One of my favorite sections of the Florida Trail around Lake Okeechobee, the walk from Alvin Ward Park in Moore Haven to Clewiston Park offers up the best sunrises to be found anywhere along the lake. Views are broad and sweeping the entire way: marshes giving way to lake to the left, and vast tracts of sugar cane to the right.
In late 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers started rebuilding the dike between Alvin Ward Park and Liberty Point, so it’s not presently possible to walk the first 6.5 miles described here at all. That may change later in the season. As an alternative, day hikers can start at Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp and walk the 5.4 miles to Clewiston. If you are section hiking or thru-hiking this portion of the Florida Trail, directions and a map on how to get around the closed area via a roadwalk are available here.
Location: Moore Haven / Clewiston
Length: 11.9 miles
Lat-Long: 26.83847,-81.081465 (Alvin Ward Park), 26.812064,-80.985764 (Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp), 26.762453,-80.922979 (Levee Park)
Fees / Permits: free
Difficulty: easy (paved)
Bug factor: moderate to high
Restroom: at Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp and Clewiston Park
To Alvin Ward Park: From US 27 in Moore Haven, cross the Caloosahatchee River bridge and turn left on Daniels Rd at the base of the bridge. Take the first left for the road back to the Moore Haven lock, which passes the lock and ends up at Alvin Ward Park.
To Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp: From US 27 in Clewiston, drive north. Turn right at the KOA Clewiston and follow CR 720 to Griffin Rd. Turn right on Griffin Rd and follow it to where it ends at Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp. From US 27 in Moore Haven, drive south. Turn left at CR 720 at the big “Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp” sign and follow the road back to Griffin Rd. Turn left and follow Griffin Rd into the fish camp.
To Clewiston Park: From US 27 in Clewiston, follow Franscisco Street past Roland Martin’s Marina & Resort and make a left onto Hoover Dike Rd just past the resort. It ends up in Clewiston Park. Park near the restrooms.
* NOTE * This first portion of the hike is not presently open due to construction. If you are backpacking, see this blog post for an alternate roadwalk route
Leaving Alvin Ward Park, the paved trail follows a long, long straightway. Around 0.6 mile, you finally pass a distinguishable feature, a small cypress stand along the edge of the Rim Canal, which parallels the dike on your left. Hiking at daybreak means the hum of fishing boats up and down the canal.
A slender agricultural canal parallels the dike on your right, separating the dike from the sugar cane fields as the trail begins a new sweeping curve to the right. A noisy old water control structure, entirely made of brick, is off to the right at 1.3 miles. Where the water flow passes beneath, a stretch of railing can be used as a bench. Beyond it, the dike curves to the left, a long, slow, curve. This is where you’ll catch the best sunrises on the Herbert Hoover Dike, with twinkling reflections in the canals on either side of the dike.
After 2.5 miles, you’ll see a covered bench down along the edge of the Rim Canal, overlooking a scrubby prairie that stretches out to the horizon. Beyond the canal, you rarely see a hint of water amid the western marshes of Lake Okeechobee unless the lake levels are very high. Up ahead, the trail starts a lengthy straightaway. You see tall royal palms swaying in the distance on the right atop a remnant of what was once a tree island in the vast swirl of sawgrass of the Everglades. The homes of farm workers hug close to this island in the sugar cane.
You can now see the dike make a slight bend to the right. Up ahead is a pump house that just juts out into the agriculture canal. At 3 miles you pass it, at the end of a perpendicular canal. As the fields are being harvested (or planted) you can hear the crunch of the tractors. Before the next curve, you see another covered bench on the left, a substantial four-post shelter. Off to the right, a processing plant is in the distance. For years, I’d thought this was a sugar cane facility but on the Sugarland Tour, I had a chance to tour it: it’s an orange juice processing plant.
By 3.8 miles the dike starts curving left, although you can see it curving right in the distance. Where you are headed is actually over your right shoulder at the moment, and straight ahead is a line of melalucea, persisting on private property, defining the periphery of the panorama around you. If you check a map (or drive down US 27), it’s obvious that this sweep of trail, following the dike, takes the shortest route possible between Moore Haven and Clewiston. Between the distant edge of vision and here is Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp, on the curve at Liberty Point. This is an immense sweep of landscape for a panoramic view from any trail in Florida. You can look off to the right and see the water control structure beyond the Liberty Point campsite and know it’s still nearly five miles away.
