In the remote northwestern corner of Palm Beach County, Belle Glade is an agricultural city near the shore of Lake Okeechobee.
At more than 730 square miles that waterbody is the second-largest freshwater lake within the continental United States. Lake Okeechobee is a big trophy fishing destination, and there’s a long hiking/bicycling trail along the dike surrounding it.
Dubbed ‘black gold’, the soils around Belle Glade are thought to be some of the most fertile in the country. Fields growing sugarcane and vegetables spread out for miles here.
Belle Glade can be a base for fishing trips, airboat adventures, lakefront hikes, and visits to the Seminole tribe’s Big Cypress Reservation.
So, check out my list of the 14 best things to do in and near Belle Glade.
1. Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST)
In the 1920s, two catastrophic hurricanes struck South Florida and Lake Okeechobee in quick succession. In the aftermath President Herbert Hoover personally inspected the area, and during the 1930s a system of levees took shape around the lake.
These were enlarged over time, and now the Herbert Hoover Dike almost completely encloses the water. Topping the ridge of the dike for more than 100 miles is the multi-use Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail.
You can pick the trail up along the Okeechobee Waterway in Belle Glade. To my mind, the trail is at its best in winter months, and very picturesque at sunset when the skies are crimson. There’s a total absence of cover, so you’ll be a little exposed to the elements at other times of year.
If you have a bike you could use the trail to get to Paul Rardin Park in the north or John Stretch Park in the west. I’ll talk about both spots later in my list.
2. Lawrence E. Will Museum
The Lakeshore Civic Center in Belle Glade is home to several civic functions, including the city hall and fire station. On the east side is the Lawrence E. Will Museum, named for an historian and son of a local pioneer.
The museum was founded in 1976 for the Bicentennial, and opens a window on thousands of years of history in the area.
I really appreciate the exhibits on the Belle Glades Culture, which peaked between 500 BCE and 1500 CE. There are finds here from the Belle Glade Mound, excavated in the 1930s.
The museum also looks at the important contributions of African Americans in Belle Glade in spheres from agriculture to sports. Incredibly, the small communities by Lake Okeechobee have sent more than 60 players to the NFL.
3. Fishing on Lake Okeechobee
Florida’s Inland Sea has a long history of trophy fishing, and by consensus the South Bay portion offers some of the most diverse fishing on the entire lake.
Everything here is perfect for bass fishing, with calm waters and easy access from the shore at Torry Island. The lake also has an unusually long spawning season, lasting from as early as September until the following June.
At any time during these months, you can fish for prespawn bass, bedding bass or post-spawn bass. This is unheard of anywhere else.
As I mentioned, you can fish from the shore at Torry Island, but there are also lots of experienced guids in the area who know the lake and its seasonal fluctuations. One local option is Slim’s Fish Camp on Torry Island, with the largest team of guides on the entire lake.
4. Torry Island
The 640-acre Torry Island in Belle Glade is the only inhabited island on Lake Okeechobee. This is home to a full-service campground with a lot of great things going for it.
First off there’s access to the lake, whether you’re launching a boat or fishing from the shore. Torry Island is also a dream for birdwatching, with numerous species, from bald eagles to roseate spoonbills, osprey, snail kites, and blue-winged teal regularly sighted on the island.
Don’t forget to bring your binoculars as there’s an observation tower on the island. For more recreation you’ve got the Belle Glade Golf Club, picnic pavilions along the canal, and the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail.
5. Glades Pioneer Park
In the care of Palm Beach County, this large active park is on the south side of the city, bordered by agriculture and Glades Central Community High.
In the years before I compiled this list Glades Pioneer Park had received a lot of investment. For one, the Orange Bowl Committee had chosen this spot for a legacy gift. No coincidence, given Belle Glades rich tradition for producing elite football talent.
The upshot was the state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar Orange Bowl Field. Glades Pioneer Park also has a basket and softball fields, tennis courts, a bicycle path and an outdoor fitness area with 17 stations.
Another facility within the park is the Pioneer Park Aquatic Center, which has a 25-yard pool, and a water play area with slides and a tipping bucket.
6. Black Gold Jubilee
In 1976 Belle Glade’s Bicentennial celebrations were such a success that the city decided to make it an annual thing. The event was named for the area’s highly fertile soils and is still the highlight of the year.
Held in April, the Black Gold Jubilee is a one-day event, but there’s a lot going on in the buildup, including pageants and a fishing contest. On the morning of the event there’s a 5k, a 10k and a parade on Main Street.
Then everyone descends on Torry Island a day loaded with live entertainment, carnival rides, family games, vendors, and great food. Then, to put a cap on a wonderful day there’s a fireworks show after sunset.
