations provide a picnic table and pitcher pump. Parker Hammock can be buggy.
The Group Campsite sits off Road 19 and can be driven to, but it can also be hiked to via a half mile blue blaze off the northwest side of the Prairie Lakes Loop.
It has a vault toilet, picnic benches, fire ring, and a large number of benches, appropriate for youth groups. Call FWC for reservations.
The three hunt camps are only open for use during hunting season. One is at the Williams Rd (north)entrance, one just north of the main entrance, and one off SR 60 inside the south entrance along Road 10.
All three have seasonal camp hosts, vault or portable toilets, and pitcher pumps, as well as regulars who leave camping trailers at these camps year-round.
See our photos from Three Lakes WMA
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Named for two ancient live oaks that have long guided anglers to their favorite fishing hole, Twin Oaks Conservation Area protects nearly 400 acres along Lake Tohopekaliga.
Following a significant tributary to the St. Johns River, the Florida Trail through Bull Creek WMA showcases history and botanical beauty.
Hugging the eastern shore of Lake Lizzie, Lake Lizzie Conservation Area encompasses more than a thousand acres along several lakes set among a vast mosaic of prairies, pine flatwoods, and scrub forest