A Night Under the Stars: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve

A Shining Star of the Corridor

If you are looking to trade city lights for starry nights, then Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is the place for you. Not only is it the second largest state park housing 54,000 acres, but it is also a designated International Dark Sky Zone, one of only two in the state. Astronomers, campers, and adventurers flock to this part of the Corridor to experience its celestial beauty. I know I had to see this for myself, so my partner and I booked a campsite and crossed our fingers for a clear night sky.

Burn Baby Burn

The drive there took us through miles and miles of pasture, with a thick cloud of smoke looming in the distance. Approaching the park, we headed down the long dirt road and realized the smoke was coming from within, it turns out park rangers were conducting a prescribed burn. Frequent fires are crucial for many Florida ecosystems, especially the dry prairie.

Nature’s Twitter

Cell service is spotty out here, so it was a great time to disconnect from our devices and swap notifications for the chirps of native birds. As we were setting up our tent, we were greeted by wildlife of all kinds. We saw a tiny palm warbler, a cottontail rabbit, and our state bird, the mockingbird. On the nearby hammock trail, we encountered a flock of turkeys and heard what felt like taunting hoots from owls in every direction. If you are really lucky, you will get a chance to meet the rare Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. As their main habitat, the dry prairie, declines, so does the species. Their federally endangered status makes them celebrities here and it is one of the last locations where they can still be found.

A Starry Night

As the sun set on the prairie, the stars started to reveal themselves. In the absence of light pollution, the sky quickly turned black. We didn’t have the right conditions to get a jaw-dropping shot as I had hoped, but it was still an amazing sight to the naked eye. Moments like these really make me feel connected to our land and ancestors. It is so refreshing to escape the urban sprawl and be fully immersed in wild Florida.

A Misty Morning

We woke up before sunrise to the sounds of coyotes howling and owls hooting but had no luck finding them on the nearby trail. I did, however, catch some epic shots of a vulture watching over the misty landscape against a pastel-colored sky. As the sun rose, the deer and turkeys of the park come out in full force to forage for some breakfast. State Park deer aren’t bothered by human presence, so I was able to get close to a family while they were chowing down.

Know Before You Go

Kissimmee Prairie has a vast network of trails so prepare for a lot of walking or biking if you are interested in seeing the stars of the Milky Way. It is recommended to book a campsite far in advance, during the cool seasons, and on a new moon for the ultimate viewing experience. I only caught a small glimpse of this massive part of the Corridor, but an extended stay is necessary to dive into all of what the park has to offer. Whether you want to unwind from technology, see new wildlife, or chase the stars, Kissimmee Prairie has something for everyone to enjoy.

Ethan Coyle Photography Intern
Ethan is a senior at the University of South Florida studying Advertising and Environmental Science. Born and raised in Lakeland, Florida, he has spent most of his time outdoors leading him to develop a passion for nature photography. Most recently, he spent his spring break exploring the Everglades after being inspired by the “Path of the Panther” documentary. He is a true lover of old Florida and hopes to use his visual creativity to spark interest in preserving our state’s beautiful landscapes.