Lake Okeechobee, known locally as “Lake O”, is the second largest freshwater lake in the lower 48 states of the USA, after Lake Tahoe. Lake Okeechobee encroaches into Hendry, Glades and Palm Beach counties and is 33 miles long and 30 miles wide. It is the “eye” on the Florida state map, one of the few visible landmarks large enough to be shown.
Lake Okeechobee covers 730 square miles – it is huge – and covers an area half the size of the state of Rhode Island! It is remarkably shallow with an average depth of just 9 feet. The lake is surrounded by small cities, with Okeechobee at the northern end, Port Mayaca at three o’clock followed by Canal Point, Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay to the extreme south. Bordering the western side are Lake Harbor, Clewiston, Liberty Point, Moore Haven, Lakeport and Buckhead Ridge.
Clewiston is a good place to head for if you are visiting the lake as it has a waterfront park and the Clewiston Museum. Exhibits take you back in time with artifacts, photographs and local stories along with fossils and a museum theater. It is all housed in a building which formerly accommodated the Clewiston News.
Unfortunately if you choose to drive around Lake Okeechobee, all you will see are the huge grassy banks of the levees which were built to contain the lake in case of storm, rising water levels and hurricanes. However there is plenty to do around its shores.
Things to Do Around Lake Okeechobee
Phenomenal bird watching, camping getaways and some of the best bass fishing in the state can be found on Lake Okeechobee. Various companies offer airboat rides in the area which are great fun for spotting wildlife in the area. Airboats usually carry up to 8 passengers and are very exciting and easy to steer over the water, but they are also very noisy so you should wear the earplugs provided. Walking and cycling on the Florida Trail and driving the Big Water Heritage Trail (map from Clewiston Chamber of Commerce) are enjoyable ways to enjoy the lake from the shore.
There are many marinas, RV resorts and fish camps in places such as Clewiston and Moore Haven. Look out for the Roland Martin Marine Center which has all you need for a day’s fishing, from boats to bait. Other activities include golf at the 18-hole Clewiston Golf Course and the Sugar Cane Golf Club in Belle Glade. You can even enjoy motorsports at the Hendry County Motorsports Park on the US-27, just north of Clewiston, which is the southernmost raceway in the USA.
World class rodeo entertainment is available at the Fred Smith Rodeo Arena in Okeechobee which hosts the annual Brighton Field Days PRCA Rodeo. These are fun-filled family events to watch or even participate in! Hendry County Fair and Livestock Show Arena are home to the Raising Cane Rodeo and Sugar Festival along with barrel racing and calf roping contests every week throughout the year. If you want to skydive over Lake Okeechobee, that can be arranged too at the Skydive Air Adventures based in Clewiston. For families, Gatorama is a fun attraction featuring alligators, crocodiles, monkeys and other native Florida wildlife at Palmdale on US-27. It is educational and more interesting than you might expect.
The area around the lake is home to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in Hendry County and the Brighton Reservation in Glades County. The Seminoles were the only tribe in America never to sign a peace treaty, but don’t panic. I have met and mingled with Seminole tribal leaders and they are truly lovely people who simply want to retain their cultural traditions and heritage, and have Seminole history correctly recorded!