56.2 miles. The western side of Lake Okeechobee is the preferred route for long distance hikers on the Florida Trail for several reasons. You’ll enjoy more scenic beauty as the sugar cane fields yield to vast palmetto-dotted prairies where cattle roam, there is less industrial traffic on this wilder shore of Lake Okeechobee, and you’ll walk right past services in several Florida Trail Gateway Communities – Clewiston, Moore Haven, and Lakeport – making a zero day and resupply much easier. Sunrises on this side of the lake are spectacular. Most of the hike is atop the 35-foot-tall Herbert Hoover Dike, affording sweeping panoramas in every direction. Marshes fill in this shallower side of the lake, so wildlife sightings – and interesting birds – are more common. Backpacker campsites are spaced at decent intervals along the route. Much of the trail, but not all, is paved. All of it is multi-use.
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 on two portions of the dike: north of Levee Park in Clewiston and between Moore Haven and Nicodemus Slough. (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 West in November 2018.
FT symbols indicate trailheads and access points. Click on symbols for details and directions.
John Stretch Park is the decision point at the southern end of the lake for which side to take. Following the western side means a hike towards Clewiston, which for the next nine miles, offers sweeping views of the lake and marshes in the shallows. Boat traffic is common here, since Clewiston is well-known as a destination for anglers seeking trophy bass. Clewiston is the second largest city along the lake, with services within an easy walk of the trail.
North of Clewiston, views of the lake recede and the Rim Canal, which boaters make good use of, becomes prominent, with vast marshes in the lake’s shallows forming a background to the east. To the west, your panorama is of the sugar cane fields, especially dramatic when set on fire. Sunrises on this quadrant of the lake are especially dramatic.
To go around the Moore Haven locks (since you are not allowed to cross atop them) on the Caloosahatchee River, the trail works its way into Moore Haven, the county seat of Glades County. It has one small motel that mostly caters to long-term renters, and a handful of services. The dike continues to hem in the lake until it reaches the Fisheating Creek floodplain, where the trail drops to ground level and parallels SR 78 on the paved path.
Ascending the dike again at Lakeport, within view of the Aruba Lodge, the trail once again stands tall with a view of marshes and, sometimes, open water beyond. At Harney Pond Canal, you must use the highway bridge to cross the canal. Big Water Bait & Tackle is a nice minor resupply store. It’s worth the walk to the end of Margaret Van De Velde Park for the elevated boardwalk that leads to the best sweeping view of Lake Okeechobee.
For the next 20 miles or so, the dike is not paved, a welcome relief to feet. This is the wildest corner of the lake, despite a handful of access points well known to locals. Birding is excellent north and south of Indian Prairie Canal. You may have noticed that north of Fisheating Creek, the agricultural scenery has shifted to cattle ranching across a landscape that was marshland before the dike was built. Crossing the Kissimmee River – a tricky walk with traffic on a narrow highway bridge – you reach Okee-tantie, a long-time campground and marina that the county closed down. The Florida Trail continues in two directions from here: north along the Kissimmee River, and northeast towards Okeechobee to continue the loop around the lake.
9 miles to John Stretch Park. Between the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters and the junction for the Seminole section, the paved top of the Herbert Hoover Dike offers views of marshlands and parallels US 27 for the duration of the hike.
11.9 miles. This paved sweep of the Florida Trail provides a perspective of sugar cane fields and marshlands along the Rim Canal, with some of the best sunrises you’ll see along the lake.
Florida Trail, Lakeport to Moore Haven
9.5 miles. Dropping into the Fisheating Creek floodplain for several miles, the Florida Trail follows a paved bike path back to the dike at Nicodemus Slough, continuing a curve above the vast western marshes of Lake Okeechobee to Moore Haven.
Florida Trail, Indian Prairie Canal to Lakeport
12.5 miles. Passing through historic Big Bear Beach and access points that were once the lifeblood of commercial fishing along Lake Okeechobee, the trail offers views of marshlands and cattle ranches, and has a stop for resupply and refreshments.
Florida Trail, Okee-tantie to Indian Prairie Canal
10.4 miles from Indian Prairie Canal to Okee-tantie. Between the Kissimmee River and the Indian Prairie Canal, this segment of trail is one of the most remote along the lake. Once it gets past Buckhead Ridge, there are panoramas of prairie on both sides of the dike. Long distance hikers may need to walk into Okeechobee via several miles of paved path for a zero day and resupply.
- 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.
- 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 and Lakeport.