Arcing northward along the shoreline of Lake Okeechobee, this paved segment of the Florida Trail offers spectacular sweeping views of the open water and nearshore marshes 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 Lakefront Park.
Along with dike reconstruction, an ongoing closure at Taylor Creek has made it impossible to continue north from Nubbin Slough for several years. You may need to break this hike into two pieces to complete it.
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Length: 8.6 miles
Trailhead: 27.163076, -80.716079
Fees / Permits: none
Restroom: At Lakefront Park, Okeechobee
Land Manager: Army Corps of Engineers
Just like all other segments of the Florida Trail around Lake Okeechobee, there is no shade save at the covered benches provided. The entire section is paved.
It’s best not to leave cars at the trailheads overnight. If you’re backpacking, inquire at the Okeechobee KOA about leaving your car there and offer to pay to do so. Tell them you’re hiking the Big O. They offer a camping discount to all Florida Trail hikers on both campsites and cabins.
Due to dangerous bacterial growth in the lake in recent years, backpackers should obtain water from potable sources at trailheads or from taps on water control structures and locks.
The southern trailhead for this hike is at Henry Creek, 8.4 miles south along US 441 from the intersection of US 441 and SR 78 in Okeechobee. A large sign marks the turnoff.
The northern trailhead is Lake Okeechobee Recreation Area in Okeechobee, recently renamed Cliff J. Betts Recreation Area. The access road to it goes up and over the dike across from the gas station at the intersection of US 441 and SR 78 in Okeechobee.
The intermediate access point is Nubbin Slough, along US 441 roughly halfway between the two. It’s a prominent recreation area with a large sign.
As we’ve learned over the many years we’ve hiked this piece of trail as a part of the annual Big O Hike, it can be easily broken into three parts.
Henry Creek to Nubbin Slough
Leaving the parking area, cross the bridge and ascend to the dike. Turn right to walk through the S-136 water control structure, and say hi to the lock tender.
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 sheltered benches of any trail segment around the lake.
By 1.5 miles, the long straightaway you’ve been following starts curving to the left. Off to the right, across the Rim Canal, is a rookery of cattle egrets that start to rise with dawn.
It takes a quarter-mile to 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, which has services along US 441 that you can’t reach from here.
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.
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.”
Backpackers should get water at the spigot on the S-191 for the upcoming campsite. You’ll need to treat it.
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. Check to see if a notice is posted at road crossing about a closure ahead.
Taylor Creek Closure Options
If the trail is closed north of this point, which it has been for years, your choices are to roadwalk around it – a 2.5 mile walk along US 441 with high-speed traffic and no bike lane, not especially recommended – or jump over it.
The jump would be to the Fish & Wildlife office parking area on the north side of Taylor Creek. Plan to get dropped off there or leave your car for just the hour or so it takes to finish this section. Otherwise walk down to Taylor Creek and back from Lakefront Park.
Nubbin Slough to Taylor Creek
If the section to Taylor Creek is open again, 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. This is where the bird life is at its finest on the Rim Canal side, too, with caracara and sandhill cranes frequently spotted.
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.
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, more than 20 miles away.
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.
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 a 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 curves to the right as it approaches the Taylor Creek lock. You’ll leave the dike here and cross the yellow-rimmed bridge to walk past a boat ramp and through a fish camp.
Following the creek, scramble up the berm to US 441 and turn left, walking 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 the access road to the dike, passing the Fish & Wildlife office just before the bridge that leads over to the dike.
Taylor Creek to Okeechobee
Climb up the hill 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 tuck into small coves amid the tall grasses of the marshes. We’ve spotted bald eagles among the cypress trees here.
The last sheltered bench is at 8.2 miles. You can see right down the trail to Betts Recreation Area. Around the pier, it’s been landscaped and a restroom with water added.
It doesn’t take long to clear the last half-mile of hiking when you see the end in sight. Wrap up your 8.6 mile hike at Lakefront Park, enjoying the view across Lake Okeechobee’s shimmering expanse.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Okeechobee to Okee-tantie
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Port Mayaca to Henry Creek
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Encompassing the ancient shoreline of Taylor Creek and man-made marshes, this wetlands park is a gem for birding and wildlife watching just north of Okeechobee.
Learn about the Big O Hike around Lake Okeechobee.