The Florida Trail: Hiking Chandler Slough

OKEECHOBEE — The Florida Scenic Trail encompasses over 1,400 miles of trails here in the state, and every season about 25 people attempt to walk the entire distance of the trail, from its origins in the Everglades to its terminus on the beach, way out in the Panhandle. These end-to-end hikers are called “through hikers.”

A trailhead for the Chandler Slough section is on the west end of Lofton Road. Photos by Tom Timmons.

Additionally, each year another 10 to 20 people hike the entire distance of the trail in smaller sections, as time allows. These people are called “section hikers” and I find myself among that second, smaller group.

On a recent foggy Saturday morning, I undertook a hike on another local section of the Florida Trail. The weather was cool, and U.S. 98 was cloaked in heavy fog on my way to the trailhead on Lofton Road and it made for hazardous driving.

There are two trailheads for the Florida Trail on Lofton Road that make up the east and west trailheads some two and a half miles apart. As I have been mostly hiking towards the north, I chose the western most trailhead, which is found adjacent to the railroad crossing on Lofton Road, which provides lots of parking off the road.

As the spring Turkey Season was in force, I covered my backpack with a blaze orange vest, donned a blaze orange ball cap, and headed out into the fog, through the gate in search of a new section of the Florida Trail.

A well established path into the woods shows the Chandler Slough section of the Florida Trail. Notice the orange blaze on the tree.

Within a 100 yards of where my truck was parked, I crossed over a mowed dike, down the other side and through another gate, into a large hammock area of mature oak trees and various palm species. The trail through this hammock is wonderful walking, a soft sandy soil that is smooth and easy to navigate. Additionally, the trail is wide and exceptionally well marked through this section. I never once lost sight of the orange blazes that mark the trail, and the traffic through this section seems to be large enough to provide a well defined path to follow.

The first mile or so of the trail travels through this large hammock and is well shaded and pretty. After about a mile, a side trail is marked with blue blazes that takes you to a camping area along the Kissimmee River. The side trail is only a little over a tenth of a mile long, and takes you out to the edge of the trees to an established camp site with a fire ring and benches as well as a well-shaded glade in which to put up a tent. Adjacent to the fire ring, there was some firewood cut and stacked, and off to one side, a mailbox with the Florida Trail logo on it. I looked inside and found a couple pieces of dry wood, but no trail book to sign as is found at many campsites.

Picnic table under a tree, at the camping site of the Florida Trail, Chandler Slough section.

There was, however, an empty milk jug hanging on the mailbox, just right for hauling water from the river to the camp site. Just a little further on, and closer to the river was a picnic table under a tree, that made up another tent site.

A sign along the trail to the campsite showing the way to water at the Kissimmee River.

I walked to the edge of the water, to find a muddy bank and some hydrangea that would make collecting water a bit difficult, but I have to think that a through-hiker has come upon this before and has a way of collecting the water without having to deal with the mud. Perhaps there was a better place down the bank a little ways? Hikers will drink water from rivers and ponds, but only after running it through a portable water filtration system that removes all the harmful things found in river and pond water in this part of the world. Years ago, on the trails of Maryland and Virginia, I did the same myself, filtering water from springs and creeks.

After exploring the camping area, I backtracked on the blue blazed trail to the orange blazed main trail and continued my walk towards the north. Just after leaving the blue blazed trail, I came out of the trees and entered a large open field, or prairie, with a mowed and well-defined trail crossing it. In this prairie is where footing became difficult. For the next two and a half miles, I followed the trail across this vast grassland, and suffered with every step.

Wild grasses tend to grow in tussocks, almost spherical balls of grass made up the blazed trail and made footing most difficult. The trail was still wide, and well marked, but the surface to walk was difficult and for the next two and a half miles, I struggled as I walked along. Some trekking poles would have been a great help along this section of the trail, but as I’ve yet to buy some, I just moved along slowly and carefully.

I finally reached the north end trail head for the trail, where it encounters Lofton Road and at this point was about two and a half miles from my truck, via the road. MUCH of the Florida Trail is made up of ‘road walks’ where a highway or public roadway is used to connect pieces of the trail off the road. So, I crossed the road and began the walk back to the truck, facing traffic and walking along the edge of the pavement.

The traffic was light, and most cars and trucks swung wide as they approached me, but I also would step off onto the grassy shoulder for some. Most motorists waved as they passed and I had no difficulty making the walk back to the truck.

The next section of Chandler Slough to the north is found running parallel to U.S. 98 just a short distance from the corner of Lofton Road, and I expect to walk that section in the future, when the weather is cool and allows for good hiking.

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