On the southwest shore of the immense Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston is a city with a few feathers in its cap. First off, that lake is the largest in the Southeast and famed as a hotspot for bass fishing. This is partly down to a spawning season that lasts for six months.
Clewiston is also noted for its modern sugar industry. You can take a tour of an active sugarcane farm, while I’d urge anyone to be in town for the annual Sugar Festival in spring.
That sugar heritage has earned the nickname, America’s Sweetest Town. While the land around the city is cultivated, you don’t need to travel far for the sawgrass and cypress domes of the Everglades.
Go south and you’ll arrive at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, which has a super museum about Seminole history and culture.
1. Lake Okeechobee
Even in a state with a lot of natural wonders, the lake next to Clewiston is special. Covering more than 730 square miles, Lake Okeechobee is Florida’s largest freshwater lake, and the second-largest in the United States to be found entirely within one state.
Often referred to as Florida’s Inland Sea for its sheer vastness, the lake is on the map for its bass fishing. In fact, there are major Bassmaster and Toyota Series fishing tournaments here in spring. I’ll talk a little about bass fishing later in this article.
After the devastation of the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, the United States Army Corps of Engineers built the Herbert Hoover Dike. Completed in 1937 this earthwork encircles the entirety of the lake for 140 miles.
You can head to the Clewiston picnic area to appreciate the view from the dike, or head off along the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail for a hike.
2. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum
The fascinating culture and history of the Seminole Native Americans is laid bare at this excellent museum at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation.
In the Seminole language, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki means “a place to learn, a place to remember”, and the museum relates the story of the Seminoles in their own words.
There are more than 100,000 unique artifacts in the collections, including sculpture clothing, basketry, and beadwork. I was particularly absorbed by the exhibits for the Seminoles’ vibrant patchwork techniques.
As a reminder that you’re in the heart of the Everglades here, the museum is surrounded by a boardwalk nature trail. This loops for a mile through a cypress dome, and has interpretive signs identifying plants and wildlife.
3. Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST)
Running along the Herbert Hoover Dike that contains Lake Okeechobee is a 115-mile loop. This is a trail like no other, affording widescreen views of Florida’s largest lake. Away from the water you can cast your gaze over acres of sugarcane fields and orange groves.
There’s beautiful wildlife too, from wading birds like egrets and ibises, to plentiful alligators. The trail links a string of parks, marinas, and campgrounds around the lakeshore.
If you’re only in the mood for a short walk you could go out and back for a mile or two, starting at the Clewiston picnic area. My one piece of common sense advice is to hike the trail outside the summer months as there’s almost no shade along the path.
4. Clewiston Museum
Sharing a building with the Chamber of Commerce downtown, is a sensational local history museum. There are a lot of interesting facets to Clewiston’s story and you can discover them all at the Clewiston Museum.
Exhibits go into the rich soils, the sugarcane industry, cattle raising, and, of course, Lake Okeechobee and its ecology. You’ll find out about the Seminoles and other native peoples including the prehistoric Belle Glade Culture.
One captivating exhibit when I was here detailed the megafauna that once inhabited the area. On show was a collection of fossils including giant ground sloths, mastodons, and saber-tooth cats.
5. Downtown Clewiston
Mosty on US 27, Clewiston has a central business district that also runs south for a couple of blocks. Although the shops and restaurants are loosely dispersed, there are quite a few to choose from.
When it comes to dining, there’s Cuban food, tapas, pizza, sandwiches, a coffee shop, a place for acai bowls, and several chain restaurants further east and west on US 27.
Among the local shops there’s home decor, gifts, a butcher, pet supplies, along with an assortment of service businesses, from a gym to a salon and spa.
Without doubt the main landmark in the heart of the city is the Clewiston Inn (1926), the oldest operating hotel on Lake Okeechobee.
6. Clewiston Sugar Festival
For much of its existence, sugarcane has been big business in Clewiston. The Clewiston Sugar Festival has its origins as far back as the 1930s, when the United States Sugar Corporation first threw its employees a celebration.
Over time it has evolved into a multi-day celebration in mid-March, with music at its heart. Lee Brice, Grand Funk Railroad, and Chase Matthew were a few of the performers the year I was here.
Drawing visitors from all over the state, the event also includes terrific food, a car show, a rodeo, a bass fishing tournament, and even a heritage appreciation day at the local museum.
7. Lake Okeechobee Fishing Charters
A few factors combine to make Lake Okeechobee one of the best places for bass fishing in the United States. A big one is the long spawning season, beginning in December and lasting for six months.
So this makes the lake one of those rare places where you can fish for bass at all stages of their cycle, from pre-spawn to post-spawn, all at the same time.
The gateway to Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston is the Roland Martin Marina. This facility is the anchor for a small resort, with condos, an RV park, boat rentals, a tiki bar and restaurant.
