The Big O Hike – nine days of day hiking around Lake Okeechobee – is the longest-running group hike in Florida. Held during Thanksgiving week, it is one of those “must do” hikes for your bucket list. For some of us, it’s an event we return to year after year. And why, you ask? It is simply Florida’s best group hike and the most social of any hiking event you’ll find in Florida. The two of us met on the Big O Hike; Sandy started hiking it in 2002, and has fully completed it three times. We’ve both cultivated some of our deepest friendships here.
On behalf of the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, we’re leading and coordinating this year’s hike – Sandra is the official FTA Activity Leader – with many, many friends and fellow FTA members pitching in to volunteer their time and support.
Please note that although we love dogs, for the well-being of those who do not, dogs are not permitted as a part of the group hike and shuttle arrangements at the Big O Hike.
Our kickoff will be Saturday, November 23, 9 AM, at Port Mayaca Recreation Area, on the north side of the St. Lucie Canal off US 441. The Wimp Walk will be held along a portion of the Rafael Sanchez Trail on the Okeechobee Ridge, which parallels the dike through a tropical forest on the original shoreline of Lake Okeechobee. Thanks to the Tropical Trekkers for assisting with this year’s Wimp Walk!
The 2013 hike schedule reflects the fact that portions of the Herbert Hoover Dike will be closed for construction, reducing our overall mileage slightly. There are two days where we won’t know for sure until we’re there whether a segment of the Florida Trail will be open or closed to access. If open, we’ll hike it; if closed, we’ll use our “Plan B” alternate hike (also a Florida Trail System hike) for that day. The map below the chart shows our starting points/ending points for each day’s hike, as well as the campgrounds we’re using.
|Nov 23 | Day 1 | Sat||7.8 mi||Port Mayaca to J&S Fish Camp, Chauncey Bay|
|Nov 24 | Day 2 | Sun||10.2 mi||Chauncey Bay to Nubbin Slough|
|Nov 25 | Day 3 | Mon||9.5 mi||Nubbin Slough to Okee-tantie *or*|
|13.5 mi||SR 70 to Okeechobee via Okee-tantie|
|Nov 26 | Day 4 | Tue||10.2 mi||Okee-tantie to Indian Prairie Canal|
|Nov 27 | Day 5 | Wed||12.5 mi||Indian Prairie Canal to Lakeport|
|Nov 28 | Day 6 | Thu||9.4 mi||Lakeport to Moore Haven|
|Nov 29 | Day 7 | Fri||5.0 mi||Fort Center Trail *and*|
|5.4 mi||Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp to Clewiston|
|Nov 30| Day 8 | Sat||14.4 mi||Florida Trail, CR 835 to Lake Harbor|
|Dec 1| Day 9 | Sun||11.8 mi||South Bay to Pahokee|
Completing the above hikes qualifies you for a 2013 Big O Hike certificate, as does finishing up a prior year’s hike by filling in your missing segments this year. For those who want to get extra miles in on the shorter days, we’ll have information available on additional hikes in the area in this year’s edition of the guidebook.
Keep in mind that the Big O Hike is a series of day hikes and you will be car camping or staying in a hotel or cabin. Our two host campgrounds for the Big O Hike are the Okeechobee KOA and the Clewiston KOA. At both campgrounds, Wagonmaster Mike Nomad will handle campsite assignments and payments for campsites. Please bring CASH or CHECK (payable to Loxahatchee Chapter FTA). You may arrive any time after 12 noon on Friday Nov 22 at the Okeechobee KOA. Our group will move to the Clewiston KOA on Friday Nov 29 after the morning hike.
Our group camping rates are $30 per site (two tents or one camper/RV) at Okeechobee KOA, $22 per site (two tents or one small camper) or $33 (RV) at Clewiston KOA. The Wagonmaster will handle all campsite assignments as you arrive. Do not contact the campground about the campsites; simply tell them you’re here for the Big O Hike as you drive in.
You are also welcome to stay in a local hotel and join us each day. The Best Western and Holiday Inn Express in Okeechobee are offering special rates, as is the Holiday Inn Express in Clewiston. Please see these details before you make a reservation. There are budget motel options in both towns as well. You may also rent a cabin (independent of our group, make your own reservation via the above links) at either of the campgrounds.
Every evening at 7 PM we hold a mandatory meeting at the campground to recap the day and work out the next day’s logistics. Shuttling during the Big O Hike is done as a cooperative venture between the participants. Some non-hiking participants volunteer as drivers, but we primarily set up key swaps and ask that if you have a car or SUV that can accommodate 4 or more, to take your turn volunteering as a driver for a few days during the event. Bring your spare keys! For key swaps to work, we need a core group of faster hikers to walk in the opposite direction each day to move cars ahead. If you’re speedy on your feet, volunteer to be one of our “rabbits.”
Founded in 1991 by the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, the Big O Hike involves nine days of walking around the second largest lake entirely within the United States. It may be the largest lake in the world that you can fully circle on a hiking trail. While some folks come for the challenge, others come for the camaraderie.
You can walk as little as a few miles on the kickoff day (the “Wimp Walk”) or join us for any day or portion of a day during the nine day event. There are no rules as to how much of the hike you must complete in a single year. To obtain an official completion certificate, you can hike all nine days in one year, or five days in one year and four the next, or one day a year for nine years … it’s up to you and your schedule.
Group camping is part of the dynamic that bonds participants together. We negotiate group rates with two campgrounds along the route and use them as our base camps. No backpacking is involved. If you’d rather not camp, there are nearby motels that offer special rates for hikers during the event.
Logistical details – which change from year to year – are presented in our annual guidebook to the Big O Hike. You are welcome to download a copy of the 20th Anniversary Official Big O Hike Guide (11.8 Mb PDF) to get a feel for how the hike progresses and how you need to prepare for it. The guidebook changes every year and is available a month or two before the hike. The 2013 guidebook will be very different due to changes in the trailheads and segments we’ll be hiking, so be sure to order one! See the instructions at the top right of this page.
To learn more about the Big O Hike and what it’s like:
Learn more by reading these journals and articles Sandra has written over the years:
Listen to Sandra on “Good Morning Glades,” Call.FM 91.5, November 23, 2011, talking with host Jeff Barwick about the Big O Hike and hiking on the Florida Trail.