5 Tips for the Ocean to Lake Trail By Retha Charette

Retha Charette is a 2022 FarOut Scout

Retha Charette eats meal at campsite
Photo provided by Retha Charette

I did the Ocean to Lake Trail on a complete whim. It started when I sent a text to my friend Mileage, who I met the year before on the Appalachian Trail. The text simply said: “We should hike the Ocean to Lake Trail near you! I found it on the FarOut app!” Why I thought this was a good idea as someone who is afraid of alligators, large snakes, and doesn’t like the heat, I’ll never know.  She promptly responded with, “Sure,” and 2 months later I was gearing up to hike in the Florida swamps.

Hiker walking through a swampy wooded area
Photo provided by Retha Charette
Two hikers walking down a road
Photo provided by Retha Charette

1. Don’t Hike Solo

I’m a big believer in the power of a solo hike. However, I don’t recommend it on the Ocean to Lake Trail. A lot of the time you spend in at least calf-deep water and you never know what’s in the water. Alligators and snakes can be sneaky little buggers and it’s just not worth getting hurt over a hike, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience hiking through swamps.

Hiker walking through water
Photo provided by Retha Charette
Hiker with a sun umbrella open
Photo provided by Retha Charette

2. Bring a Sun Shirt (or an umbrella), No Matter The Time of Year You Hike

In several places throughout the hike there will be plenty of spots to stop and rest in the shade, but there are some longer road walks and plenty of spots where you don’t have any. As hot as it might get, bring a sun shirt, (my favorite is my TownShirt!) and maybe even a hiking umbrella

3. Don’t Underestimate The Terrain

I remember checking out the map on FarOut, seeing the terrain, and saying, “That’s adorable.” How wrong I was. Are there big climbs? Nope. Is it completely flat? Yup. BUT, you’re wading through water a bunch and they will give your legs a serious workout. I was in decent hiking shape when I did this trail and had finished the Appalachian Trail just a few months before, so I was no stranger to hiking, but on the Ocean to Lake Trail you hike through swamps and sand dunes, which pose their own challenges.

Hikers walking past a body of water
Photo provided by Retha Charette
Retha Charette Hiking
Photo provided by Retha Charette

4. A Warning If You Camp On Bowman Island

I was super excited to wade across the water to spend the night on Bowman Island. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nature, and you really are. As the sun was setting the barred owls were calling and I was able to get one (by calling back to them) to come really close to camp. I wasn’t, however, ready for the sounds of nature I would hear later that night.


The first sounds happened around 11:45 pm. It started off with a big splash followed by gasping for air. I can’t fully describe the guttural noises I heard after that, but something was definitely dying out in the water, and it wasn’t a quick death. For at least 20 minutes there was plenty of wheezing, and it wasn’t the last time it happened that night. At least 3 additional times I heard the same thing happen, even after I put my headphones in and turned on an audiobook. 


So just a heads up, you might hear things die in the night if you sleep on Bowman Island.*

*Editor’s note: Our partner and Florida hiking expert Sandra Friend suggests the following: “In the dark of the night in a Florida swamp, it’s not uncommon to be unnerved by wildlife sounds. The limpkin, a wading bird that feeds on apple snails, has a bloodcurdling scream as its call. While feeding and mating, feral hogs grunt, squeal, and scream far louder than any barnyard pig. And when an alligator nabs a rabbit, the screech the fluffy little bunny makes is harrowing. All part of nature, but these noises will definitely give you something to think about when you’re camping in a swamp.”

5. Walk from the Lake to the Ocean Instead

While it’s called the Ocean to Lake Trail, I’d recommend hiking from the Lake to the Ocean instead. My crew of 3 and I hiked it that way and we’re so glad we did!


There isn’t really anything exciting at Lake Okeechobee to finish with, which we didn’t know until we started. There were no people, just an empty parking lot and a lake. 


When we arrived at the Atlantic Ocean, the waves were crashing over the sand. We took our swamp soaked shoes off that never dried because of the humidity and dipped our toes in the ocean. We made friends with some sunset beach-goers who gave us some trail magic in the form of beer and wine, and had an amazing end to our hike!

Final Thoughts

The Ocean to Lake Trail is a great trail for those looking to give hiking in Florida a try. You might find that you have a passion for swamp hiking, you never know!

Retha Charette stands by the ocean
Photo provided by Retha Charette

Related Trail Guide

Hike the Florida National Scenic Trail from southern sandy beaches to northern rolling hills. Stretching more than 1500 miles (2400 km) across two time zones, the Florida Trail is the southernmost of the National Scenic Trails in the United States. It is a winter destination, best hiked between October and April, with January and February as the prime months for thru-hiking and backpacking. Although there are no mountains, Florida provides challenging hiking with its swampy and sandy terrain, dense vegetation, and humidity. It showcases vast coastlines, open prairies, river valleys, bubbling springs, and a walk along the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Botanical wonders are everywhere as the trail winds through habitats from tropical forests with Caribbean trees to hillsides covered in spring mountain laurel.