56.6 miles. More populated and more industrial than the western side of Lake Okeechobee, the eastern shore begins in an immersion of sugar cane fields much like the Seminole section to its south. There are few glimpses of open water due to large natural islands – Ritta, Torrey, and Kreamer – until you round the bend to Pahokee, when you’ll finally feel dwarfed by Florida’s inland sea for the remainder of the hike. Objects are farther than they appear: over the course of several days you’ll see water towers, bridges, and other structures in the distance that it may take an entire day’s hike to reach. The trail is easy to follow along the dike; the few places you need to skirt around a dam or other break in the dike are obvious and well blazed.
Interested in hiking this part of the Florida Trail as a series of day hikes with a group? Join the annual Big O Hike around Lake Okeechobee, held every year during Thanksgiving Week, for all or part of the 9 day walk around Florida’s largest lake. It’s Florida’s longest running and most social hiking event.
Presently, the Army Corps of Engineers is doing reconstructive work at nearly every water control structure between South Bay and Sand Cut. It is impossible to walk between the two atop the dike, although you can do short out-and-back hikes from most trailheads. (See the current closure map)
See our discussion of what is open and what is closed along this trail segment based on our personal research through Okeechobee East in November 2018.
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on symbols for details and directions.
Walking east around Lake Okeechobee leads you to views of a vast expanse of agricultural lands, primarily sugar cane growers that produce most of the sugar grown in the United States. The small communities along this side of the lake are largely home to farm workers toiling on these giant corporate farms. As the lake continues to be a large draw for anglers, there are also several fish camps along the route, as well as three important campgrounds – important because of the lack of designated backpacking campsites on the southeast quadrant – at South Bay, Torrey Island, and Pahokee. The first two are within sight of the trail.
Between John Stretch Park and South Bay, the trail parallels US 27, with views over the lake marshes around Ritta Island and Torrey Island. The stately royal palms you see were not planted here, this is their natural habitat. Leaving South Bay, the dike is the shortcut between the communities. The trail crosses pedestrian bridges at the Miami Canal and near Chosen, across from Torrey Island. It’s here you’ll see the unusual swing bridge.
Curving around Pelican Bay towards Pahokee, the trail draws within view of Bacom Point Road at Rardin Park (a good rest break, day use only) and passes a small airport where skydivers are common. In Pahokee, the campground is part of what used to be a state park. This small community has a post office, library, and convenience store just a couple of blocks from the trail. Heading on to Canal Point, you’ll see mango and banana groves in people’s backyards, as well as livestock. Views of the lake show water to the horizon.
North of Canal Point, it’s possible to see the bridge at Port Mayaca but it never seems to get any closer until you’re right on top of it. You must leave the dike and cross that highway bridge to continue north. The farther north you continue, the more homes – and eventually trailer parks and condos – cluster along the Rim Canal to the east. The sweep of the lake continues. As you cross Taylor Creek on the highway bridge to reach Okeechobee, this is the most populous part of the lakeshore and many people use the trail for exercise. Okeechobee is an excellent stop for a zero day for long distance hikers. North of Okeechobee, it’s only a few miles more up to Okee-tantie, where the trail continues north – up along the Kissimmee River – and southwest, looping down around the lake.
5.1 miles from John Stretch Park. Between John Stretch Park and South Bay, the paved top of the Herbert Hoover Dike parallels the Rim Canal along Ritta Island, with agricultural lands stretching off to the western horizon beyond US 27.
Florida Trail, South Bay to Pahokee
11.4 miles. Industrial agriculture defines the sweep of Lake Okeechobee on this part of its eastern shore, with sugar cane stretching as far as the eye can see, sugar refineries in the backdrop. On the lake side, the trail parallels the Rim Canal and natural islands, including Torrey Island and Kreamer Island.
11.9 miles.. This section of the Florida Trail is the best to showcase the vast weep of the second largest lake entirely within the United States, the water glimmering blue as far as the eye can see. Agriculture fills the views to the east.
13.7 miles. This paved walk between Port Mayaca and Henry Creek offers unparalleled vistas of both open water and the nearshore marshes, with nesting colonial birds in vegetation along the Rim Canal. Views to the east become rural residential.
8.7 miles. Pavement continues along the sweep of shoreline, with marshy waters to the horizon and communities, particularly RV parks, crowding close to the Rim Canal all the way up to Okeechobee, a small city that is the heart of Florida’s cattle country.
Florida Trail, Okeechobee to Okee-tantie
3.6 miles from Okeechobee to Okee-tantie. Connecting to Okee-tantie to head north into the Kissimmee section, the trail is a paved path popular with local residents for their morning walks. It rounds Eagle Bay, with bird sightings – from caracara to sandhill cranes – common along the dike.
62.1 miles. A spur trail that leads from Port Mayaca on the east side of Lake Okeechobee to Hobe Sound Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. En route it passes through popular Jonathan Dickinson State Park and Riverbend Park as well as rugged and wild DuPuis Reserve and Corbett WMA, where there are vast wet prairies and cypress strands with wades similar to Big Cypress.
- The Army Corps of Engineers is actively attempting to shore up the dike. These construction projects have been going on for a decade and at times, block access to more than half the trail. Alternative roadwalks are necessary where there are closures, since pieces of the dike are gone – and you’re not permitted to enter the construction zones.
- 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.
- Okeechobee is worth a zero day, since it has a broad variety of services and accommodations. Minor resupply is also a short walk from the trail in Pahokee, at Canal Point, and near the Taylor Creek Bridge.