15 Best Things to Do in Okeechobee (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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On the northern edge of the lake of the same name, Okeechobee is a city with a lot to love. I’ll start with one of America’s largest freshwater water bodies. 

Lake Okeechobee is renowned as a haven for trophy bass, and there’s a ton of charter companies in the area to help you catch them. The shore is also remarkable for a looping trail along the dike, more than 100 miles long.

Back in town, Okeechobee has a main street well worth checking out, hosting a variety of seasonal events. The city is in one of the most remote parts of Florida, at the headwaters of the Everglades.

You can escape civilization for a day or two at parks and wildlife management areas, with vast grasslands, cypress domes, and astonishing night skies. Locally, you can take horseback rides or zoom across the swampland, spotting gators from an airboat. 

1. Bass Fishing on Lake Okeechobee

Largemouth BassSource: M Huston / shutterstock
Largemouth Bass

Lake Okeechobee has long been famous for its trophy bass. Fishing enthusiasts from all over the country flock to these shores, and there are major tournaments like the Bassmaster Elite in February. 

One reason for the lake’s success is its extended spawning season. This takes place from September until the following June. So at any time you can fish for prespawn, bedding, or post-spawn bass. 

If you’d prefer to hit the water with a professional guide, there’s a catalog of charters based in and near Okeechobee. For those visiting with their own boats, there’s a ramp by Eagle Bay a couple of minutes from downtown Okeechobee.

2. Downtown Okeechobee

I can’t get enough of Okeechobee’s charming downtown area. This is set along about five blocks of SW Park St, and looks like few main streets I’ve seen before.

That has a lot to do with Flagler Park, which creates a long green buffer on the north side by US 98. In the unassuming buildings on the south side there’s an enticing variety of local shops and restaurants.

You’ll come across a lot of surprises, from clothing boutiques to handmade gifts, home furnishings and shoes. Food-wise there’s pizza, subs, fresh roasted coffee, breakfast/diner food, and an old-style burger joint.

In front, Flagler Park has an impressive war memorial, and is the perfect venue for events like the Speckled Perch Festival in March, and Okeechobee’s adorable Christmas Festival.

3. Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail

Topping the dike around Lake Okeechobee is a 110-mile trail that encircles the entire lake. 

Built and still maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, this system of earthwork structures was ordered by President Herbert Hoover in the 1930s following a series of natural disasters on the lakeshore.

One of many things I love about the trail is its elevation. The dike rises high above both the lake and the farmland that borders it. So the views, and opportunities for spotting nature are unrivaled.

If there’s a drawback it’s the lack of tree cover. So I’d walk or ride this trail outside of the summer months.

4. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

Parts of Okeechobee can feel super remote, but nothing compares to the complete seclusion of the largest surviving expanse of Florida dry prairie. 

This is protected by the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, and Okeechobee is the nearest city. Here this knee-high grassland can stretch, uninterrupted to the horizon in all directions. 

The 54,000-acre park is part of the headwaters for the Everglades, and has distinct seasons, with heavy rains alternating with fires. A few of the remarkable species to call this environment home are the crested caracara, the Florida grasshopper sparrow, and the burrowing owl.

My recommended time to be here is November to March when ranger-led buggy tours take you to far-flung corners of the park that are otherwise unreachable.

5. Taylor Creek Stormwater Treatment Area

North of Okeechobee, this property fills an important function. The treatment cells at the Taylor Creek Stormwater Treatment Area catch phosphorus from agricultural runoff. This prevents this chemical from reaching Lake Okeechobee and causing algae blooms and such.

There are three miles of trails in this landscape, bordering cypress swamp, pine savanna, open fields for grazing, and freshwater marsh.

The abundance of water means there’s always a lot of wildlife to be seen. The ditches are a magnet for birds like roseate spoonbills, ibises, sandhill cranes, and limpkins, as well as plentiful gators.

6. Wagon Wheel Horse Farm

Out in the countryside around Okeechobee you can get a taste of the real Florida.  A long-term local business, Wagon Wheel Horse Farm offers trail rides for small groups.

You’ll head into the native pine and hardwood forest at the Taylor Creek Stormwater Treatment Area. Despite being quiet and seldom traveled, this property sits just north of Okeechobee.

Rides are led by entertaining, friendly guides, and there’s an effort to keep things small, with groups of no more than five riders. My horse was docile and mild-mannered, perfect for a newbie like me.

7. Lake Okeechobee Park

Somewhere to appreciate the stark beauty of the Lake Okeechobee shore is this public park at the foot of the levee. 

The main feature at Lake Okeechobee Park is a long T-shaped fishing pier with a covered observation area at the center. With a pair of binoculars I could easily spend an hour here, scanning the shore. 

It’s not hard to spot alligators, but there’s also an amazing assortment of wading birds. I saw a sandhill crane pluck a large fish from the water and take it down in one go. Needless to say, everything is even prettier early or late in the day here. 

If you want to drop a line from the shore, this is the place to come, and there’s also a boat ramp, restrooms and picnic tables.

8. Eagle Bay Airboat Rides

Traced by the long dike containing Lake Okeechobee, Eagle Bay is a natural lake fed by Limpkin Creek. Teeming with wildlife, this exciting habitat is waiting to be explored on an airboat tour.

With Eagle Bay Airboat Rides you’ll zip around the lake spotting dozens of gators, from hatchlings to 12+ footers. My favorite part is the trip up Limpkin Creek, where you’ll enter a primeval cypress swamp environment. 

