Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail
We’ve been visiting Florida our whole lives! We make the drive yearly to decompress from the year and ring in the new year with flip flops and fireworks.
Yet, in all that time, we never managed to make it over to one of Florida’s most prominent geological features: Lake Okeechobee! Well, we finally found our way there on our extended COVID-cation for the 2020/2021 journey, and though it’s not technically a “great lake”, it was, in our opinion, a pretty damn great lake 😆
This massive freshwater lake is the eighth largest in the US. The US Army Corp of Engineers built a massive earthen dyke around the lake, after a hurricane in 1928 flooded the lake, killing over 2500. Today, the dyke forms part of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, a 109 mile path around the lake, with beautiful views of the water and surrounding lands. Since the terrain here is so flat, you can see quite far! (still can’t see the other side though.)
One of the interesting features of Lake Okeechobee is it’s rim canal. In order to build the massive earthen wall around the lake, the engineers excavated a trench, piling up the earth to the side. These trenches were flooded, and now make a network of canals that connect to the rivers and wetlands around the lake, and the dyke forms a rim, almost like a crater ring. A paved path make access and walking around the rim easy, and it’s smooth enough for comfortable bicycling as well!
The Scenic Trail is easy to access from the highway, but the parking is not well-defined. We just stopped where two other vehicles had pulled over, off the road. Fair warning to anyone who gets nervous driving next to water (like Kali), there’s no significant barrier between the hills, and the waters edge, so drive slowly and pay close attention.
We started at the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam, on the east side of the lake. The dam was built in 1977, and is part of the St. Lucie Canal, an 152 mile link from the lake to the Atlantic ocean. A series of locks makes the canal navigable, and one can take a boat from one end to the other!
(real talk, I was on the verge of a panic attack. The GPS was directing us into the lake, and my mom still drives like a Brooklynite ::paper bag:: ::heavy breathing::)
Officially called the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, abbreviated by avid trail runners as LOST; the name did not inspire much faith -_- But the trail is well maintained, and the pavement nice and flat. Perfect for exercising, or just strolling aimlessly. Once you move away from the parking lot, the trail is closed to vehicles so you can enjoy yourself without constantly looking over your shoulder.
There is lots of space for vehicles to pull over down closer to the water for picnicking, fishing and just relaxing for the afternoon. There are no lights outside of the parking area though so this is a daytime activity spot only!
During our walk, we saw a decent amount of wildlife. A few local birds, which we tried to identify on our phones while walking. We even spotted one of Florida’s most famous residents: a little gator lurking in the canal! (another reason this is a daytime only activity!) We thought he was a log at first, but luckily Kali’s camera has an amazing zoom on it. Gator sighting confirmed! We were thrilled that we were able to see one in the wild.
Seeing animals in the wild is one of our primary motivations for hiking. We’ll count this as a win.
The flat landscape and lack of identifying features combined with the unending expanse of water/grass/pavement makes all of our photos look like they were taken from the same spot. So glad we snapped a pic on the 37th mile marker so we know we actually moved!
The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail is 109 miles around, so there are a LOT of ways to access parts of this trail and spend some time here. We only covered about 3 miles before we had to turn around for the evening, so we will definitely be back!