On the fertile southeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee, Pahokee is a small community dating back to the Florida land boom of the 1920s.
In fact, booms and busts, and devastating hurricanes have defined the history of this city. For visitors, “Florida’s Inland Sea” is the star attraction. This vast water body spreads out beyond the horizon, and is the place to go for largemouth bass fishing.
I don’t think anywhere in the country looks quite like the Lake Okeechobee shore. The entire lake is ringed by a 35-foot green dike, built for flood control in the 1930s. You can hike or ride along the top via the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail.
Around Pahokee you can come to terms with how the northern parts of the Everglades were tamed, visiting canals, locks, and an early highway, built in the 1920s.
1. Pahokee Campground & Marina
As I mentioned earlier, Pahokee is the only city with direct access to Lake Okeechobee. At others you need to negotiate canals, but Pahokee has a facility right on the water.
The lakefront views are exceptional, and if you want to stretch your legs you can head off on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail from here.
Lined up along the shore are 125 campsites at the Pahokee Campground, with full RV and tent hookups. The sunsets are always sensational, and would be a worth a visit alone.
If you have your own boat, I doubt there’s a better place to access the lake and fish the southern portions, abounding with largemouth bass.
2. Lake Okeechobee
Without doubt Pahokee’s main attraction is this immense freshwater lake, dubbed Florida’s inland sea.
Lake Okeechobee is the tenth-largest natural freshwater in the country, and the second-largest to sit entirely within a state’s boundaries.
It covers more than 730 square miles, and is too large to see across from Pahokee. Despite its massive area, it’s never any deeper than 13 feet.
The lake has had a violent natural history, even by Florida’s standards. Two hurricanes in the 1920s claimed thousands of lives.
Those disasters led to the construction of an earthwork dike in the following decade, ordered by Herbert Hoover and encircling the entire lake.
Nowadays the Lake Okeechobee attracts people for trophy fishing, boating, and to take on the epic Lake Okeechobee Scenic trail. I’ll talk about these aspects below in my list.
3. Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail
Rising more than 30 feet, the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee was first completed in the 1930s and then expanded in the 1960s. At that time the top of this immense structure started to become a hiking hotspot.
With a mix of asphalt and crushed stone, it was added to the Florida National Scenic Trail in 1993. On a 110–mile unbroken loop, the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail resembles no other path in Florida.
I am constantly amazed by the views over the lake and low-lying farmland, as well as the connecting waterways. These are visible at Canal Point and Port Mayaca, both a short drive north of Pahokee.
4. Bass Fishing on Lake Okeechobee
Florida’s official freshwater fish is the largemouth bass, and this species can be found in astonishing quantities in Lake Okeechobee.
In fact, the lake is Florida’s trophy fishing capital, with literally millions of largemouth bass in its shallow waters. A few natural anomalies make this possible, including an unusually spawning season that lasts from December to May.
What’s more, Pahokee is the only city with a marina directly on the lakeshore. So I don’t think you could choose a better place to make the most of Lake Okeechobee.
If you need a guide with intimate knowledge of these waters, there’s a number of fishing charters in the area. Bass Whisper Guide, Fish with a Pro, Bass Flats & Beyond, Lake Okeechobee Charters were all operating when I went to press.
5. Skydive Palm Beach
The only skydiving dropzone in Palm Beach County is at Palm Beach County Glades Airport (PHK), south of Pahokee.
Skydive Palm Beach offers tandem jumps for people who want to experience the thrill of skydiving for the first time. These involve being attached by harness to a United States Parachute Association (USPA) certified instructor.
As well as feeling the rush of freefalling, you’ll also get an unforgettable view of the Palm Beaches and Lake Okeechobee. The whole experience can pass by in a blur, so it’s worth opting for the Gold video package when you book.
6. St. Mary Catholic Church
For me, the most charming building in Pahokee is this catholic church 1200 E Main St. Built in a Spanish Mission style in the 1930s, St. Mary Catholic Church has a compelling story.
Before it was built, masses in the area were given in private homes, and a priest would literally be shipped in from West Palm Beach.
Due to the area’s fluctuating fortunes, congregations dwindled in the 20th century. That was until the birth of the local sugarcane industry in the 1960s, which brought an influx of American and Cuban families.
Inside, the church’s most famous item is a bejeweled icon, Our Lady of Bethlehem. This was painted in Russia in the 1500s, and the lavish embellishments were added much later. You can view the icon by appointment, by phoning the church.
7. Canal Point Recreation Area
An easy drive, walk, or bike ride along the lakeshore, the Canal Point Recreation Area is one of several scenic waterfront parks nearby.
Canal Point is a handy fishing spot, and there’s bait shop close by if you need supplies. There’s a cluster of recreation amenities at the park, including a basketball court, tennis courts, and playground.
