Lake Okeechobee Information

Lake Okeechobee, Florida, is the third largest natural lake in the U.S. It covers 448,000 acres, or about 730 square miles, with an average depth of eight to nine feet. Lake Okeechobee is 45 miles in diameter with 135 miles of shoreline. Lake Okeechobee lies in Glades, Okeechobee, Martin, Palm Beach, and Hendry counties which all meet at one point near the center of the lake.

Lake Okeechobee’s primary water source is the Kissimmee River, but Fisheating Creek, Lake Istokpoga, Taylor Creek, Nubbin Slough, and Nicodemus Slough also feed it. The closest metro area with an international airport and shopping is West Palm Beach, Florida, located about 30 miles from the center of Lake Okeechobee’s eastern shore.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) manages Lake Okeechobee and water resources in the southern half of Florida. The SFWMD serves to balance and improve flood control, water supply, water quality, and natural systems. Lake Okeechobee is considered the U.S.’s “Bass Capitol of the Nation” and is home to prize fisheries.

History of Lake Okeechobee

The combination of either the Hitchiti or Itsate Creek Native American words oki (water) and chubi (big) formed the present-day name of Lake Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee is also known as Florida’s inland sea, the Big “O”, and the mother of the Everglades. The Spanish called Lake Okeechobee Lake Mayaimi, Laguna de Mayaco, and Laguna de Espiritu Santo depending on the historical Spanish maps of the times.

Several Indian tribes inhabitated Florida before European exploration dating back 6,000 years. Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, a 15-year-old Spanish shipwreck survivor, lived among the Florida Indians as a captive for 17 years. In his memoirs of 1575, Hernando told of the Indian’s stories of a big water which had many Indian villages living around its shoreline. 

Hamilton Disston was born in Philadelphia into a family who made saws and tools. Hamilton made frequent fishing trips to Florida and eventually bought four million acres of land in Florida. He paid 25 cents an acre. He wanted to create recreational waterways to bring in fisherman and tourists. Hamilton hired engineers and laborers.

Hamilton dredged and cut channels of waterways that connected several central Florida lakes. He blasted apart cliffs, made creeks deeper, and straightened out sections of the Kissimmee River. The fountainhead of the Caloosahatchee River was only three miles west of Lake Okeechobee and flowed west to Ft. Myers on the Gulf of Mexico. Hamilton built a canal spanning that three miles and connected Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee.

Hamilton’s efforts created a waterway from central Florida through Lake Okeechobee on to the Gulf of Mexico by the mid-1880s. Boats then carried people, livestock, and crops out to the rest of the world. In November 1882, the New Orleans Times Democrat outfitted a group of explorers with financing and equipment.

These explorers boated down the Kissimmee River, into Lake Okeechobee, through the canal and into the Caloosahatchee River, and then on to Fort Myers. The expedition covered 500 miles in fourteen days. This trek enthralled the American public. Hamilton bragged that his canals had dropped Lake Okeechobee’s level a foot and a half, which solved the threat of flooding. The truth is that Florida was experiencing a drought.

Hamilton heavily mortgaged his properties in Florida, and only actually owned 1.6 million acres. He permanently drained 50,000 of those acres. The Panic of 1883-1884 wiped out the Disston fortune. Hamilton died in 1886 and his properties were sold off. Hamilton brought on Florida’s first economic boom and changed Florida’s ecological environment forever.

Fishing Lake Okeechobee

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) cites 69 species of fish that inhabit Lake Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee is best known for trophy-sized largemouth bass. Anglers come to Lake Okeechobee from all over the U.S. and other parts of the world. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) eagerly invites fishermen to take part in the TrophyCatch and Big Catch programs on Lake Okeechobee.

TrophyCatch is an incentive-based conservation program designed for anglers who catch-and-release largemouth bass heavier than eight pounds in Florida. Two of this program’s goals are to collect information through citizen-science about trophy bass and to help the FWC better enhance, conserve, and promote trophy bass fishing. The Big Catch program invites anglers to participate in this freshwater angler recognition program.