As you approach a very old water control structure, the C-1A, and one of the original covered benches along the dike, you’ve walked 4.9 miles. A long canal stretches off to the right from the C-1A, with a dirt road for tractors and trucks paralleling it. The dike bumps out into the lake basin a little as it continues curving to the right. There is a cluster of cabbage palms at the base of the dike, a place that could serve as a campsite in a pinch.
By 6 miles, the cabins of Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp are shaping up into view, down below on the right. Established just after the end of World War II, this is one of the most popular fish camps along the entire lake and well worth a visit. The cabins themselves are a bit of recycled history, having been purchased from Riddle Field in Clewiston right after the war and moved here to start the camp. British airmen trained in Clewiston during the war, and the folks at Uncle Joe’s say that some of those veterans had returned to camp out in the cabins and relive their memories.
** NOTE: Day hikers must currently start/end at Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp on this section. Do stop in the store and ask permission of the friendly folks before you leave your car parked here.
You reach the road access to the fish camp and boat ramp at 6.4 miles, a busy put-in for airboaters. Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp is a must-stop for hikers, between the restrooms and the little store with coffee and cold drinks, candy, and sometimes even ice cream or other snacks. Want a cold one? Beer’s in the fridge. You can camp on the property – tent camping or RV – or rent a cabin or a motel room. Follow the guardrail down the dike to the camp.
As you return back up the ramp, leaving Uncle Joe’s, you pass by docks right on the Rim Canal. Folks can put in their boats at the boat ramp and keep them here a while while they are duck hunting and bass fishing.
At 7.3 miles you pass by the Liberty Point campsite perched on the inner agricultural canal, overlooking the sugar cane fields. A trio of cabbage palms marks the location of a sheltered picnic table and fire ring for backpackers. A low ridge runs through the cane fields near the S-4 water control structure, where you’ll find a tap for water and a welcome shadow cast on the ground to huddle in out of the sun for a break. A ghost forest of dead melaleuca stands off to the right.
The trail starts another long straightaway stretching to the right, passing the next covered bench at 9.4 miles. This part of the dike tends to be very windy, as the marshes are finally receding and the wind picks up across the sparkle of the lake along the horizon. The occasional cypress tree rises from the near marshes, reminders of a shoreline lost to the re-engineering of the lake between the 1930s and 1960s. It is now marshy on the right, as well, at the base of the poisoned invasive melaleuca. Look down into the marsh, and you’ll see alligator trails through the dark water weeds. A line of white pelicans soars overhead as they follow the Rim Canal.
Coming up to a gate on the dike at 11.6 miles, turn around for a moment. You can see a canal outlining the edge of residental Clewiston, hidden somewhat by the dead melaleuca. Along this canal – which was once the location of the original shoreline – are the grand old homes first built in the “Sweetest Town in America” in the 1920s and 1930s on what used to be lakefront property.
Passing around the gate, you can now see Clewiston Park right up ahead, with picnic shelters and parking down by the water on the left and a large boat parking area on the right, just beyond the canal. Piers demarcate where the park begins. Look off to the far left and you’ll see channel markers leading out from the Clewiston Lock to the wide open waters of Lake Okeechobee. Don’t be surprised to see enormous alligators sunning themselves along the base of the dike on the right.
As you come up to a road that ascends the dike, you’ve reached the end of this section. Walk down the road to the right, towards the restroom area, to complete your hike.
If you’re backpacking and continuing on south along the Florida Trail, you’ll follow the road out of the park to make a left on Francisco Street (which I believe will be renamed “Big O Avenue” sometime in the near future, according to a news story this fall). Walking along it you’ll pass Roland Martin’s Marina and Resort (only tiki bar in the area, and a motel) and several eateries on the right before you reach US 27. Turn left at US 27 and follow it south to cross the canal on the highway bridge. Make a left at the Jolly Roger Marina to follow San Diego Street back through the Army Corps of Engineers complex to return to the dike. The roadwalk (to get around the Clewiston Lock) between these two points on the dike is 1.5 miles.
NOTE: The Clewiston to South Bay section of the Florida Trail is presently closed on weekdays due to random work atop the dike by the Corps.
Thanks to Bryce Layman for transcribing these hike details from my audio files. He blogs about lightweight backpacking at litepacker.blogspot.com.