The Florida Trail fully circles Lake Okeechobee, a 113-mile route, as it passes through South Central Florida. On a clear day, you can stand on the dike at Okeechobee and see the smokestack puffs from the refinery in Clewiston, more than 50 miles away.
Lake Okeechobee is a shallow freshwater sea that feeds the Everglades. It is the second largest freshwater lake entirely within the United States, and is large enough to experience phenomena like storm surges. A storm surge, in fact, is what prompted the creation of the 35-foot-tall Herbert Hoover Dike by the Army Corps of Engineers after the deaths of more than 2,000 residents of the towns along the lake during two hurricanes in the 1920s. Water flowing into and out of the lake is strictly regulated, which has created environmental problems in distant estuaries, in the Everglades, and in the lake itself. Lake levels rarely rise above 15 feet.
THE FLORIDA TRAIL AT LAKE OKEECHOBEE
More than two decades ago, Florida Trail Association volunteers worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to establish a footpath on the Herbert Hoover Dike. Since it is the highest point for miles around, the views are spectacular and the birding superb. Since it is a dike, there is no shade. Dress accordingly. In 2004, an effort was brought forth by the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails to pave the top of the dike to encourage multiple use. Portions of the dike are now paved- from Moore Haven to Pahokee, and from Port Mayaca to the Kissimmee River.
There are many access points to the trail from parks along the roads circling the lake, and numerous covered benches to sit and rest a spell. Some portions of the trail (such as between the Kissimmee River and Indian Prairie Canal) are especially wild and scenic. Other portions (like through Pahokee) give you a close-up view of homes, farms, cattle, and sugar cane operations.
The best time to hike this part of the Florida Trail is during the late fall and winter months, when mosquitoes diminish and the heat of the day is not such an issue. This is a popular destination for backpackers, since there are many designated campsites (with picnic table and fire ring) along the lake, and many opportunties for resupply. Plus, it’s a loop!
Hike at dawn or dusk for the best sunrises and sunsets you’ll see in Florida.
For more information see the Florida Trail website.