  • Thirty-three different freshwater fish to choose from.
  • Simply catch a fish that exceeds the qualifying length OR weight, take a photo and submit.
  • Special youth sizes to invite their participation.
  • Qualifiers get a customized color-certificate, decal, and discount for a photo plaque.
  • Advanced anglers, continue the challenge seeking Specialist, Master and Elite Angler recognition.

The most popular game fish species on Lake Okeechobee are largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, and redear sunfish. Other game fish species include Guadalupe, hybrid striped, smallmouth, spotted, striped, white, and yellow bass, bowfin, black, largemouth, and smallmouth buffalo, yellow and black bullhead, blue, channel, and flathead catfish, freshwater and red drum, paddlefish, chain pickerel, longnose, shortnose, and spotted gar, green, longear, redbreast, and spotted sunfish, rainbow trout, walleye, warmouth, and white crappie.

Fishing tournaments on Lake Okeechobee go from major events to tournaments created for the weekend angler. Boat ramps surround Lake Okeechobee, so no matter which direction you come from to get there, you will find a place to launch a fishing boat. Lake Okeechobee is so huge that it supports a copious amount of fishing charter services. Especially if it is your first time on Lake Okeechobee or you are new at fishing for some of the many species there, it makes sense to hire a guide service.

Find experienced local guides on our Lake Okeechobee Fishing Guides page.

Boating Lake Okeechobee

Keeping in mind that Lake Okeechobee is an extremely shallow lake and that alligators are present, there is plenty of open water to explore in its natural wonderland in any kind of shallow draft boat. There are three stages of water levels on Lake Okeechobee, high, normal, and low.

Lake Okeechobee’s water levels vary significantly depending on the season or month. Low water levels reduce the draft of boats that can safely navigate Lake Okeechobee. The USACE takes daily water level readings of Lake Okeechobee and computes the recommended draft for boats traveling on Lake Okeechobee along both Route #1 and Route #2.

On Route #1, from the lowest level and draft recommendation in feet to the highest, the USACE recommends that at a depth level of 6.56 feet, the draft needs to be 0.5 feet, and at 15.06, the draft can be 9.0 feet.

On Route #2, from the lowest level and draft recommendation in feet to the highest, the USACE recommends that at a depth level of 8.06 feet, the draft needs to be 0.2 feet, and at 15.06, the draft can be 7.0 feet.

Route #1 and #2 cross the southeastern half of Lake Okeechobee to guide boaters through the waterway from Stuart, Florida, on the Atlantic side, to Ft. Myers, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico side. Boaters need to be aware that Lake Okeechobee’s water levels fluctuate daily, and make decisions based on the daily water level recorded by the USACE.

The most popular boats on Lake Okeechobee are airboats, fishing boats, pontoon boats, skiffs, and trolling motor boats due to its minimal depth and abundant wildlife. The most popular boating activities are wildlife viewing on the shoreline and fishing. The main access roads to boat ramps and to the shoreline and parks are US 98, US 27, and SR 78. There are few other access roads.

There are several places to rent a boat on Lake Okeechobee. These boat rental businesses rent the kinds of boats to suit both your purposes and for keel draft recommendations. Many boating services include cruising tours. Watersports and swimming are not popular on Lake Okeechobee. Boaters need to be aware of the algae bloom warnings in any season on Lake Okeechobee. 

Find or sell a boat on our Lake Okeechobee Boats for Sale page.

Lake Okeechobee Marinas

There are seven marinas that call Lake Okeechobee home. They offer different services and amenities ranging from fishing focused services to resorts. You can find a marina on Lake Okeechobee with DIY boat yards for repairs to luxury vacation destinations offering boat rentals and airboat tours. Some have restaurants, and ship’s stores, and some are bare boned catering to anglers.

Plan your trip to the lake by finding a marina on our Lake Okeechobee Marinas page.