7. Paul Rardin Park
A serene lakefront rest stop, Paul Rardin Park is a small-ish park by the Okeechobee Waterway. You can launch a boat or canoe/kayak here, and get onto the Lake Okeechobee Scenic trail
From my experience, the park shines most of all as a place to bring a picnic in the cooler months. There are several shelters here with grills, and kids can stretch their legs at the playground.
Like any spot on the shore of Lake Okeechobee, alligators are never far away, and you’re also sure to see turtles, raptors and wading birds.
8. Black Gold Airboat Tours
In true Everglades style, the best way to navigate the natural grass flats around Lake Okeechobee is on an airboat tour. You can do this directly from Belle Glade via Black Golf Airboat Tours.
As far as I’m concerned, the main reason to head out into this environment is to see alligators. The good news is that Lake Okeechobee is teeming with them. In fact, by the most recent estimate, there were almost 30,000 gators living on these shores.
Private tours with Black Gold last for 90 minutes and are available seven days a week. Your guide will be US Coast Guard certified, and also offers half-day or full-day bass fishing trips.
9. Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center
On the east side of the city is the Belle Glade campus of Palm Beach State College. This opened more than 50 years ago, and my main reason to visit is for performing arts.
The Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center serves up classic small-town entertainment, in the best possible way. By that I mean a lot of tribute acts, from Motown to Country Music.
The season also features children’s theater, and the annual Festival of the Trees in the holiday season.
The auditorium seats 467 people and the center also has a gallery space. Each year there are at least seven exhibitions for anything from contemporary photography to quiltmaking.
10. Belle Glade Municipal Golf Course
Belle Glade lays claim to the only 18-hole golf course to be found on the shore of Lake Okeechobee.
The Belle Glade Municipal Golf Course is a picturesque facility that features a variety of tee-box options to accommodate those of most ages and skill levels. In terms of value, I think you’ll have to travel a long way to do better than this course.
There’s diverse scenery on this course, from mature hammocks to water and distant vistas over sugarcane fields. The back nine is a real adventure with several gators. Take a free drop if your ball lands near one of these monsters.
There’s a pro shop here, as well as a driving range if you want to hit some balls beforehand.
11. John Stretch Memorial Park
A few miles west of Belle Glade, the LOST passes by this attractive public park with 50+ acres of canal frontage. Rising 20 feet, the dike here has a sublime view as the sun goes down.
Infrastructure nerds like me will be interested in the Clewiston Lock on the park’s east side. This system allows water traffic to get onto the Okeechobee Waterway from the Miami Canal.
Also by the dike is a preserved historic diesel radial pump engine displayed by the South Florida Water Management District.
For amenities there’s a multipurpose field used for cricket, as well as a basketball court, kayak launch, a playground, picnic areas and a pavilion.
12. Pahokee Marina and Campground
There are a lot of cities near the shore of Lake Okeechobee, but only one has direct access to the water. That is Pahokee, about ten miles north of Belle Glade.
This is a sleepy little place, home to just over 5,000 people. Right on the waterfront, the campground has 125+ sites with full RV and tent hookups.
I adore the scenic lakeside pool here, while the marina can be a base for fishing trips, airboat tours, or hikes along the lake rim via the LOST.
West of Belle Glade the nearest community of real scale is Clewiston. Two things spring to my mind when I think of this city, namely sugar plantations and Seminole culture.
Clewiston is the jumping off point for the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. You’re welcome to visit this 82,000-square-mile property, home to around 600 people and one of the largest cattle operations in America.
The main attraction is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum, documenting the culture and history of the Seminole people. The permanent collection is extraordinary, with 200,000 pieces, from clothing to patchwork, basketry, dolls and sculpture.
There’s no better time to be in Clewiston than mid-March for the Clewiston Sugar Festival. Reaching back to the 1930s, this event is attended by some of America’s top country music performers.
14. DuPuis Wildlife and Environmental Area
Just east of Lake Okeechobee is 22,000 acres of public land managed by the South Florida Water Management District and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
It’s hard to imagine today, but the DuPuis Wildlife and Environmental Area is on a former cattle ranch. Since then a large expanse of the previously drained wetlands has been restored.
This cypress swamp and freshwater marsh is wrapped in thousands of acres of drier pinelands.
Easily reached from Belle Glade, the area is a haven for outdoor recreation. There are many miles of hiking and horseback trails, as well as an equestrian center, graded roads for vehicles, as well as backpack and group campsites.
If you’re here for some hiking you can get onto the 61-mile Ocean to Lake, extending from Hobe Sound on the coast to the LOST on the lakeshore.