Great Camping in Central Florida

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

Turkeys scared by the sound of footsteps rush into tall grasses for camouflage at this relatively wildlife-packed 50,000-acre tract-one of our favorite places in Central Florida. Improbably located within a reasonable drive from Disney World, this haven of hunters and hikers is called Three Lakes because it sits between Lakes Kissimmee, Jackson, and Marian. After a rain, muddy trails are likely to sport more deer tracks and turkey prints than signs of humans. That's a hint that you must put up with a lack of any amenities to camp here.

Look for bobcats or deer darting from a wooded area into the prairies. Try the self-guided nature walk at the Parker Slough parking area, which is maintained by the Florida Trail Association. The FTA also provides a pamphlet to help you identify plants and better understand the vital role that occasional fires play in maintaining the ecosystem; call (800) 343-1882. The hiking trail winds through dry pine flatwoods and scrub communities as well as lusher hardwood hammocks.

You may camp any time of year at the wildlife management area's 9,000-acre refuge known as the Prairie Lakes Unit, where you can share a drive-up, no-frills established camping area. Or, you can try various backpacking trails-including a 1.5-mile walk from Parker House to Dry Pond to find a more-remote camping area that is about 75 yards across and features maybe a little more underbrush. Outside the Prairie Lakes Unit, camping is limited to hunting season. Wear orange-blaze clothing (or stay away) during hunts. Although hunting times change slightly from year to year, a recent year's dates will provide some guidance: September 29 to October 1, October 6 to 8, October 27 to 29, November 17 to 19, November 24 to 26, December 9 to 24, March 16 to 18, March 29 to 31, and April 12 to 14.

It helps to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle in Three Lakes, and we would consider it more or less mandatory if you're hauling an RV when it's been raining. The roads are well suited for horseback riding and mountain biking. Anglers can head to the end of Road 16 to launch onto Lake Jackson.

How To Get There

The Park is located South of St. Cloud near Kenansville. From St. Cloud, take Highway 523/Canoe Creek Road south about 25 miles. The wildlife management area sprawls over nearly 80 square miles, but you'll enter the Prairie Lakes Unit. To reach it, look for an entrance on the right (west) side of the road. You want the entrance onto Road 16, a fairly good road that leads to the Parker Slough parking area. You don't want the entrance not far north of that (before you reach Road 16), which leads to a pitted, muddy road. If you find yourself on the pitted road, head back to Highway 523, turn right, and look for the next entrance on your right. It should be Road 16. Once you're on Road 16, look for the campground about 1.5 miles ahead where the road crosses a bridge over Parker Slough. The campground is right there in an oak hammock at the junction of a section of the Florida National Scenic Trail known as the Loop Trails at Prairie Lakes.

Campsites, facilities: Three primitive camping areas accommodate an indeterminate number of RVs or tents. Three other primitive camping areas are accessible only to hikers. There are no facilities, so bring drinking water. In a few places you will find water pumps, but the water is not certified as safe for human consumption. (It is usable for washing off, watering animals, and so forth.) Children and pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees: Sites are first come, first served and require a free permit from the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. When requesting a permit, ask for a map of the area to aid in finding your campsite.

Contact: Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, 1239 Southwest 10th Street, Ocala, FL 34474; (352) 732-1225.


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