Lake Okeechobee Real Estate

Lake Okeechobee is an extremely limited real estate market with very few homes for sale on the waterfront. The homes for sale are scattered around the northern tip of the lake. The homes range greatly in price from very affordable to high-priced. The nearest shopping area is West Palm Beach which is 35 miles east of Lake Okeechobee.

Several nearby small towns dot the rim of Lake Okeechobee with exquisite charm. There is one Walmart on the northern tip of Lake Okeechobee just a few miles from the lake. Miami is only 50 miles southeast down US 27. Glades County SD, Hendry County SD, and Okeechobee CSD serve Lake Okeechobee’s public educational needs.

To find your dream lake home, explore our Lake Okeechobee Homes for Sale page.

Lake Okeechobee Cabins and Vacation Homes

There are so few vacation rental homes on Lake Okeechobee that you must book way in advance. They are located on the northern border of the lake. Plenty of cabin rentals in the parks surrounding Lake Okeechobee are available, but it is best to book in advance due to the fisherman’s and nature lover’s paradise that is Lake Okeechobee.

Find the perfect vacation home on our Lake Okeechobee Cabins page.

Camping at Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee boasts of numerous well-kept campgrounds for glamping, tenting, and RV life. These sites are located around the lake and offer fully equipped amenities along with simple provisions like primitive camping. Camping at Lake Okeechobee offers an incredibly unique experience with easy access to shopping, restaurants, and facilities, plus unequaled wildlife viewing opportunities.

Switch off the electronics, and step into the wild with all the southern hospitality that Lake Okeechobee can give you and your family or friends. The Lake Okeechobee campgrounds and RV parks are clustered around its northern tip near Okeechobee, Florida. They offer different amenities depending on how you want to experience camping at Lake Okeechobee.

The DuPuis Management Area is a 21,875 acre protected area located on the southeastern border of Lake Okeechobee. People can camp, hunt, ride horses, hike, and fish on this nature preserve.

Check out our list of campgrounds and RV parks for your family adventure on our Lake Okeechobee Camping page.

Hiking Lake Okeechobee

Amazing hiking trails abound at Lake Okeechobee. The best known trails are the Chandler Slough trail, the Taylor Creek Stormwater Treatment Area (STA), and the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. The trails start on the eastern side of the northern tip of Lake Okeechobee and stretch around its eastern border to its southern tip. The DuPuis Management Area also has many trails.

Feel free to ride your horses or rent one as there are three horseback riding ranches near Lake Okeechobee, plus the horseback trails at The DuPuis Management Area. They offer trail riding tours and horse rentals. Hikers will be sure to see the most stunning wildlife and flora that Florida has to offer at Lake Okeechobee. Hikers and horseback riders alike will never forget Lake Okeechobee.

Hunting Lake Okeechobee

Duck hunting is super popular on Lake Okeechobee with the blue winged teal, mottled duck, ring-necked duck, and the ruddy duck being the preferred duck hunting game. Duck hunters need a Florida Hunting License, Florida Duck Stamp, Migratory Bird Permit, and Federal Duck Stamp. Exemptions apply for hunters under the age of 15 and over the age of 65 who are not required to have a license.

Other hunting game includes wild hogs, Florida Osceola turkeys, and trophy alligators. The Seminole Prairie Safaris on the northern border is a 2,000 acre game preserve offering guided hunts for Florida wild boar, alligators, Osceola Turkeys, and Ducks, plus bow fishing and bass fishing. Please consult the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for hunting license information and regulations.

Lake Okeechobee Weather & Climate

Lake Okeechobee sees an average of 60 inches of rain, 234 sunny days, and no snow per year. The January low is 53 degrees, the July high is 90 degrees, and March, April, and December are the most pleasant months of the year. Stay up to date on our Lake Okeechobee Weather Forecast page.

