Wildlife is abundant along the ancient shoreline of Taylor Creek and these man-made marshes, created to lower the density of phosphorus reaching Lake Okeechobee from water flowing across cattle ranches to reach the creek. Encompassing 190 acres, this wetlands park is a gem for birding and wildlife watching just north of Okeechobee.
Length: 2.2 or 3 miles
Fees / Permits: Free
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: vault toilet at trailhead
Open sunrise to sunset. Pets are prohibited. Bicycling is permitted. There is no shade along the route except at the two chickee shelters. The surface is limerock. Be alert for alligators.
Taylor Creek STA is managed by South Florida Water Management District, 1-800-250-4200. Closures may occur when they are working on the wetlands ponds, so call ahead.
Directions & Map
The trailhead is on the west side of US 441 just 4.2 miles north of the intersection of SR 70 and US 441 in Okeechobee.
After hiking here twice, we’ve settled on a counter-clockwise traverse of the inner loop, which is 2.2 miles, as the best walk for wildlife watching. Only cyclists and runners seem to do the full 3 mile loop. Starting out from the parking area, you parallel a small canal separating you from the loop. Although it looks like you could hop over it, it’s a wildlife haven, and it’s here that you may spot one of two resident otter families. After you cross a culvert between the small canal and a much larger canal – also an otter residence – you’ve reached the junction for the loop. Keep right, unless you’re just here to use the picnic tables, which are around the bend to the left.
For the next stretch of trail, the broad canal is to your right, with a cattle ranch beyond. There are always herons and egrets fishing in the canal, and you may see wood storks and roseate spoonbills, too, depending on water levels. Listen for the kingfishers that perch on utility wires above. To your left is one of several vast manmade wetlands ponds that serve to filter the waters of Taylor Creek. This is where the alligators lurk, and the osprey glide above. Tall grasses and alligator flag wave in the breeze.
You reach the cross trail after a half mile. Turn left. This dike across the wetlands is a gathering place for birds and alligators, so keep alert. You’ll sometimes see alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the dike, but more often than not they’ll be on the small islands of vegetation to your right. Cormorants and vultures tend to perch on the water control structures and the fence. Butterflies flit between the many wildflowers peeping through the grass.
At the far end of the cross trail you reach a T intersection with a chickee just to the right. Stop there if you need some shade, but otherwise turn left to start the big loop back around to the trailhead. Most of the activity here is in the tall alligator flag to your left, where red-winged blackbirds tend to gather. Off to the right is the ditch that is modern-day Taylor Creek. Once you reach the tall cypress on the left, you see a portion of what this landscape looked like when Taylor Creek ran naturally across the land, nourishing these ancient trees.
A second chickee is right along the trail here, shading a picnic bench. Birds have taken over the structure and left plenty of splotches everywhere, including on the tables and chairs. The water control structure adjoining the chickee is another great birding spot, as there is always activity near the outflows – both on Taylor Creek and in the wetlands pool.
Past the chickee, at 1.5 miles, the trail turns a corner and begins to parallel US 441, offering excellent views across the waterway separating you from the cypresses. Scan the far shoreline for flocks of ibis, Louisiana herons, and little blue herons. You may see an osprey or cormorants perched high in the trees, and some massive alligators below.
The final turn in the loop faces the parking area just before you turn left to parallel the slender canal again. Passing the picnic tables, we were delighted to spend a good fifteen minutes watching three otters fishing in the canal before they decided to use the trail to walk to the other canal. So you don’t have to walk very far from the trailhead to see wildlife here!