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.
Florida Trail, Okeechobee
112.8 miles. Clewiston, Moore Haven, Okeechobee, & Pahokee
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
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 […]
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.
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.
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.
Nine days, 109 miles: that’s the circuit around Lake Okeechobee to complete a walk around the second largest lake inside American borders on the Big O Hike.
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.
Clewiston, the center of the sugar cane industry in South Florida, is perched along the rim of one of America’s largest lakes, 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.
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.