Things to Do at Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee is the chief attraction at Lake Okeechobee. The restaurants near Lake Okeechobee are few and mostly located in or near Okeechobee, Florida. There are a few other eateries and places to down a cold drink on other parts of the lake in the marinas, but most are not right on the lake. However, some extremely interesting attractions for visitors are right near Lake Okeechobee’s water’s edge.

Check out the Fort Drum Crystal Mine just 22 miles north of Okeechobee. Formerly known as Ruck’s Pit in Fort Drum, this is the site of a former mining operation which operated to mine fossilized shell rock to lay road beds in Florida. Crystals were found deep in the mine that are still there for the taking if you don’t mind hard work. Kids love this place!

In Clewiston, Florida, visitors will find the Sugarland tour of a local farm and mill where you can chew on some sugarcane and take a three-hour boat cruise that explains Lake Okeechobee’s historic and natural heritage.

Discover the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation located 20 miles southwest of the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee on the border of the Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades. Visitors can hear legendary storytellers, watch the Green Corn Dance, learn about historical Seminole crafts like beadwork, basketry, and doll making along with native medicine, recipes, and much more.

Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach, Florida, are 45 miles and 30 miles respectively southeast of Lake Okeechobee if you want to see now some of the wealthiest people in the U.S. live and find some of the finest entertainment available in Florida north of Miami.

In Boca Raton, you will find the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, The Wick Theatre & Costume Museum, and Daggerwing Nature Center. In West Palm Beach, you will find great museums, unique wildlife habitats, and great restaurants. Visit the Norton Museum of Art, view tropical plants from six continents at Mounts Botanical Garden, and stroll through the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens.

Plan your next adventure on our What To Do At Lake Okeechobee page.

Lake Okeechobee Zip Codes

Glades County: 33471, 33944.

Hendry County: 33930, 33935.

Okeechobee County: 34973.

Martin County: 33455, 33475, 34958, 34974, 34990, 34991, 34992, 34994, 34995, 34996, 34997.

Palm Beach County: 33401, 33402, 33403, 33404, 33405, 33406, 33407, 33408, 33409, 33410, 33411, 33412, 33413, 33414, 33415, 33416, 33417, 33418, 33419, 33420, 33421, 33422, 33424, 33425, 33426, 33427, 33428,33429, 33430, 33431, 33432, 33433, 33434, 33435, 33436, 33437, 33438, 33439, 33440, 33444, 33445, 33446, 33447, 33448, 33449, 33454, 33458, 33459, 33460, 33461, 33462, 33463, 33464, 33465, 33466, 33467, 33468, 33469, 33470, 33472, 33473, 33474, 33476, 33477. 33478, 33480, 33481, 33482, 33483, 33484, 33486, 33487, 33488, 33493, 33496, 33497, 33498, 33499, 34956.

Flora and Fauna

Lake Okeechobee is home to thousands of wildlife species, and some that are on the federal endangered species list, plus unique trees, vines, fruits, and mosses. Wildlife species include amphibians, birds, butterflies, mammals, and reptiles. Each plant is important to its ecosystem.

The pond apple tree is an important nesting habitat for wading birds and provides a trellis for the Okeechobee gourd, which is protected as an endangered plant species by federal law. Moonvine, or evening glory, hangs from the pond apple trees along with Spanish moss. There are a bunch of wild hogs, Osceola turkeys, and even a rare panther.

The Okeechobee sanctuaries help protect the various fauna species like Snail Kites, Purple Gallinules, American Bald Eagle, waterfowls and wading birds. Other bird species living in this lake include the mottled duck, burrowing owl, sandhill crane, crested caracara, and grasshopper sparrow. The latter grasshopper sparrow is one of the most endangered birds.

With reptiles on Lake Okeechobee, we have to include alligators. There are an estimated 30,000 alligators residing in Lake Okeechobee. But, given Lake Okeechobee’s size of 730 acres, you just need to be aware of alligator safety. Alligators are inherently scared of people. They rarely attack people, but they will attack small pets.

For great information on alligator safety precautions, please check out our alligator article on our sister site

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