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.
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.
Hike from Lake Okeechobee to Hobe Sound Beach for better ease of completion of the hike. You can Uber/Lyft or call a cab from there to an airport, bus station, or your parked car. 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 will likely 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.
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. 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.
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.
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons in Corbett WMA and DuPuis WMA. Check the FWC website for hunting season dates. 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.
Make sure you have your permits in order prior to tackling this hike. Free permits are required from several different agencies for camping (South Florida Water Management District, Palm Beach ERM, Jonathan Dickinson State Park). Random camping is not permitted. There is a small fee for camping at Jonathan Dickinson State Park and it must be paid in advance, along with your park entrance fee. Day hiking requires no permits, but fees apply for day hikers at Corbett WMA and at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
On this 12.1 miles of the Florida Trail from Corbett WMA to the Lucky Tract campsite, immerse in the full diversity of habitats you’ll find in Palm Beach County
A hike of extreme contrast, this 10.5 mile segment of the Florida Trail between Lucky Tract and Kitching Creek in Jupiter provides an interesting backpacking trip.
With 11.7 miles of linear hiking in a vast watery wilderness – like Big Cypress and the Everglades – you’d hardly believe this Florida Trail section at Corbett WMA is in Palm Beach County
On this western end of the Ocean-to-Lake section of the Florida Trail, the trail leads you to the heart of DuPuis Reserve, zigzagging through pine forests and cypress domes
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.