Florida Trail, Henry Creek to Okeechobee

Arcing northward along the shoreline of Lake Okeechobee, this paved segment of the Florida Trail – known locally as the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail – offers spectacular sweeping views of the open water of one of America’s biggest lakes. It’s here you encounter an interesting array of bird life, from sandhill cranes to colonies of cormorants to caracara and bald eagles, if you keep a close watch on your surroundings. While none of the communities around the lake are heavily populated, this is a population center, so you’ll see plenty of residents taking morning walks, bicycling, and walking their dogs. One primitive campsite provides shelter along this segment, with easy walking access to motels and the Okeechobee KOA from the terminus.

Resources

[bigo]South Florida: An Explorer's GuideHiker's Guide to the Sunshine State

Overview

Location: Okeechobee
Length: 8.7 miles
Lat-Long: 27.163076, -80.716079 to 27.196671, -80.830607
Type: linear
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: none

Learn more about the Florida Trail around Lake Okeechobee and the Big O Hike

Directions

Three trailheads and one parking area provide direct access to this segment of the Florida Trail. The hike is described from the Henry Creek trailhead (connecting to the Port Mayaca section) http://www.floridahikes.com/ftportmayaca/ to the Parrott Avenue trailhead at the intersection of US 441 and SR 78 in Okeechobee. All trailheads are along US 441 headed southbound from Okeechobee and have prominent brown road signs pointing out the access points for the “Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail.” It’s 8.4 miles by road from the intersection of US 441 and SR 78 in Okeechobee to the turnoff for the Henry Creek trailhead. When you park at the Henry Creek trailhead, try to stay to the right-hand side of the entrance road so boaters have rooms to swing their boats around in the larger parking area on the left.

Hike

Leaving the parking area, cross the bridge and ascend to the dike, turning right to walk through the S-136 water control structure – wave hello to the lock tender! – and into the broad, open spaces that define the top of the Herbert Hoover Dike. While researching the area on this particular visit, I was surprised to learn that this part of the dike is much newer than the rest—it wasn’t put into place until the early 1960s. I have friends who remember when the lake waters lapped right up to US 441 and they could pull off the road and go swimming or fishing in the crystal-clear waters at Upthegrove Beach, which was indeed a sandy beach. Fifty years later, human intervention in the natural systems of Lake Okeechobee has taken its toll on water clarity and fishing. But the views from this section of dike are, indeed, worth the walk.

It’s the grasses that catch your eye next: tufts of delicate lovegrass with a pinkish hue and bushy wheat-colored grasses waving in slender sheaves. The tallest grasses grow next to the Rim Canal, your constant companion on the right-hand side as you walk north to Taylor Creek, providing a screen from boaters should nature call during your hike. Scattered cabbage palms sit down in that flat space on the right, near waterline, some close enough together to string a hammock between them. Shallow, narrow marshes lie in a grassy haze along the left-hand side of the dike, blurring the line between lake and land. After a mile, you come to the first sheltered bench on the left. This section has the most shelters of any trail segment around the lake.

The lock tender at S-136 says she sees a bobcat pass through regularly, and wildlife is indeed here atop the dike if you keep alert for it. In addition to the copious bird life, I’ve seen otters several times along this section. Arriving at dawn in time for daybreak, on a clear day you can see a sweep of lights defining the lakeshore to the north and west for 20 miles or more. A line of tall cabbage palms sits off on the eastern horizon along the hum of morning traffic on US 441, the columns of palms defining the Okeechobee shoreline of old.

By 1.5 miles, the long straightaway you’ve been following starts curving to the left. Off to the right, across the Rim Canal you can see mounds of shrubbery decorated with what looks like moonflowers in the dawning light—except they move. And indeed, it’s a roosting colony of cattle egrets that never fails to return to this exact spot. Arrive at daybreak, and you’ll see them rise into the skies in unison to feed in the marshes. Cabbage palms and other plants grow at the base of the Rim Canal. It takes a quarter-mile to make that curve past the rookery, underlining a chief tenet of walking around Lake Okeechobee on the Florida Trail—all objects are farther than they actually appear.

Sweeping around a broad bay along the lake, the trail passes the community of Upthegrove Beach. Robert Upthegrove established this community along the lake in 1912 and served as one of Okeechobee County’s first county commissioners. Along US 441, it’s one of the few places between Taylor Creek and Canal Point that you’ll find services, including a gas station and the Happy Hour restaurant, beloved of Big O hikers for their great steaks.

A lone cypress tree sits in the marshes of the lake at 2 miles, just as you pass the log cabin community on the Rim Canal on the right. Up ahead you can see the next shelter and a water tower. The dike curves to the left after the next sheltered bench, and now you can see the water tower at Treasure Island, marking the location of the Taylor Creek bridge, which you’ll be crossing later—it’s still a good 4 miles away. Vegetation is thick along the Rim Canal side of the dike as you draw closer to the next water structure, with lots of cabbage palms and a handful of cypresses which birds use as a roost. However, the dike is so steep here it’s a tough climb up and down to that area.

