62.1 miles (Stuart, West Palm Beach & Jupiter). One of the more beautiful and difficult backpacking routes in South Florida, the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail is a surprising introduction to wild spaces that you wouldn’t expect to still exist on this heavily populated coast of Florida. Created and maintained by the Loxahatchee chapter of the Florida Trail Association as a spur trail off the Florida Trail, it is routed through the North Everglades Natural Area, a ribbon of public lands between Lake Okeechobee and Hobe Sound Beach.
As you’re hiking through the wilds of DuPuis Reserve, Corbett WMA, Loxahatchee Slough, and the backcountry of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, it’s hard to imagine over a million people live in the West Palm Beach metro nearby. The trail touches a few residental areas between its wild spaces, including down the sidewalks of downtown Hobe Sound and behind homes in Jupiter Farms, but the vast open pine flatwoods, haunting cypress swamps, and open prairies that hikers immerse in – literally, as the hike can be like a mini-Big Cypress in sections – makes this a compelling destination for backpackers.
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on symbols for details and directions.
Don’t miss this expert planning advice for the OTL from James Hoher, who has backpacked the OTL more times than anyone else we know. Since we were among the first to tackle this trail when it was first routed in 2004 (and returned for a second hike in 2011-2012), we’ll share our thoughts as well.
While the OTL can be hiked in either direction, logistically, it makes the most sense to arrange a ride to the NENA trailhead along US 441 south of Port Mayaca to start your hike, if you plan to take on the entire trail at once. The western end of the hike is the wilder end, with the eastern portion actually leading you down a street in one of the more upscale districts in the region onto Jupiter Island.
Once you’re through the agricultural zone and around the limerock mine, entering DuPuis Reserve puts you in a different world. Vast pine flatwoods are punctuated with cypress domes, cypress strands, and wet prairies. Huge alligators, feral hogs, and white-tailed deer may be seen. This public land, along with adjacent Corbett WMA, is a popular destination for hunters. Wildflowers are abundant in spring, summer, and fall. As the trail transitions from DuPuis into Corbett (be sure to follow signs, since DuPuis has a loop trail as well), it enters Big Cypress-like habitats of cypress strands with tiny but ancient trees. Little Gopher campsite is a popular stop. It sits amid the ancient canals and mounds of the Big Gopher Mound Complex.
Corbett transitions from cypress strands to pine flatwoods to wide open prairies, each centered around its own large pond. Wildflowers thrive along the edges, and the ponds attract wildlife while reflecting the sky. One set of ponds looks like eyeglasses. As you draw close to Hungryland Slough trailhead, an alternate route is offered for those who don’t want to wade through the center of an often-mucky pond. The Florida Trail leaves Corbett WMA through the front gate and enters Hungryland Slough Conservation Area to its north. The landscape here is being rehabilitated back to prairie ponds and pine flatwoods like Corbett; it had been platted for a subdivision.
After the trail crosses the Beeline Highway (which it parallels briefly), you enter Loxahatchee Slough Conservation Area, another work-in-progress to bring the tropical forests and pine flatwoods back where farms stood for many years. On the eastern side of this preserve, flanking both sides of the C-18 canal, the trail tunnels into natural habitats with rare and unusual plants. Two campsites in Lucky Hammock offer your choice of a quiet night’s sleep.
Leaving Lucky Hammock via a cypress swamp, the trail pops out behind backyards in Jupiter Farms as it follows the C-18 canal to Riverbend Park along the Loxahatchee River. This is a well-manicured and landscaped park, easily contrasted with the wilds entered on the opposite side of Indiantown Road, part of Cypress Creek Preserve. The trail crosses several floodplains of tributaries into the Loxahatchee – wading necessary at times – before going under Interstate 95 and Florida’s Turnpike to enter Jonathan Dickinson State Park at the must-wade crossing of Hobes Grove Canal.
