A Guide to Visiting Florida’s Largest Lake
About half the size of Rhode Island but, on average, only nine feet deep, Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and the eighth largest in the country. Though it has a number of nicknames — the Inland Sea, the Big O —Okeechobee’s official name comes from the Hitchiti, an indigenous community that lived on the Chattahoochee River until the early 19th century. In their language, Okeechobee means “big” (chubi) and “water” (oki).
Related: America's Best Lake Vacations
Small towns, orange groves, sugarcane fields, and waterways decorate the flatlands surrounding the 35-foot-high Herbert Hoover Dike, which was built around Okeechobee in 1928 to protect against flooding. The 152-mile Okeechobee Waterway bisects the lake, and Florida itself, allowing boats to cut across, rather than sail around.
Today, Okeechobee is a prominent landmark that entertains locals and tourists with a number of lakeside activities such as fishing, boating, and hiking.
Getting to Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee is located at the edge of Palm Beach county, making Palm Beach International Airport the closest major airport to this destination. Clewistown is just over an hour's drive away, largely along FL-80 W.
Things to Do at Lake Okeechobee
On Okeechobee’s southern shore, the town of Clewiston is a popular home base for travelers. Here, you can employ a local guide to take you fishing for largemouth bass, speckled perch, catfish, and black crappies.
There’s plenty to do ashore, too: tour a local sugarcane farm, for example, and hike or bike along portions of the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. The path, which is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail, runs along the top of the dike and is the perfect place to spot Okeechobee wildlife. (Manatees, alligators, turkeys, bobcats, hogs, egrets, osprey, and many other birds have all been spotted there.)
Just south of Lake Okeechobee lies the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, the largest of Florida’s five Seminole reservations. There, the Smithsonian-affiliated Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum presents more than 180,000 art works and artifacts, and tells the story of the Seminole people in south Florida, where they have lived for thousands of years.
Major Festivals and Events
Travelers can also participate in the annual Big O Hike in November, and camp with the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association for up to six days. (The annual event has been running for more than 25 years.) In April, visitors can attend the annual Sugar Festival.
Nearby lake towns also host their own annual festival, like LaBelle’s Swamp Cabbage Festival in February and the town of Okeechobee’s Speckled Perch Festival and Okeechobee Cattlemen's Rodeo, both in March.