OKEECHOBEE COUNTY – If you love camping, hiking, or star gazing, check out Kissimmee Prairie State Park, 33104 N.W. 192nd Ave., in northern Okeechobee County.
Kissimmee Prairie is a land dominated by the great blue sky. Part of the Everglades headwaters, the preserve protects the largest remaining tract of Florida dry prairie, an ecosystem shaped by cycles of flooding and fire.
Many rare, threatened, and endangered species inhabit this place, and the wide-open landscape means that bird watchers and photographers have ample opportunity to catch sight of a grasshopper sparrow, crested caracara, or burrowing owl.
Internationally recognized for its lack of light pollution, the night sky above the prairie is inky black — campers can spot the Milky Way without using telescopes or binoculars.
In 2016, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve was recognized as Florida’s first Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.
All Florida State Parks close at sunset; however, there are several ways to gain after-hours access to the preserve to enjoy the dark skies.
Go online to Floridastateparks.org to reserve a campsite in either the family campground or equestrian campground.
Go online to Floridastateparks.org to reserve an astronomy pad site. There are special restrictions for the astronomy sites: After dark, all lights must be red spectrum, and no campfires are allowed on these sites. When an astronomy viewing pad is reserved, you must arrive at the preserve prior to sunset and make contact with the ranger on duty to receive additional pertinent information.
If you are a Florida State Parks Family Annual Pass holder interested in gaining access to the preserve after sunset, please come into the office during our regular office hours and sign up for an after-hours permit, which would grant you access to the preserve’s common day use areas after hours.
Stargazers have the chance to see stars, planets, and other celestial bodies in incomprehensible numbers and unforgettable brilliance. Jupiter and Saturn are both clearly visible in the night sky. You may be able to witness the International Space Station making its orbit around Earth. Rocket launches from the space centers on the east coast are also viewable.
Please note: The entrance is closed daily 15 minutes after sunset. Only registered campers or after-hours pass holders are allowed entry after dark.
For more information, please call 864-462-5360.
This tourism feature was brought to you by Handy Food Stores, who encourages you to get out and explore your own backyard and all the things our region has to offer!