Great Camping in Central Florida

KICCO Wildlife Management Area

Three remote and little-used camping spots along the Florida National Scenic Trail are just right for the backpacker who wants to get away from it all. And yet you're within an easy walk of showers, hot food, running water, and the rest of the amenities offered at the Outdoor Resorts River Ranch complex, located at the northern end of this wildlife management area.

The hiking trail stretches about eight miles along the length of this mile-wide green ribbon. The 12-square-mile area features deep, dark hammocks of oak trees covered with moss and resurrection ferns, as well as pine flatwoods, scrub, and some marshy areas and stands of cypress. The hiking trail runs parallel to the Kissimmee River-or at least what's left of it after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers straightened the gently meandering stream into a big, angular ditch in the 1960s. (The Corps is working with the South Florida Water Management District, owner of the KICCO property, on a restoration plan.)

The name KICCO (pronounced KISS-oh) comes from the 1920s-era Kissimmee Island Cattle Company, which grazed cattle here. Now the tract is managed jointly by the water district and the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. Check with the game commission's Lakeland office, at the number above, for hunt dates. Be sure to wear orange-blaze clothing if you're camping during those times, which are generally around Thanksgiving and in the spring turkey season.

The first campsite is within a mile of the trailhead. Another is about three miles farther, the third is another three miles past that. None is actually on the riverbank, but all three are very close to it.Bicycling is allowed along the hiking trails only. You also can launch a canoe or boat at Outdoor Resorts River Ranch and travel downstream, though you might have a rough time finding a place to dock. To explore, hiking is your best bet.

How To Get There

From Florida's Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction, take Exit 193 and travel west on State Road 60 about 25 miles, crossing the Kissimmee River, and look for the Outdoor Resorts River Ranch entrance ahead on the left. From Lake Wales, head east on State Road 60 about 25 miles and look for the resort entrance on the right before you reach the Kissimmee River. When you reach the security kiosk at Outdoor Resorts River Ranch, tell the guard you're headed to the Florida National Scenic Trail to hike. The Park is located on the Kissimmee River between Lake Wales and Yeehaw Junction.

Campsites, facilities: An indeterminate number of tenters can be accommodated at three sites along the Florida National Scenic Trail. No facilities are available. Bring water, food, mosquito repellent, and supplies. Pack out trash and bury human waste in a six-inch hole. Children and pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees: Reservations are not required, though you are advised to call the water management district ahead of time to check on conditions. Camping is free.

Contact: South Florida Water Management District, P.O. Box 24689, West Palm Beach, FL 33416; (561) 686-8800, extension 6635, or (800) 432-2045, extension 6635. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, (941) 648-3203.

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