One of the shorter paved segments of the Florida Trail, the stretch between Okeechobee and Okee-tantie is also one of its most popular destinations.
It’s partly due to the very easy access from both ends, with Lake Okeechobee / Cliff J. Betts Recreation Area in Okeechobee a big draw for anglers and for folks wanting to take in the panorama of the lake.
But one of the best reasons to walk this arc of trail is for the birds. Over the past two decades, we’ve watched sandhill cranes, great blue herons, and crested caracara performing mating dances along the levee slopes.
We’ve watched bald eagles soar overhead, and limpkins pluck snail shells from the adjoining marshlands. Herons, ibis, and wood storks are frequent visitors too.
Three benches along the route make it an easy one for hikers of all ages and abilities. And since it is paved, you can bicycle it too.
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Length: 3.8 miles
Trailhead: 27.196624, -80.830707
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 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 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 northern trailhead for this hike is a picnic shelter adjoining SR 78 on the south side of the highway, atop the levee. There is only space for a couple of cars to park next to it. Do not park on the paved trail.
If that space is full, use Scott Driver Recreation Area, 4.3 miles west along SR 78 from the intersection of US 441 and SR 78 in Okeechobee. The turn-in to the park is on the right just after you cross the trail atop the levee where it crosses SR 78.
Starting out from the parking area at Lake Okeechobee / Cliff J. Betts Recreation Area, follow the trail behind the restrooms to the top of the levee to reach the Florida Trail. Turn left. You’ll cross the entrance road soon after.
The paved trail stretches out ahead in a gentle curve to the left. While the park itself has extensive parking and picnic spots at the base of the levee along the lake, your view is above that, framed with cabbage palms.
Past the first covered bench that adjoins the trail, Eagle Bay stretches out to the east. It’s an expansive marsh where a tour company takes people on airboat rides.
It is also a great place to watch for wildlife along its edges. Don’t be surprised to see otters and even nutria (coypu), a large non-native South American rodent related to the capybara.
Once the paralleling parking on the lakeshore ends, the birding on the lake side improves immensely, especially after the next covered bench at 1.3 miles.
It’s here we’ve seen the most abundance of wildlife and birds on both sides of the levee, coming and going from the lake to the Eagle Bay marshes and back again.
Past the third bench, the marshes end and a tight cluster of campgrounds and mobile homes is on the opposite side of the canal at the bottom of the levee.
After 3.6 miles, you reach a gate across the trail as the levee starts to curve away from the lake. The picnic shelter adjoining SR 78 is another quarter mile past it.
If you could not park at the picnic shelter, you’ll need to cross SR 78 to get to Scott Driver Recreation Area. Be cautious of high speed traffic coming up and over the levee from both directions.
On a map, Taylor Creek is the physically northernmost point on the lakeshore, but for purposes of the Florida Trail, this road crossing is the northernmost point along the Okeechobee section.
It’s here that hikers have three different directions in which they can go: back to where you started in Okeechobee, southwest around the lake on its western side to Clewiston (staying on the south side of SR 78 to cross the Kissimmee River), or, if following the Florida Trail northbound, north along the Kissimmee River.
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
14.9 miles. Panoramic views across cattle ranches and the channelized Kissimmee River are the highlights of this connector from Lake Okeechobee to natural lands north of Okeechobee
Learn about the Big O Hike around Lake Okeechobee.