One of the more beautiful and difficult backpacking routes in South Florida, the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail is a surprising introduction to wild spaces that you wouldn’t expect to still exist on this heavily populated coast of Florida.
Created and maintained by the Loxahatchee chapter of the Florida Trail Association as a spur trail off the Florida Trail, it is routed through the North Everglades Natural Area, a ribbon of public lands between Lake Okeechobee and Hobe Sound Beach.
As you’re hiking through the wilds of DuPuis Reserve, Corbett WMA, Loxahatchee Slough, and the backcountry of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, it’s hard to imagine over a million people live in the West Palm Beach metro nearby.
The trail touches a few residential areas between its wild spaces, including down the sidewalks of downtown Hobe Sound and behind homes in Jupiter Farms.
But the vast open pine flatwoods, haunting cypress swamps, and open prairies that hikers immerse in – literally, as the hike can be like a mini-Big Cypress in sections – makes this a compelling destination for backpackers.
As a friend has pointed out, the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail is a fractal of the entire Florida Trail, a microcosm that captures every habitat you otherwise experience along an end-to-end hike of 1,100 miles.
As such, it’s an excellent place to try out backpacking in Florida before setting off to do longer segments of the Florida Trail.
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Random camping is not permitted. Designated campsites must be used. Make sure you have your permits in order prior to tackling this section as a backpacking trip.
Free permits are required from several different agencies for camping (South Florida Water Management District, Palm Beach ERM, Jonathan Dickinson State Park).
There is a small fee for camping at Jonathan Dickinson State Park and it must be paid in advance, along with a park entrance fee.
Day hiking requires no permits, but fees apply for day hikers at Corbett WMA and at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
Leave your pets at home. Dogs are not permitted on most of these public lands, nor are they advisable companions, given the swamps you’ll be wading through.
Alligators are common in the canals and ponds along the route.
Water sources along this section are primarily ponds, swamps, and canals. Canals do carry agricultural runoff.
Alligators are common in the canals. If you do need to filter water, don’t do so at dawn or dusk, when you might be mistaken for a deer.
Avoid filtering water near culverts as well, since alligators often den inside them. There has been a known alligator in the culvert at Big Gopher Canal.
Deer hunting is the big deal here, especially in Corbett where swamp buggies are permitted. Backpackers may wish to stay away during the deer hunts, given the noise of these large machines in the night.
Swamp buggies are off-road vehicles designed for swamp exploring, oversized trucks with huge wheels that help them to maintain traction in mud and water. Expect deep standing water in their ruts.
Pack prepared for the full trip. Minor resupply is just off the trail at Indiantown Road, along with a hardware store and a few restaurants. More restaurants await in Hobe Sound.
PARKING & SHUTTLE
If you are backpacking, it’s best to have a friend shuttle you. The NENA trailhead is not secure, and a car left overnight at Hobe Sound Beach might be towed. The only secure parking along the route is inside Jonathan Dickinson State Park for a nightly fee. You’ll need to arrange for that in advance.
If you need assistance with a shuttle, join the Florida Trail Hikers Facebook group and ask for assistance. There are a number of volunteers in the area who can help. Be sure to compensate them for their gas and time.
The connector section along the canal in Jupiter Farms runs behind a neighborhood with access to the trail.
The roadwalk from Jonathan Dickinson State Park to Hobe Sound includes crossing US 1 and walking along A1A to the sidewalks of Hobe Sound. Be aware of your surroundings. Cars don’t expect hikers.
Important landmarks starting with mile 0 at NENA trailhead to mile 61 at Hobe Sound Beach.
Hike from Lake Okeechobee to Hobe Sound Beach for best logistics. You can Uber/Lyft or call a cab from Hobe Sound to an airport, bus station, or your parked car.
0.0 – NENA trailhead
8.7 – Loop 4 campsite
14.4 – Powerline campsite
18.6 – Little Gopher campsite
24.6 – Bowman Island campsite
30.3 – Hungryland trailhead (0.2W)
42.0 – Lucky Hammock campsite
45.4 – Riverbend Park (0.4W)
52.5 – Kitching Creek campsite $
53.2 – Kitching Creek trailhead (2.0E) $
55.9 – Scrub Jay campsite $
58.3 – Camp Murphy trailhead (2.4E) $
61.0 – Hobe Sound Beach
Guthook Guides Comprehensive logistics and offline maps for the Florida National Scenic Trail.
We have not yet written up all of the segments of the Florida Trail along Lake Okeechobee for our website, although details about all of them can be found in our guidebook and app.
Each of the segments below describe a piece of the hike, noting landmarks, water, and campsites along the way. This is the order they are in from Lake Okeechobee to Hobe Sound.
Florida Trail Connections
This section of the Florida Trail connects to the Ocean-to-Lake section.
How to order a copy of The Florida Trail: Florida’s National Scenic Trail, our limited edition full-color coffee table book that tells the comprehensive story of the first 50 years of routing, building, maintaining, and enjoying our statewide National Scenic Trail.
Don’t miss this expert planning advice for the OTL from James “Jupiter Hikes” Hoher, who has backpacked the OTL more times than anyone else we know.