While a long stretch to follow on pavement, the 14 miles of the Florida Trail between Port Mayaca to Henry Creek offers panoramas of both Lake Okeechobee and of the ancient natural shoreline of the lake to the east.
Dense with giant cypresses and tropical trees, the Lake Okeechobee Ridge is a defining feature that you can see in the distance as you walk along this section of the trail.
The first five miles of it are protected and have a trail running through it, leaving from the very same trailhead as this hike.
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Length: 14 miles
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 J&S Fish Camp about leaving your car there and offer to pay to do so. Tell them you’re hiking the Big O.
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 northern trailhead for this hike is at Henry Creek, 8.4 miles south along US 441 from the intersection of US 441 and SR 78 in Okeechobee. A large sign marks the turnoff.
For the starting point, continue south along US 441 for nearly 14 miles to reach the turnoff for Port Mayaca Recreation Area just before the tall bridge over the St. Lucie Canal. Park near the trailhead kiosk along the canal.
The intermediate access point is between the two at Chauncey Bay, marked with a brown sign along US 441 just before you get to J&S Fish Camp.
It’s a short walk from the parking area to the gate that bars vehicles from the top of the Herbert Hoover Dike, with a pass-through on either side.
Off to the right, that tall line of ancient cypresses beyond the Rim Canal marks the original shoreline of Lake Okeechobee, the Okeechobee Ridge, a rock ridge that once formed the natural eastern edge of the lake.
Along the dike, you’re treated to a panorama of the grassy waters, where individual blades of grass jut from the expanse of blue, depending on water levels.
There is a transition from agricultural to residential and back again along the Rim Canal, with scattered houses, often on stilts.
An aluminum-roofed spot of shade covering a wooden seat appears not far past MP 37, or Milepost 37 east, a large number painted on the pavement, 3.6 miles into your hike.
Another bench appears soon after MP 41. In between, you’re treated to a constant parade of bird life along the shoreline and in the Rim Canal, with a few anglers thrown in for good measure.
After 7.3 miles, you reach the S-135 Chauncey Bay Pumping Station and lock. It’s one of the busier locks, where boaters wait in line to be lifted from the lake up to the Rim Canal.
A spot of shade and a guardrail to sit on await just over the lock. Just past the lock is the ramp down to the Chauncey Bay trailhead, with J&S Fish Camp less than a mile from here. They have cold drinks and cabins for rent.
The Chauncey Bay designated campsite sits just to the north of this lock on the lakeshore side. It’s in a very pretty setting, with tall grasses waving in the breeze.
As the dike curves away around the breadth of Chauncey Bay, the lake recedes into the distance, for the bay is so shallow it is thick with marshes.
Reaching the next shaded bench at 8.7 miles, the trail curves noticeably to the left around the bay. The lake is a ribbon of blue in the far distance.
Behind the Rim Canal, mounds of vegetation obscure the roofs of RV parks and fish camps along the waterway.
Close to the 10 mile mark, the next covered bench is a delight to discover. The lake is a nearly indiscernible streak in the distance here.
A cell phone tower looming off to the right lets you know you’ve passed the 11 mile mark, with MP 48E soon thereafter.
The walk is a straight shot for some time, but as it curves again, you can see a blur of white in the distance at the Henry Creek water control structure, which marks the end of this hike.
Once you can see it pretty clearly, you still have nearly two miles to go.
Palms cluster along the Rim Canal, while the marshes that make up Chauncey Bay continue to fill the lake shallows.
Just before you reach the G-36 water control structure at the Henry Creek lock, a paved path veers off to the right and downhill.
Follow it to leave the dike and proceed down to the bridge crossing over to the parking area to wrap up this 14 mile hike.
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Snaking through an oh-so-slender slice of the rocky Okeechobee Ridge, the relict shoreline of Lake Okeechobee, the Rafael Sanchez Trail stays in deep shade for its 5.7 mile traverse of this skinny stretch of forest.
Learn about the Annual Big O Hike around Lake Okeechobee.