All the while you’ll be given educational details about Lake Okeechobee, its rich wildlife, the levee, and its impact on the Everglades. Tours take place seven days a week, and you can also book hour-long private trips.

9. Lightsey’s Seafood Restaurant

Lightsey’s Seafood RestaurantSource: Lightsey's Seafood Restaurant / Facebook
Lightsey’s Seafood Restaurant

Dating back to 1977, this family-owned eatery in Okeechobee offers an authentic taste of the Everglades. 

Lightsey’s Seafood Restaurant is one of those spots that evolved into a dining destination from something quite different. It started out as a combined fish store and bait shop, and gradually started preparing meals. 

They specialize in Floridian cuisine, using fresh local ingredients in the most literal sense. As the motto for the Okeechobee sampler goes, “If it swims, crawls or hops, you’ll find it on this plate!”

That dish features gator, fried catfish filets, cooter, catnips, and froglegs. To finish, you’ve got to follow up with one of the homemade desserts, like the peach cobbler or key lime pie.

10. KOA Campground and Golf Resort

KOA Campground And Golf ResortSource: Ed Jones / Facebook
KOA Campground And Golf Resort

This KOA (Kampgrounds of America) facility in Okeechobee is like a bunch of different resorts all located together in one convenient location.

Featuring 9 holes of golf, a driving range, tennis, three pools, and easy access to Lake Okeechobee it’s an all-encompassing delight for vacationers. 

As for accommodations, you’ve got a slew of big-rig friendly RV sites, but also fully furnished deluxe cabins, more rustic camping cabins, and deluxe tent campsites.

I love how full of life this place is throughout the year. In that spirit, the resort stages all kinds of seasonal events, from Mardi Gras celebrations to a Christmas decorating contest, and there’s a variety of organized activities, like a full-moon bike ride.

11. Trading Post Flea Market

Easily spotted thanks to the big caboose by SE 28th St and US 441, this flea market has been in business for 30+ years.

Open every weekend, 8 AM to 3 PM year-round, the Trading Post Flea Market has upwards of 300 vendor spaces. This place is perfect for idle browsing, with huge discounts and items you might not find anywhere else.

When I was here I saw a lot of fresh produce, Florida-themed souvenirs, antiques, handmade jewelry, electronics, religious items, fossils, shells, fashion, hardware, art, and tons more.

12. Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

One of America’s most unique music events takes place in the countryside not far out of Okeechobee. 

Among the pines at the 600-acre Sunshine Grove, the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival is a four-day camping festival, with cutting-edge music in a multitude of genres. 

I’m talking about everything from experimental to rave, funk, country, dance, hip-hop, reggae, indie, and all of the many overlaps. 

The organizers work hard to cultivate a relaxed but relentlessly surreal experience. To that end they have taken a couple of fallow years since the festival was launched in 2016 to keep things fresh. 

A few past headliners include Odesza, Tame Impala, Arcade Fire, and Rüfüs Du Sol.

13. Dupuis Wildlife Management Area

Dupuis Nature AreaSource: Shackleford Photography / shutterstock
Dupuis Wildlife Management Area

Head around the lakeshore, and inside half an hour you’ll get to another massive swath of protected nature. The Dupuis WMA is 22,000 acres of wet prairies, cypress domes, pine flatwoods, open water, and Everglades marsh.

As with the Kissimmee Prairie Reserve, the remoteness of this property is an attraction in its own right. The night skies here were some of the clearest I’ve ever witnessed. 

There’s a nature center with interpretive exhibits about the ecology of South Florida, and the archeological sites in the WMA, dating back 2,500 years or more. 

Outside you can stroll along a cypress boardwalk, or escape to the wilderness on more 22 miles of hiking rails and another 40 miles of equestrian trails.

14. Seminole Casino Brighton

Seminole Casino BrightonSource: Seminole Brighton Casino / Facebook
Seminole Casino Brighton

Over 36,000 acres, the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation is just west of Okeechobee, and is one of six reservations for the Seminole Native Americans. Much of this vast landscape is used for cattle farming, a Seminole tradition reaching back centuries. 

The big attraction is an ultra-modern casino, with 27,000 square feet of gaming space. About half an hour from Okeechobee, to call this facility remote would be an understatement, but what I found was a gamer’s paradise. 

You’ve got 400+ slot machines, a variety of table games, and high-stakes bingo. These features are complemented by a full-service restaurant and lounge.

15. Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park

Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State ParkSource: Natalie Carlson / Facebook
Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park

The pivotal battle in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) took place just outside Okeechobee. 

The Battle of Okeechobee took place on Christmas Day in 1837 and pitted more than a thousand federal troops against a coalition of Native Americans that included Miccosukee and Seminole warriors.

With their superior numbers and modern weapons, the U.S. troops claimed victory. The battle marked a decisive point in the war, with Seminole resistance waning in the years that followed.

Now, close to two centuries after the event, the battlefield is a humble attraction, but worthwhile to know you’ve visited a piece of history. I found an information board detailing the event, and an authentic Seminole chickee shelter with picnic tables.

15 Best Things to Do in Okeechobee (FL):

  • Bass Fishing on Lake Okeechobee
  • Downtown Okeechobee
  • Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail
  • Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
  • Taylor Creek Stormwater Treatment Area
  • Wagon Wheel Horse Farm
  • Lake Okeechobee Park
  • Eagle Bay Airboat Rides
  • Lightsey’s Seafood Restaurant
  • KOA Campground and Golf Resort
  • Trading Post Flea Market
  • Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival
  • Dupuis Wildlife Management Area
  • Seminole Casino Brighton
  • Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park