The trail sweeps around to the right to come up to the next water structure soon after the MP 53 (Milepost 53 east, painted on the pavement) mark. This is Nubbin Slough, the “fishingest place on the dike.” It never fails to amaze me how many anglers pack into this cove outside the water control structure, both in their boats and on the shoreline. Perhaps it has something to do with stunned fish coming out of the spillway. After you pass through the S-191 water control structure at 3.7 miles, you’ll see a sheltered bench with an FNST symbol down to the right, and will cross over the road to the big parking lot that serves as fishing access and trailhead. Duck through the pass-throughs of the gates to cross this road. The next visible landmark in the distance is the water tower at Taylor Creek, and beyond that, a cell tower at Okeechobee. Watch the marshes carefully along this section, as wading birds are especially active here. You’ll see the Nubbin Slough campsite – a fire ring and sheltered bench with picnic table – down by the lakeshore. It’s a pretty place for a primitive campsite and downslope enough to avoid traffic noise. Filter water from the lake.

Over the many years that I’ve hiked this piece of the trail, this is where the bird life is at its finest. I’ve photographed sandhill cranes in pairs atop the dike, and watched caracara in a mating dance in an open pasture between the RV parks that now crowd the Rim Canal. By 4.9 miles, the trail makes a jog to pass over a water control structure across from Butch’s Fish Camp. You can see the shoreline of the lake receding in the far distance, around the Indian Prairie area—the next day’s hike on the Big O. The park across the Rim Canal, with its colorful playground equipment, is a place we’ve seen caracara roosting in the cypress trees. Although more marshes rim the lake, there is plenty of open water to behold as you approach the northernmost shores of Lake Okeechobee.

At 5.3 miles, a stand-out group of townhomes in a palette of vibrant, artistically-inspired colors reflect in the deep blue of the Rim Canal. Having watched them built, I’ve always been amused at how the birds have taken full possession of the docks, leaving their white-splotched calling cards. The next mile marker 55, is painted on the pavement ahead, the water tower and Taylor Creek lock now in clear view. Drawing closer to highway noise, you may notice some cattle grazing around 5.8 miles, across from the sheltered bench, and Brewski’s Restaurant on the far shore. Yes, you’re approaching “civilization.” The rest of the walk is squarely within the commercial zone of Okeechobee and Taylor Creek, but no worries – you can keep your attention fixed on the beauty of the lake and ignore the clutter along the Rim Canal.

The dike is curving to the right as it approaches the Taylor Creek lock. You’ll leave the dike here – note the double-orange blaze on a utility pole, one of the few blazes you’ll see anywhere around the lake – and cross the yellow-rimmed bridge to walk past a boat ramp and parking area and a line of old but refurbished cabins that once served as homes for workers constructing the Herbert Hoover Dike. Following the creek, scramble up the berm to US 441 and turn left, walking very carefully along the edge of the Taylor Creek Bridge – be very aware of traffic – to cross the creek. Once you’re on the other side, turn left and walk down through the Taylor Creek RV Park on their road. The managers are quite nice—stop in at the office to see their pet squirrel, pick up a cold drink and a snack, and ask to use their restrooms.

Continue through the RV park to cross another bridge and return to the dike on the north side of the Taylor Creek lock. The next sheltered bench, at 7.2 miles, is surrounded by a patch of very compact and colorful wildflowers. Sit and savor the sweeping view of the lake and the butterflies and bees buzzing through the flowers. Anglers are tucked into small coves amid the tall grasses of the marshes. Be attentive to bird life—we’ve spotted bald eagles among the cypress trees here.

The last sheltered bench is at 8.2 miles, and you can see right down the trail to the Parrott Avenue wayside park at this point. The massive parking area serves the big pier (which used to be much more of a draw for fishing when the lake waters were higher), the boat ramp, and the trail. It doesn’t take long to clear the last half-mile when you see the end in sight. If your car is parked down in the parking area, turn left when you reach the access road and walk down the slope to the big sandy parking area. If, like us, you’re doing the Big O Hike—surprise! You have another 0.7 mile to walk north up along US 441 and into the Okeechobee KOA to get back to camp.

Mileage

0.0 Henry Creek trailhead, Upthegrove Beach
0.1 S-136 water structure at Henry Creek
1.0 sheltered bench
2.2 sheltered bench
3.7 S-191 water structure at Nubbin Slough
3.8 Nubbin Slough trailhead parking
4.3 Nubbin Slough campsite
5.8 sheltered bench
6.0 Taylor Creek lock
6.2 parking area at public boat ramp
6.6 Taylor Creek RV Park office
7.2 sheltered bench
8.2 sheltered bench
8.7 Parrott Ave trailhead, Okeechobee

Trail Map

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