As a 54,000-acre expanse of prairie, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is almost thirty miles from the nearest town, so there is no light pollution from suburban areas.
However, the park closes when the sun goes down. Camping here is one of the best ways to experience the twinkling night sky. There are several amenity-packed camps for families, one restricted camp for astronomers, and a few primitive camping sites for backpackers willing to rough it out.
Camping at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
Because Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is closed at sunset, camping at the campgrounds is the only option. Like other campgrounds in Central Florida, camping prices range from $5 per night to $28 per night. Campsites at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park include tents and RVs as well as RV hookups.
There are 36 stargazing campsites for families touring the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve for its starry nights. The nature-oriented campgrounds offer amenities such as flush toilets and running water. A basic 50-amp electric hookup allows you to plug in your camper while you're away.
There is no shower house for campers in some, but most sites offer showers, dryers, and washers, and everything is clean. The camps provide water for drinking and the occasional shower. Tip: Make sure to bring a hat, sunblock, and a roll of toilet paper.
Camp for Astronomers: Red Light District Camping
The true astronomer's retreat is located a few miles south of the campsite in reserve. Here, you will be met with 46-degree temperatures and star-filled skies. The red light district is found on this side of the park.
Just beyond the park entrance on Sugar Road, it is all black with only a tent area, four hiking trails, two restrooms, and a water spigot. As there are no hookups, all water must be carried in.
Who Can Visit Kissimmee Prairie Preserve And What Are Their Restrictions?
Camping and hiking at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park are reserved for people 18 years of age and older, but most trails within the park are open to those 16 and older. The park is open from sunrise to sunset but check with a ranger on-site for specific times. One-day and multi-day permit holders are available, but you must purchase admission tickets to the preserve and pay an entrance fee.
The park is open from sunrise to sunset but check with a ranger on-site for specific times. Those who do not plan to camp in the park must leave it at least 20 minutes before the official sunset. They may also be required to leave the park by 4:00 pm. The entrance fee is $7 per car and $4 per bicycle or horse.
How to Plan Your Stargazing Adventure at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve
Visitors are encouraged to leave all fireworks at home. The three permitted firework sites within the park open at 4 pm, meaning that observing the Perseids from the parking lot is not the best option.
For stargazing, the best hours are in the early evening, since the sun doesn't rise until nearly 8 am. On a clear night with a bit of moonlight, it is possible to see the Orion constellation, while the more distant Andromeda and Triangulum can be seen with a telescope.
If the sky is clear, as long as you are willing to make the drive, you should have no trouble spotting the moon, Jupiter, or the Pleiades. Most people travel with telescopes to shoot photos, so be sure you have a pair of binoculars and a tripod.
You also want to remember to bring a flashlight for those late-night photo sessions. It is suggested that all visitors who are not observers and would like to bring their own tents should leave their camping gear with a professional staff member at the gate before sunset.
Other Sites for Stargazing in Central Florida
- Ocala National Forest, 12385 U.S. 441, Kissimmee, 407-876-2640, FuegoVisión.com
- Havana Nights at the Orlando Museum of Art, 102 N. Parkside Drive, 407-896-2797, MidFloridaArt.org
- Easy Cider on the patio at The Bruery, 1635 Industrial Way, Placentia, 714-433-1203, TheBruery.com
- Hike the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Trail to the Falls Outdoor Adventure Center or Ashland Outdoor Center
What was once a mystery is now a destination for stargazers in Central Florida. These dark skies and great stargazing could not exist without the efforts of groups such as Astronomers Without Borders. The international nonprofit aims to use research to improve dark skies and share that knowledge with other countries and communities.
Even if you are not staying overnight, looking at the night sky in Central Florida is worth a trip. Head out on a bike ride, and you will likely see star trails with your naked eye. Or, head over to Seven Mile Bridge. While the bridge is not an actual bridge, it connects both St. Cloud and Kissimmee on the outskirts of Orlando and offers a great place to gaze at the stars.