I’m sure that anyone traveling along the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail will be aware of how little shade there is. So parks like this are a godsend, with covered picnic tables for a much-needed pitstop.
8. Paul Rardin Park
On the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, this park is about halfway between Pahokee and Belle Glade. One thing going for Paul Rardin Park is its curious location, facing off against the huge, flat sweep of Torry Island.
With west-facing views of the lake and island, it’s a pretty place to be as the sun goes down. There’s a launching area for boats and canoes on Lake Okeechobee, as well as amenities for people who just want to hang out and appreciate the scenery.
These include a ring of picnic shelters with grills, a playground, and restroom facilities. This park is one of a few places to witness the monstrous alligators that inhabit the lakeshore.
9. Port Mayaca Lock & Dam
One of the low-key but satisfying things to do around Pahokee is visiting the pieces of infrastructure that keep things working.
One impressive element that maintains the level of Lake Okeechobee is this navigable lock and dam, built at large expense by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s.
Found about 15 minutes north on US 98, the Port Mayaca is near the lake’s eastern apex. If you stop for a few minutes you’re likely to see a vessel passing through.
This is also, without question, the best place to see the sunset on the lake. I can attest to the beauty of the views, while the basin on the canal side harbors some truly enormous alligators.
10. DuPuis Management Area
Farmland makes up a lot of the scenery around Pahokee, but you don’t need to travel far to see this area as it once was. The DuPuis Management Area is 22,000 acres of pine flatwoods, wet prairies, cypress domes, ponds, and surviving Everglades marshland.
Believe it or not, until the 1980s, this was all ranchland. Now, there’s no sign of that agriculture, as nature has taken over once more.
If you’re looking for adventure in the wilderness, this is my go-to. There are 22 miles of hiking trails on this property, and another 40 if you’re traveling on horseback.
There are three campgrounds in the area with running bathrooms and showers. If you’re staying overnight you’ll be simply awestruck by the night skies.
11. City of Pahokee Fall Festival
This place may be small and humble, but Pahokee still knows how to put on a party. The main annual event is the day-long Fall Festival at the end of October.
This normally coincides with Halloween, so there’s lighthearted spooky fun to go with classic fall activities. That means haystacks for kids to play on, inflatables, fall treats, as well as a haunted house, face painting, and ‘truck or treat’.
It all goes down on the grounds of the Pahokee Recreation Center, at 360 E Main Street.
12. Erickson Farm
The fertile soils on the shores of Lake Okeechobee are ideal for raising a wide assortment of fruit. One local farm with a long history in these parts is Canal Point’s Erickson Farm.
This family-owned operation goes back as far as 1911, and specializes in tropical fruit. That includes mango, lychee, sapodilla, and avocado. This is not a U-Pick farm, but there was a farm stand when I came by in July. This is open for the mango season, during the summer.
You can also pause at the public area, where there’s a nice view of the lush mango trees. Erickson Farm does offer guided tours, but these were temporarily on hiatus when I came through.
13. Conners’ Highway Toll Marker
Something that interested me about Canal Point is a scrap of Floridian infrastructure history. At this very place there was a toll booth for the first paved highway to cross the Everglades.
Initially running from West Palm Beach to Okeechobee, this was a private venture. Conners Highway was built in the 1920s as a competitor to the Tamiami Trail, which was unpaved at that time.
That first 52 mile stretch took just eight months to build, at a cost of almost $2 million. The historical marker at the site of the toll booth can be found at U.S. 98, just north of 3rd Street.
14. Black Gold Jubilee, Belle Glade
In 1976 Belle Glade hosted what was supposed to be a one-off festival to celebrate the Bicentennial. This was such a success that it became an annual tradition, paying tribute to the area’s highly fertile soils, nicknamed Black Gold.
Held every April, the Black Golf Jubilee is a signature event on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. In the days buildup to the event there’s a lot going on about town, including pageants and a children’s fishing contest.
Then when the day comes there’s a big parade along Main Street. Afterwards, everyone heads to Torry Island for live entertainment, a host of vendor booths, and carnival rides and games.
The festivities and entertainment continues into the evening, to be rounded off with a special fireworks display.
15. Glades Pioneer Park
Pahokee and Belle Glade have contributed an absurd amount of sports talent, including 20+ NFL players. You can follow in their footsteps at this comprehensive recreation facility, which was undergoing construction work when I was in town.
Among the many features of Glades Pioneer Park is a 25-yard pool, and a splash park for smaller kids. Also here are baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, four basketball courts, multipurpose fields, picnic shelters, and a playground.
To go with all that is a bicycle path, 1.25 miles long, with an exercise course that has 13 stations.