It’s also the main spot to embark on a fishing charter, and there’s a lot of options, with local guides who know every inch of the lake. You’ll pick up a lot of new techniques, and will have the best chance of landing a trophy bass.
A few charters when I compiled this list were Lake Okeechobee Fishing Guide, Mark King Fishing, Hooksetter Adventures, JJ Bass Fishing, and Bass Fishing Charters with Capt. George Mro.
8. Florida Ridge AirSports Park
A comfortable drive west of the city will take you to the Florida Ridge AirSports Park. In business for more than three decades, this spot is all about motorless hang gliding.
In that time they have conducted tens of thousands of tandem flights, which is the perfect introduction for newbies like me. You’ll be flying with an expert instructor, and will have the time to just enjoy the views.
This is an experience to treasure, as you’re towed by an Ultralight aircraft up to 1,000, 2,000 or 3,500 feet, and then released to circle back to earth. The higher you begin, the more time you’ll have to learn how to control the glider.
The whole experience can pass in a blur, so it’s a good idea to get an in-flight media package.
9. Skydive Spaceland Florida
If you’re braver than me and need a safe thrill, it doesn’t get better than leaping from an airplane at thousands of feet.
Minutes west of downtown Clewiston, Skydive Spaceland Florida is a family-owned business that can offer this experience.
From newbies to experienced jumpers, they’ve got options to fit nearly everyone. Those who have never taken the plunge before can do a tandem jump.
After free-falling at 120 mph, you’ll be able to pull your own ripcord to begin a gentle, five minute flight, swirling through the skies next to Lake Okeechobee.
10. Sugarland Tours
October through March you can learn almost everything there is to know about the local sugar business. Seeing as this crop is now only grown in a handful of places in America, I think it’s an opportunity not to be missed.
With Sugarland Tours you’ll climb aboard the 24-seat Sugarland Express for a 3.5-hour tour. This is filled with historical titbits, with a video presentation and a visit to the railroad siding. Depending on the season, you may see trucks loading sugarcane onto the cars here.
The highlight is the tour of a farm, leaving no stone unturned. There you’ll learn about soil prepping, and how this crop is raised, harvested and then processed at a sugar mill.
11. Clewiston Golf Course
The city’s 18-hole golf course is close to downtown, and just off US 27. Designed by the legendary team of Wayne Stiles & John Van Kleek, the Clewiston Golf Course has been open since the 1930s.
Unlike many courses that have been altered depending on the fashion, this course offers pretty much the same experience a golfer would have enjoyed a century ago.
As with any course bordering the Everglades, the weather will affect conditions. Whether you come when things are just right or perhaps a little dry or damp, there’s no denying the beauty of the landscape.
I’ll never get used to coming across alligators on golf courses, while I also saw an osprey patrolling the fairway during my round.
12. Civic Park
Clewiston’s community park is a beautifully maintained space merging with the downtown area. Under mature shade trees, in manicured gardens, I loved just taking a break at Civic Park.
No surprise given the central location, that this is the setting for Clewiston’s main public events. The big one on the calendar is the Clewiston Sugar Festival, which I’ll cover later.
There are also occasional concerts, markets, lights at Christmas, and a ceremony on Veterans Day.
The park’s exquisite gazebo is a go-to for wedding photos, while among the amenities at this passive space are a playground and picnic tables.
13. Billie Swamp Safari
Another great reason to head for the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation is to explore the untamed watery wilderness of the Everglades.
You can do this with Billie Swamp Safari, offering exhilarating airboat rides through the cypress domes, as well as eco-tours by swamp buggy. On my airboat ride I got to see a lot of wildlife up close including alligators, turtles, and magnificent wading birds.
As well as a restaurant, there are also animal exhibits on the property, with native and exotic animals like crocodiles and capybaras.
When I updated this list, the Billie Swamp Safari was temporarily closed, though the animal exhibits and restaurant were still open.
14. Clewiston City Pool
Directly north of the Civic Park and library you’ll find the city’s public pool, which had just been renovated when I was in town.
Officially known as the C.S. Mott Community Pool, the facility was brought up to Florida codes for lightning detection and water filtration and purification.
The pool has been here since 1950 and is officially the oldest municipal pool still operating in the state.
It’s a relatively humble facility, but really comes into its own on the hot summer days, and there are three lifeguards on duty at any time.
Also wonderful is the splash pad, which is in a separate fenced area and accompanied by covered picnic tables.
15. Hendry County Fair & Livestock Show
A wholesome showcase for the area’s rural culture, this event had just celebrated its 70th anniversary when I visited. Taking place over five days in February, the Hendry County Fair & Livestock Show is a growing event, in every sense.
Attendances are on the rise, with more than 15,000 people attending the most recent edition. A key part of the event is the market livestock sale, with dozens of hogs and steers.
Prizes are awarded for a wide range of livestock categories, from junior to intermediate and senior. Also part of the fair are pageants, agriculture exhibits, fair food, and a variety of midway rides and games that younger children are sure to love.