Okee­chobee County: Your nat­u­ral choice

Travel Guide to Florida - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - BY STEVE WIN­STON

Cov­er­ing 730 square miles, Lake Okee­chobee is the fifth-largest in­land lake (not con­nected to the ocean) in Amer­ica. As you might ex­pect, a lake this size of­fers plenty of recre­ational op­tions, such as boat­ing, fish­ing, ca­noe­ing and kayak­ing, just to name a few. The coun­try­side sur­round­ing the lake is ideal for hunt­ing, bird­watch­ing, bik­ing, clayshoot­ing, horse­back rid­ing and hik­ing.

An­chored by the town of Okee­chobee on the north­ern edge of Lake O, Okee­chobee County is where Old Florida thrives. Here, the beauty of na­ture is ev­ery­where. The breezes are fresh. There is an abun­dance of fish, birds and other wildlife in­clud­ing deer, tur­key, hogs, and, yes, al­li­ga­tors. The pace re­mains slow, the towns still look the way they have for eons, and the greetings are gen­uine.

This is the nat­u­ral side to Florida. And that’s why Okee­chobee County’s tag line is “Come Out­side and Play!”

SEE AND DO

“Out­side” may mean fish­ing on the giant lake filled with large­mouth bass and speck­led perch. It may be for Kis­sim­mee Prairie Pre­serve State Park, where bird­watch­ing, camp­ing, and horse­back rid­ing are su­perb, and where the night skies are so clear that the park has been des­ig­nated as a “Dark Sky” for as­tronomers—a per­fect place to study the con­stel­la­tions with­out the in­ter­fer­ence of lights from cars or towns.

“Out­side” can mean the Lake Okee­chobee Scenic Trail—also called the “Lost Trail”— which nearly cir­cles the en­tire lake, and along which you’ll see rare birds like the snail kite and the caracara.

DINE AND PLAY

But Okee­chobee County also of­fers plenty to do for na­ture-lovers who wants a lit­tle ex­cite- ment. If you’re hun­gry af­ter a day in na­ture, try the lo­cal in­sti­tu­tion called The Speck­led Perch, where the spe­cialty is not fish, but great steaks. If your han­kerin’ for seafood, try Light­sey’s, an­other long­time fa­vorite.

In­ter­est­ing events hap­pen here as well. A few years ago, lo­cal folks started the Okee­chobee Mu­sic & Arts Fes­ti­val ev­ery latewin­ter (March 1–4, 2018). The fes­ti­val now at­tracts more than 35,000 peo­ple to lis­ten to a lineup of well-known en­ter­tain­ers. And, since this is Florida cat­tle coun­try, there are some great rodeos or­ga­nized by the Cat­tle­man’s As­so­ci­a­tion, among them the Cow­town Rodeo in early March and an­other big one in Septem­ber.

TOP: An air­boat ex­cur­sion in Okee­chobee County. CEN­TER: Rodeo time in Okee­chobee.

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