Jonathan Dickinson makes up the highlands of the hike, although it, too, can be wet in places. The pine flatwoods yield to ancient dunes after you leave the very tidy and pleasant Kitching Creek campsite, and atop these dunes there is little shade. Leaving through a back gate, the trail crosses US 1 and follows Old SR A1A into Hobe Sound Beach, taking you right through the small but upscale downtown. Cross the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway and continue along the sidewalk under the shade of massive ficus trees to the beach, where sunbathers will look a bit startled when a backpacker shows up in their midst.
7.8 miles. Connecting the heart of the DuPuis Reserve loop trail system with the Ocean-to-Lake Trail’s western terminus at Lake Okeechobee, the trail spends a short stretch in agricultural/industrial lands near the lake before diving into the dense pine flatwoods and cypress domes of DuPuis Reserve, a destination rich with wildlife.
9.7 miles. One of the most wild and scenic pieces of the Florida Trail in southeastern Florida. It’s necessary to backpack in from one end or the other to experience this immersion in the Northern Everglades, a landscape where pine trees grow large on the edges of open savannas, and colorful bromeliads dangle from diminutive cypresses.
11.7 miles. Corbett WMA is a place of superlatives: vast prairies, enormous trees, and landscapes that seem to go on forever. Painted with colorful wildflowers in every season, it echoes the beauty of its bigger cousin, Big Cypress, including a notable cypress strand called Hole-in-the-Wall.
12.1 miles. Traversing a genuinely wild tangle of pine flatwoods, cypress swamps, and wetlands along the rim of the Loxahatchee Slough, this portion of the Florida Trail dips through old agricultural lands for a portion of the hike. Lush, shady tropical hammocks and boardwalks along cypress-lined ponds are highlights along this journey.
11.6 miles. A hike of contrasts, connecting wild tropical hammocks with vast pine savannas and shady glades along the Loxahatchee River via a levee walk along the C-18 Canal through the backyards of Jupiter Farms and the shellrock paths of popular Riverbend Park. You will get your feet wet on this section.
Florida Trail, Ocean to Lake: Kitching Creek to Hobe Sound Beach
8.5 miles. Showcasing the vast pine flatwoods of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, this easternmost segment of the Ocean-to-Lake Trail takes a dramatic turn across giant sand dunes – South Florida’s largest – before exiting the park at US 1 for a roadwalk to downtown Hobe Sound, where the trail finishes up down a sidewalk through a tunnel of tropical forest to end at the Atlantic Ocean.
- Hike from Lake Okeechobee to Hobe Sound Beach for better ease of completion of the hike. You can call a cab from there to an airport, bus station, or your parked car.
- If you are backpacking, it’s best to have a friend shuttle you. The NENA trailhead is not secure, and a car left overnight at Hobe Sound Beach will likely be towed. The only secure parking along the route is inside Jonathan Dickinson State Park for a nightly fee. You’ll need to arrange for that in advance.
- Check hunting seasons in advance and be absolutely sure you’re wearing plenty of bright orange if you hike during any hunting seasons. Deer hunting is the big deal here, especially in Corbett where swamp buggies are permitted. Backpackers may wish to stay away during the deer hunts, given the noise of these large machines in the night. Swamp buggies are off-road vehicles designed for swamp exploring, oversized trucks with huge wheels that help them to maintain traction in mud and water. Expect deep standing water in their ruts.
- Leave your pets at home. Dogs are not permitted on most of these public lands, nor are they advisable companions, given the swamps you’ll be wading through.
- Pack prepared for the full trip. Minor resupply is just off the trail at Indiantown Road, along with a hardware store and a few restaurants. More restaurants await in Hobe Sound.
- Make sure you have your permits in order. Free permits are required from several different agencies for camping (South Florida Water Management District, Palm Beach ERM, Jonathan Dickinson State Park). Random camping is not permitted. There is a small fee for camping at Jonathan Dickinson State Park and it must be paid in advance, along with your park entrance fee.
- Day hiking requires no permits, but fees apply for day hikers at Corbett WMA and at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. See the map for trail access points for day hiking.