Nine days, 109 miles: that’s the circuit around Lake Okeechobee to complete a walk along the Florida Trail around the second largest lake inside the United States. Held by the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, the Big O Hike has drawn more than a thousand participants to the shores of Lake Okeechobee to experience a walk with expansive views across the lake and its marshes. It is Florida’s longest-running annual hike.
2016 will be the 25th Anniversary of the Big O Hike, and although only half of the trail is accessible due to the Army Corps of Engineers rebuilding portions of the dike, this annual gathering still goes on as a place to camp, hike, bike, and spend a week outdoors along the vastness of Lake Okeechobee.
The hike will once again be held during Thanksgiving Week in 2016. Join us there!
How it Works
For 6 to 9 days (depending on the upcoming schedule), hikers gather each morning to shuttle to a drop-off point and walk from 7 to 14 miles per day on the Florida Trail. That’s the traditional Big O. For some of us who’ve hiked around Lake Okeechobee numerous times, there are plenty of alternatives to the daily routine. Self-shuttle with your friends and do shorter or longer miles. Bring a bicycle and ride the paved sections around the lake. Hike on other nearby trails, like the Rafael Sanchez Trail and the Taylor Creek STA.
Camping and afternoon activities are typically centered at the KOA campground in Okeechobee, with campsite assignments and group rates coordinated by the Loxahatchee chapter. Tents, campers, and RVs are welcome. Not a camper? There are plenty of motel and hotel options nearby.
Part of the camaraderie of the hike comes from going out to dinner with friends every evening, relaxing at the hot tub, enjoying the pool, and kicking back at the daily happy hour. You’ll make lots of new friends. In fact, the Big O Hike is where we met! And we’re not the only couple who ended up getting married after walking along Lake Okeechobee together.
What’s it like to hike the Big O?
2015 Big O Hike articles
- Okeechobee Wind - Atop the Herbert Hoover Dike, looming nearly forty feet above Lake Okeechobee, you expect wind - headwinds and tailwinds - as you hike the Florida Trail. A shallow basin of 730 square miles, the lake plays with the weather.
- Okeechobee’s Last Wild Shore - Hiking Lake Okeechobee's ancient shoreline is a surprise and a delight. The trail bobs. It weaves. It curves around naturally scoured waterways, and tunnels deeply through a tropical understory.
2013 Big O Hike journal
- Hiking the Big O: Fellowship of the Key Rings - This guest post is courtesy of Cathy Coale, who hiked the Big O Hike in 2012. Here’s hoping you can join us in 2013 … see the details! “You are gonna get blisters,” a veteran hiker told us, “Everyone does.” I remember hearing his words standing in the small town of Pahokee, Florida, my heart […]
- The Big O, Differently - After a dozen years of attending bits and pieces and often the whole thing, the Big O Hike had become a welcome routine, a time to gather with friends. This year was very different. Being in charge meant having to worry about both the big picture and the details. And worry was the operative word. […]
2012 Big O Hike journal
- Notes from a small space - We’ve spent the past half hour arranging the insides of our tiny TravLite camper, an early 80s vintage popup that’s a step up from a tent on wheels – with headroom. The floor is perhaps 4×6′ but we can stand up in it and enjoy cushioned seats, a table, and a bed. The entire interior […]
- Aloft - It isn’t rare for winds to streak across the surface of Lake Okeechobee, picking up speed as they travel, flowing across the dikes like waves. But some mornings are windier than others, and this was one of them. Clouds blanketed our views of the starry night as dawn grew close, bringing a sunrise with no […]
- Redirection - Our Big O Hike came to a grinding halt early, and not for want of walking. With clear skies above and one of John’s old friends joining us, I was looking forward to a stroll through Indian Prairie. Life intervened. I’d had some mild tooth pains before I’d seen the dentist two weeks ago but […]
- Coping with Lake Okeechobee Florida Trail closures - For thru-hikers in 2012-2013, closures around Lake Okeechobee along the Florida Trail have made logistics quite a challenge. The Army Corps of Engineers has contractors working along several large segments of the dike, continuing to make it impossible to “do the loop” of 110 miles around Lake Okeechobee without a dangerous amount of roadwalks. More […]
- Seminole Reflections - “There, in the bushes. Over there!” John pointed off to the left. We were slowly – as one does, to avoid speeding tickets – making our way up the road through Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, having left Billie Swamp Safari about ten minutes before. On a mission to update services information for the new Florida […]
2011 Big O Hike journal
- Big O: Pounding Pavement in Pahokee - Last night at our well-attended prep meeting for today’s hike, I finally got the answer I’d been waiting for: where the heck are we hiking? Not the dike, after all. In 2004, we saw the horrific effects of that summer’s foursome of hurricanes on this tiny western outpost of Palm Beach County. In 2006, the […]
- Big O: Sweep of Blue - A roar like a jet engine split the quiet of the campground at 4:30 am – seems someone’s air mattress deflated in the night. Two hours later, a carload of hikers are tumbling out of my vehicle atop the dike at Port Mayaca to greet the dawn. For many, it was their first real glimpse […]
- Big O: 3x3x3 - Day 3 of the Big O Hike has been 3-squared for the past nine years. Three 3 mile segments (roughly) broken up by access points to the dike. Pulling towards Taylor Creek – location of the Battle of Okeechobee, the creek named for Zachary Taylor, hunter of Seminoles and later President of the United States, […]
- Big O: Braising Cane - A rhythm seeps into my stride atop the dike between Nicodemus Slough and Moore Haven. It’s Day 6 of the Big O Hike, and no longer sidetracked by work, I’m walking alone in the spaces between hikers slower and faster than me. But I’m not entirely alone. I’m chatting with Steve, who ran the hike […]
- Big O: Okeechobee - It’s a tradition at our annual Thanksgiving Day dinner to share a little talent with our fellow hikers. I hereby bring you a poem I wrote – and I don’t write them often – commemorating the hike and our friends who’ve gone before us. Okeechobee Mi-yam-i of the Calusa Pay-hay-okee of the Seminole Big Water […]
- Big O: Turtle Time - In the parlance of the Big O Hike, now in its 20th year, we have a name for those who walk in the opposite direction from the rest of us – rabbits. These folks are our speedy guys and the key to our shuttle success, as they walk contrary – and faster – than the […]
- Big O: Everglades, Interrupted - Where the sunrise is best on Lake Okeechobee, the sun”s rays are directly in our faces. Southbound from Clewiston we stride on paved surface, rhythmic footfalls in tandem with hiking partners. It’s a windy, cloudy morning as the curtain rises over vast marshes with a ribbon of blue beyond, the sweep of open water defining […]
- Big O: Out of Time - I was sitting at lunch the other day with Wagonmaster Mike Nomad, discussing a theory I’ve had for years: the timelessness of our annual event. Over the past 9 years, I’ve only been able to be there for the whole event 4 times. Each time, it’s been an immersion into a different world. “Time dilation,” […]
- Big O: Friends Along the Way - It’s hard to believe that the 20th Annual Big O Hike is over, that just 48 hours ago friends dispersed from the campground back to their everyday lives. I’m finding it a little hard to make the adjustment. One aspect of this hike that makes it stand out from all other hiking events is the […]
2007 Big O Hike journal
- Saga of the Big O Hike - Nine days of walking around Lake Okeechobee is a unique experience that can change your life. Learn what it feels like to join the Big O Hike in this day-by-day journey.