You don’t have to escape the Sunshine State to enjoy a relaxing weekend at the lake. In fact, Okeechobee County, Florida, is home to the second-largest natural freshwater lake in the contiguous United States, making it a great destination for those looking to slow down, get outside and enjoy some old Florida fun. This charming area allows you to avoid the crowds and soak up some of Florida’s natural beauty, while only being two hours away from major attractions and beaches. Here are seven things to do during a weekend getaway in Okeechobee County.
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Fish Like a Pro
Known as one of the best bass fishing destinations in the world, Lake Okeechobee is a hot spot for fishing enthusiasts. Bass fishing season runs from October to March and this destination hosts multiple fishing tournaments throughout the year, including the Bassmaster Elite Series and the Costa FLW Tournament. Local bait and tackle shops like The Okeechobee Fishing Headquarters and Garrad’s Bait and Tackle have fishing guides, as well as all the apparel and gear you need for the ultimate day on the lake.
Hit the Trails on Horseback
Saddle up and discover true Florida wilderness. A horseback ride along some of the state’s finest nature trails is a great outing for a family adventure or a romantic afternoon. Visit the stables at Wagon Wheel Horse Farm or Prairie Trail Riders for a guided tour or riding lessons.
Take an Airboat Adventure
Nothing says old Florida quite like an airboat ride, but the Everglades isn’t the only place to experience it. Eagle Bay Airboat tours offer thrilling adventures on Lake Okeechobee. Guides take families and friends out on the lake to learn about the local ecosystem and wildlife, and you’ll likely spot a gator or two along the way.
Tour a Wildlife Center
Spend the afternoon with the animals at Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. This small non-profit organization is focused on rescuing, rehabilitating and returning recovered animals to their natural habitat. About 1,000 animals will come in and out of the facility annually, ranging from panthers, camels and kangaroos to deer, otters and lemurs. In addition, 300 animals are currently full-time residents at Arnold’s. The center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and runs on donations. While you can contribute any amount you like, Arnold’s asks that visiting adults donate at least $10 and children can visit for free.
Explore Downtown Okeechobee
Enjoy the small town pleasures as you walk the quaint streets of downtown Okeechobee. You’ll pass a few military monuments, as well as shops, restaurants and art installations, including the new Butterfly Sculpture Garden. Several events are held throughout the year as well, like the Art & Wine Walk and the Speckled Perch Festival and Car Show.
Enjoy Outdoor Sports
Outdoor enthusiasts are spoiled for choice in Okeechobee County. For hiking and biking, the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail is a 109-mile multi-use trail that surrounds Lake Okeechobee while the Taylor Creek Stormwater Treatment Area boasts nature trails and birdwatching. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park also offers hiking and biking, and is a dark sky designated area — perfect for camping under the stars. Or try your hand at clay shooting at Quail Creek Plantation, Ok Corral or Okeechobee Shooting Sports.
Grab a Bite at a Local Eatery
Skip the chain restaurants and get a taste of the local fare at eateries like Lightsey’s Seafood Restaurant. This local favorite opened in 1977 as a fish house, grocery and general store. Its menu includes catfish, gator bites and frog legs, and the staff will also cook up your fresh catch. Or head over to Nutmeg’s Cafe and try the made-from-scratch paninis, sandwiches, salads, and soups. You can also satisfy your sweet tooth here with hand-dipped ice cream, cakeballs and cheesecake.