Lake Okeechobee

Rimming the western edges of Palm Beach and Martin counties, the second-largest freshwater lake completely within the United States is girdled by 120 miles of road, yet remains shielded from sight for almost its entire circumference. Lake Okeechobee—the Seminole's Big Water and gateway to the great Everglades watershed—measures 730 square miles, roughly 33 miles from north to south, and 30 miles from east to west, with an average natural depth of only 10 feet (flood control brings the figure up to 12 feet and deeper). Six major lock systems and 32 separate water-control structures manage the water. Encircling the lake is a 34-foot-high grassy levee—locals call it "the wall"—and the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, a segment of the Florida National Scenic Trail, which is an easy, flat ride for bikers. There's no shade, so wear a hat, sunscreen, and bug repellent. Be sure to bring lots of bottled water, too, because restaurants and stores are few and far between.

You’re likely to see alligators in the tall grass along the shore, as well as birds, including herons, ibises, and bald eagles, which have made a comeback in the area. The 110-mile trail encircles the lake atop the 34-foot Herbert Hoover Dike. On the lake you'll spot happy anglers hooked on some of the best bass fishing in North America. There are 40 species of fish in "Lake O," including largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish, and speckled perch. You can fish from the shore or hire a guide for a half-day or all-day boat trip.

Small towns dot the lakeshore in this predominantly agricultural area. To the southeast is Belle Glade—motto: "her soil is her fortune"—playing a role as the eastern hub of the 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area, the crescent of farmlands south and east of the lake. Southwest lies Clewiston, billing itself as "America’s Sweetest Town" thanks to the presence of "Big Sugar," more formally known as the United States Sugar Corporation. At the lake's north end, around Okeechobee, citrus production and cattle ranching are the principal economic engines. Set back from the eastern edge of the lake, Indiantown is the western hub of Martin County, noteworthy for citrus production, cattle ranching, and timbering. The town reached its apex in 1927, when the Seaboard Air Line Railroad briefly established its southern headquarters and a model town here.

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