Held by the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association annually, 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 was the 25th Anniversary of the Big O Hike. 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 this year. Details are always posted on the FTA Loxahatchee Chapter website a few months in advance.
How it Works
For 6 to 9 days (depending on the 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?
Read our articles from our many years of attending the Big O Hike. Sandra joined the hike for the first time in 2002 and managed to loop the lake on the Florida Trail three times before it was no longer possible to do so due to closures. John showed up for his first hike in 2011 and finished the loop the next year. One of the most delightful parts of attending the Big O Hike is removing yourself from your everyday routine to spend day after day walking, and afternoons and evenings relaxing with friends.
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 these three sets of journals to the day-by-day journey.
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.
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.
Our first outing with Primrose this hiking season was a trip to the Big O Hike. It rained, of course, in both directions to and from Okeechobee. But we had a splendid road trip in our VW camper.
It’s been a year since we purchased Primrose, our 1982 VW Vanagon. Here’s a recap of where we’ve been and what we’ve seen.
After a dozen years of attending, 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.
“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 wildly beating, waiting for the hike to begin.
Returning to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation for the first time in a decade, I remember my visits of the past and celebrate the present with John with a panther sighting.
When a sudden dental problem threw our hiking plans awry, we kicked into research mode and went wandering around Lake Okeechobee in search of information for our new guidebook.
A moment of Deja vu: discovering a scene that Bart Smith had captured in Along the Florida Trail at the 4Es trailhead.
It isn’t rare for winds to streak across the surface of Lake Okeechobee, picking up speed as they travel. But some mornings are windier than others, and this was one of them.
Although we’re writing a Florida Trail hiking guide, we decided to come to the Big O Hike since we met here last year, and it’s time to try out the new TravLite!
What makes the Big O Hike stand out from all other hiking events is the friendships that you make – good, deep friendships born out of traveling together at a walking pace for nine days around Lake Okeechobee.
Breaking away from the everyday for nine days to immerse yourself in the goal of walking around Lake Okeechobee brings on a certain sense of calm, a time out of the normal pace of time, despite time framing each day.
When you’re traveling at the speed of feet, it’s easy to spend hours reflecting on the Everglades that once was, the vast wilds erased by the agro-industrial complex that brought sugar cane to Lake Okeechobee.
In hiking and in life, there are tortoises and hares. On the Big O Hike, the Loxahatchee – “River of the Turtles” – Chapter participants walk at all speeds, but the speediest of our hikers are known as rabbits.
It’s a tradition at the Big O Hike to share your talent at Thanksgiving Day dinner. Mine is a poem commemorating the hike and our friends who’ve gone before us.
As I hike the Florida Trail past Moore Haven, a sugar cane field bursts out in flame after my discussion with my friend Steve, a sign from above that he’s along for the walk.
Okeechobee’s history runs deep. Today’s walk slips past many ghosts, of fish camps and fish canneries, an early Florida toll road and more shoreline where the lake waters once lapped.
At Port Mayaca, the shape of Lake Okeechobee is obvious, even at dawn, the curvature extending off to the horizon line at the only place in Florida with horizon to horizon views.
For the first time since the Big O Hike started in 1992, the Army Corps of Engineers denied our hikers access to the dike. So to kick off the 2011 Big O Hike, it’s a roadwalk through Pahokee.
During the 2007 Big O Hike, Ocala resident Cliff Moody set a new bar for future hikers by walking all the way around Lake Okeechobee at age 90.
The final day of the 2007 Big O Hike sweeps us around the curve of Pelican Bay into Pahokee as the details sink deep into my memories.