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Reported: November 2021

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park... South Florida

Eco-touring by Bike and Hike in a "Dark Sky" FL State Park

Once a cattle ranch, at 54,000 acres, this is now one of Florida's biggest preserves, protecting the largest remaining tract of Florida dry prairie. Sweeping vistas of grasses and palmetto, a few oak hammocks, otherwise no shade. Over 100 miles of multi-use trail, but most is soft sand... not an eco-biking "destination." However, if you're camping, on a trip of discovery (like us), or just want to get away, then consider the wide-tire bikes. We found one short stretch (with a gator hole) to be an enjoyable bike & hike. (Map link and photos below.)

Lake Kissimeee State Park, Florida eco-hiking

Map Link...
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

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Location: Okeechobee County
Mileage: Varies
Surface: Dirt Park roads, sandy multi-use trails
Nearby points of interest: Lake Okeechobee

Support and Advocacy:

Friends of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
Florida State Parks Foundation
Florida Trail Association

Biking and Hiking at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park... Tips, Comments, and Photos

Options for easy eco-biking are limited. Even avid mountain bikers will find the trails strenuous. One road is open to motor vehicles. State Park fee applies (pay at the honor box).

  • Tip #1: bring plenty of food and water (no camp store, nearest town 25 miles).
  • Tip #2: if you have binoculars or a telescope, be sure to bring. The Park is known for its sweeping vistas, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and stargazing. In 2016, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve was certified as Florida's first "Dark Sky Park" by the International Dark Sky Association. To get the most out of your trip, consider staying late. The front gate closes 15 minutes after sunset, when the Park is only open to registered campers - and to Florida State Park Annual Family Pass holders who sign-up for an after-hours permit (available at the Park Office during normal Park hours). Another popular Park feature is the ranger-led swamp-buggy tour (seasonal, direct link below).
  • Tip #3: for hikers, bring an extra pair of shoes. Most days, the term "dry prairie" is a misnomer.


Main Road - Park Entrance to Visitor Center and More

From the Park entrance, it's 4.3 miles to the main (family) campground and Visitor Center, then 0.25 mile to the equestrian camp, then 0.2 mile to road's end at the Prairie Loop Trailhead. The road surface is smooth, a shell composite, fine for riding a bike in the camping areas, but on the rest of the roadway (25 mph speed limit), passing vehicles made it too dusty for our liking. From what we observed, most trails and service roads appear too sandy. HOWEVER, where the main road turns left to the Visitor Center, a service road continues straight. This one looked promising - we observed a parking area with information kiosk to the right, so we parked, took the bikes and discovered the Peavine Trail.

Peavine Trail over Seven Mile Slough

Peavine Trail is a former rail bed (1910) that led to Kenansville, but was dismantled in favor of Henry Flagler's railroad to the east. Beginning smooth, after 1/4 mile the trail crosses Seven Mile Slough where there's a waterhole full of alligators. We biked on, but the trail became much rougher. Past the South Pasture Trail, where the Cattle Lease Pasture Area* starts, we recalled reading some advice: "embrace the prairie by looking into it ... not at it" - impossible when biking in the rough, so we soon turned and walked much of the way back ... looking into the prairie. Under 2 miles round-trip on this day, but an interesting find - alligators, birds, slightly elevated views, and we stayed dry crossing the slough(!) - mountain bikers would surely go further.

* 6,000 acres of improved pasture remain and is leased out for cattle grazing, the revenue supports park maintenance and restoration projects.

Multi-Use Hiking Trails

The Park contains over 100 miles of multi-use trail, some rideable with mountain bikes, but better suited to hiking or equestrian. This includes a 20-mile section of the iconic Florida National Scenic Trail, (aka The Florida Trail - see map). The Park's Visitor Center and main campgrounds are located in Kilpatrick Hammock (site of 1920's homestead of the Kilpatrick family), with many oaks and palms, offering varying shade and scenery. Thus, the trails in this area are among the Park's most popular. The Kilpatrick Hammock Trail is a 0.7 mile loop located behind the Visitor Center, popular with birders.

Five Mile Prairie Trail

For open prairie views, the Five Mile Prairie Trail (also part of the Florida Trail) goes north from the astronomy ads. In 1/4 mile, the trail crosses Seven Mile Slough, where on most days hikers get wet wading across. Note: this is the same slough that we stayed dry biking across earlier in the day, about 1.3 miles to the east on the Peavine Trail (former rail bed).

Prairie Loop Trail

The 4.6 mile Prairie Loop Trail starts just past the equestrian camp. The first half weaves south and west along a tree line to the primitive campsites, before turning north and completing the loop on sandy Military Trail (see below). The south section is the prettiest and shadiest, and many hike this trail as an out-and-back, rather than doing the loop. Sections can be wet.

Military Trail

Military Trail originally connected two forts (Fort Drum and Fort Kissimmee). From the Equestrian Campground, it runs about 7 miles west to the Kissimmee River. From the campground, it's about 0.15 mile to a gate. Past the gate, the sand gets very deep - along the side of the trail you can see where a path has been worn in the grass, used by hikers and mountain bikers. This trail is also part of the Florida Trail.

Other Park Activities

Activities include 4 types of camping (full facility campground, equestrian camp, tent sites at the astronomy pad, and primitive wilderness campsites), picnicking, biking, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, birdwatching (over 150 bird species reported including the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow) and seasonal butterfly viewing (over 85 species recorded). Note: hunting is prohibited in all Florida State Parks. The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is well-known for two other activities... stargazing (an internationally certified "Dark Sky Park"), and the Prairie Buggy Tour (November through March, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays). One tour per day (9:00 a.m.) weather permitting, reservations required. At the Visitor Center are parking, park office, restrooms, information, and picnicking. the Park is home to several endangered species, a statue remembers the now-extinct Carolina Parakeet.

Visitor Center

Astronomy Pad and Tent Sites

Equestrian Campground Loop

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