112.8 miles. Clewiston, Lakeport, Moore Haven, Okeechobee, Pahokee & South Bay
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Florida Trail, Clewiston to South Bay- One of the most accessible segments of the Big O - paralleling US 27 between Clewiston and South Bay - provides some of the best views of Lake Okeechobee from the dike.
- Florida Trail, Henry Creek to Okeechobee- 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.
- Florida Trail, Moore Haven to Clewiston- 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, Port Mayaca to Henry Creek- One of the segments of the Florida Trail that are paved around Lake Okeechobee, the 13.7-mile walk between Port Mayaca and Henry Creek offers unparalleled vistas of both open water and the marshes
SOUTHBOUND << Seminole NORTHBOUND >> KissimmeeEASTBOUND >> Ocean to Lake
Florida Trail Videos (Okeechobee)
- 3x3x3- Okeechobee's history runs deep. Today's walk slips past many ghosts, of fish camps and fish canneries, an early Florida toll road and more shoreline where the lake waters once lapped.
- A night in Clewiston- When you reach the turnoff to continue north on the Florida Trail around Lake Okeechobee, you don’t quite reach the town of Clewiston. After all the heat and bugs while camping and cooking outdoors, the group decided to enjoy real food and a night in an air-conditioned, bug-free motel room. The owner gave us a […]
- Aloft- It isn't rare for winds to streak across the surface of Lake Okeechobee, picking up speed as they travel. But some mornings are windier than others, and this was one of them.
- Around Okeechobee- Our 2018 update of the state of the Florida Trail around Lake Okeechobee. Thru-hikers should continue to use Okeechobee West as their route around the lake. We provide full details on why.
- Back from the Big O- During the 2007 Big O Hike, Ocala resident Cliff Moody set a new bar for future hikers by walking all the way around Lake Okeechobee at age 90.
- Braising Cane- As I hike the Florida Trail past Moore Haven, a sugar cane field bursts out in flame after my discussion with my friend Steve, a sign from above that he's along for the walk.
- East or West around Lake Okeechobee?- Making the decision to walk the Florida Trail east or west around Lake Okeechobee used to be easy. Now, with construction zones blocking access to much of the southern half of the lake, it isn't. Here are the facts on each route's strengths and weaknesses to help you decide the best route for you.
- Everglades, Interrupted- When you're traveling at the speed of feet, it's easy to spend hours reflecting on the Everglades that once was, the vast wilds erased by the agro-industrial complex that brought sugar cane to Lake Okeechobee.
- Fellowship of the Key Rings- “You are gonna get blisters,” a veteran hiker told us, “Everyone does.” I remember hearing his words standing in the small town of Pahokee, Florida, my heart wildly beating, waiting for the hike to begin.
- Friends Along the Way- What makes the Big O Hike stand out from all other hiking events is the friendships that you make - good, deep friendships born out of traveling together at a walking pace for nine days around Lake Okeechobee.
- Notes From a Small Space- Although we're writing a Florida Trail hiking guide, we decided to come to the Big O Hike since we met here last year, and it's time to try out the new TravLite!
- O Okeechobee- It's a tradition at the Big O Hike to share your talent at Thanksgiving Day dinner. Mine is a poem commemorating the hike and our friends who've gone before us.
- Okeechobee Wind- Atop the Herbert Hoover Dike, looming nearly forty feet above Lake Okeechobee, you expect wind - headwinds and tailwinds - as you hike the Florida Trail. A shallow basin of 730 square miles, the lake plays with the weather.
- Okeechobee’s Last Wild Shore- Hiking Lake Okeechobee's ancient shoreline is a surprise and a delight. The trail bobs. It weaves. It curves around naturally scoured waterways, and tunnels deeply through a tropical understory.
- Out of Time- Breaking away from the everyday for nine days to immerse yourself in the goal of walking around Lake Okeechobee brings on a certain sense of calm, a time out of the normal pace of time, despite time framing each day.
- Pounding Pavement in Pahokee- For the first time since the Big O Hike started in 1992, the Army Corps of Engineers denied our hikers access to the dike. So to kick off the 2011 Big O Hike, it's a roadwalk through Pahokee.
- Primrose and the Big O Hike- Our first outing with Primrose this hiking season was a trip to the Big O Hike. It rained, of course, in both directions to and from Okeechobee. But we had a splendid road trip in our VW camper.
- Redirection- When a sudden dental problem threw our hiking plans awry, we kicked into research mode and went wandering around Lake Okeechobee in search of information for our new guidebook.
- Seminole Reflections- Returning to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation for the first time in a decade, I remember my visits of the past and celebrate the present with John with a panther sighting.
- Simple Beauty- A moment of Deja vu: discovering a scene that Bart Smith had captured in Along the Florida Trail at the 4Es trailhead.
- Summiting Lake Okeechobee’s High Point- In completing an end-to-end hike of the Florida Trail, I knew I’d need to fill a gap or two left behind at the Big O Hike. Despite having walked around Lake Okeechobee several times, I was missing a few miles. During the Big O Hike, the hike begins and ends at trailheads, and in all […]
- Sweep of Blue- At Port Mayaca, the shape of Lake Okeechobee is obvious, even at dawn, the curvature extending off to the horizon line at the only place in Florida with horizon to horizon views.
- The Big O, Differently- After a dozen years of attending, the Big O Hike had become a welcome routine, a time to gather with friends. This year was very different. Being in charge meant having to worry about both the big picture and the details.
- The Florida Trail: A History- 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.
- Trail’s End- Discovering solo backpacking and group dynamics to be not quite his style, JK decides to re-visit his hike of the Florida Trail by making it a team effort.
- Turtle Time- In hiking and in life, there are tortoises and hares. On the Big O Hike, the Loxahatchee - "River of the Turtles" - Chapter participants walk at all speeds, but the speediest of our hikers are known as rabbits.