Walking atop a 35-foot-tall dike built to hem in the waters of the second largest lake entirely within the United States, you cultivate a sense of perspective. To one side, the lake – or its marshy rim – shimmers off into the distance. To the other, Big Agriculture, in the form of vast sugar cane fields and cattle ranches. Little remains of the natural, except in small pockets: the pond apple thicket in Pelican Bay near Rardin Park; the rocky shoreline of the lake, topped with ancient cypresses and tropical trees, on the opposite side of US 441; the rugged tangle of vegetation in the Fisheating Creek floodplain.
For a thru-hiker or section hiker, the western side of Lake Okeechobee is optimal if you prefer a quieter, more scenic walk with more frequent places to camp. The eastern side has access to more small communities and less campsites but more campgrounds. It’s less than a half mile difference to choose either side of the lake.
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There are many closures along the Herbert Hoover Dike due to ongoing rebuilding of the dike by the Army Corps of Engineers. See their map for current closures. Thru-hikers and section hikers use alternative roadwalks on paralleling roads to get around the closed segments, which change on a regular basis.
Most of the dike is now paved, a project that started in 2003 ago to facilitate ease of use for cyclists. The asphalt surface is tough on feet, especially if you’re carrying a pack. The section between Harney Pond Canal and the Kissimmee River remains blissfully pavement-free, and is one of the most remote portions of the trail, highly recommended for an out-and-back backpacking trip from Harney Pond Canal north to Indian Prairie or Buckhead Ridge campsites, depending on your stamina and time. Designated campsites provide a covered picnic table, a couple of trees where you can string a hammock, and flat spots for camping.
Water in all canals along this route has agricultural runoff and pesticides in it. The lake itself is suffering from extreme levels of toxic algae and bacteria from agricultural dumping. Wherever possible, make use of potable water sources and non-potable tap water at the locks.
Never camp on top of the levee. Trucks drive down it at all hours. Use the designated campsites, or camp at the base of the levee.
Alligators are common in the canals and all throughout the lake. Some are quite huge. 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.
Clewiston and Okeechobee are the most fruitful town stops for getting things done, since they have a broad variety of services and accommodations. Minor resupply is also a short walk from the trail in Moore Haven, Pahokee, and Lakeport.
Along the north shoreline of Lake Okeechobee, this paved segment of the Florida Trail is one of its prettiest, with 8.7 miles of hiking from Henry Creek to Parrott Ave.
On the 11.9 mile stretch of the Florida Trail between Moore Haven and Clewiston, sunrises are spectacular and panoramic views stretch on for miles.
Florida Trail Videos (Okeechobee)
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.