Crossing the Seminole Reservation and Sugarcane Canals on the Florida Trail


The Seminole Indian Reservation of Florida is the next destination after the Everglades. Then you will travel along canals through sugarcane and cattle fields.

Cover image: This is all you need to know about Florida… Cattle, roads, canals, and a big ball of fire.

After the Everglades

The unofficial end of the Everglades section is the rest area on I-75. The beginning of the Seminole reservation is about seven miles further north from that point. That stretch is on a road along a canal for most of the way.

When you get to the border of the reservation, there is an eight foot high metal fence and metal gate with lots of signage. The sign in is warning you that you must have a permit to hike through the Seminole reservation. You have to submit your permit in advance and have it accepted before you can enter.

Beginning the Reservation

The reservation itself can be split into three parts, The West half and the east half with the town itself being the center point. I am going northbound so the west section was my entry into the reservation.

The western section begins on a trail in the woods with cypress vegetation off into the distance. The immediate vegetation is mostly pine and palmetto.

The road becomes slightly more civilized when it comes into a large lime rock road that is paved very wide. It is hard to find shade here because the road is so wide and the trees are so far away. But every few miles you might manage to find an oak tree or a palm tree that you can hide under for a quick stop.

The Billy Swamp Safari used to be one of the must-do points within the reservation. The Safari closed for covid and has yet to reopen. Rumors are that it will never reopen. Signage indicates the restaurant might be the only part that has reopened.

Too early to stop for food.

Since the reservation is twenty miles wide and there’s no camping permitted, this was one way to cut 7 or 8 mi off of the long road.

You begin to see more and more residences as you get to the edge of town. The agriculture here is cattle and you can see herds of cattle all around.

The West End of Town

The first real landmark you come to is the cemetery. They have just built a new restroom and chickee facility that provides much needed shade, since the roadwalk is in complete sun.

They have a bottle filling station and when I filled my bottle it said we have saved five bottles. So I am one of the early customers.

The chickee is also brand new and still smells like a broom factory. I’m sure a few months in the Florida sun and that wonderful odor will vanish.

The next major point of interest is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum. I was there over the new year holiday, so the museum was closed both the day I arrived and the day I intended to leave.

I regret that I never got to visit it. Just from the sheer size, it looks to be a fantastic museum and I will want to come back some day.

Center of town

My destination for the day was the New Testament Baptist Church. If you call in advance, they will let you camp behind the church and use their bathroom and shower facilities. I had a bonus with my visit in that they were serving a Sunday dinner and invited me to join them.

Their hospitality was incredible and I hope that other hikers treat them with just as much kindness so that this opportunity can continue for years.

Sleeping under a chickee at the New Testament Baptist Church.

I had started early enough in the day that I could have made it all the way across the reservation in one day. But I arranged to stay at the Baptist Church to be able to visit the museum.

I did not find out until after I arrived that the day after was also a holiday being January 2nd the observed New Year’s Day holiday.

It still gave me a chance to clean up and catch up on some of my chores, so I am glad that I made the stop.

The East Side of Town

The rest of town has only three places of interest to the hiker. The Sweet Tooth Cafe which was closed while I was there, a gas station in the middle of town, and the Big Cypress Landing at the east side of town.

The Big Cypress Landing is a convenience store with a deli. The ladies there were super friendly and the police officer that was there talked to me for at least fifteen minutes about the Florida Trail.

Relax and snack under the chickee at the Big Cypress Landing.

I was there for breakfast and it was amazing. It was too early for Indian fried bread but, Cuban toast has to be a close second to their specialties. It is an ample stop for a resupply.

The rest of the walk out of town begins with residences and then eventually turns to Canals off of the main road. The cattle industry resumes until you begin to get near the water management district plans at the exit of the reservation.

With the Western end having a huge gate, I was expecting a little fanfare on the East end. But there is only a small sign so it’s easy to miss when you’re actually leaving the reservation.

Nothing but Canals

Now you begin the canal walks. There are no trees within the canal area unless you can find a lone palm tree perhaps every 5 mi or so.
But one area you can find shade are the pump stations.

They are concrete block buildings about 12 by 20 feet. The North side of them should provide non-stop shade. I would time my stops with the pump stations which are roughly a mile or so apart.

Eventually the canals enter more cattle areas, but now introduce the sugarcane industry. Sugarcane is growing year round in this area and you can see hundreds of fields in various stages of production.

The sugarcane industry is not an organic industry. They use liberal application of herbicides or pesticides by crop duster. I don’t think I hiked a day without seeing several crop dusters each day. I even saw two helicopter crop dusters. The planes are fun to watch because of their extreme maneuvers in the air.

But both the sugar cane and cattle industry means that agricultural runoff is a problem with the canals in the area. All of the canals are considered polluted.

For this reason, local  volunteers manage water caches at critical locations. They manage a water report similar to the Pacific Crest Trail that identifies the locations and provides opportunity for hikers to give feedback as to the remaining quantity. People are also using the FarOut app comment section to report water quantity.

A water cache maintained by volunteers along the polluted canals.

I definitely made use of the water caches. I took perhaps a liter and a half from nearly all of them.

I passed perhaps 10 fields on this trip which were being actively harvested with combines and wagons. I enjoyed watching the operations of the big machinery. The operators would wave whenever they would come by the side of the fields next to the canal. Be sure to wave back to them.

If you are unlucky, you may encounter a field being burned. They burn them off before harvest to remove excess vegetation.

When I came to a very large burn that was blowing across the trail, there was a palm tree nearby so I stopped and ate lunch to see if the smoke would dissipate. After 45 minutes it seemed to only get worse and not better.
I decided to put my mask on and see if I could walk through it.

The mild side of the smoke from a burning sugarcane field.

It was perhaps 200 maybe 300 yards of moderate smoke. It did not irritate my eyes and with the mask on, did not irritate my lungs at all.

But as I exited the smoke, I realized I was coming to the LE-1 campsite. At this point the trail turns 90° to the right. And in my case was going right back into even thicker smoke.

I couldn’t stay at the campsite because of smoke, so I pushed on through the second wall of smoke. This time it was much thicker and much more intense. I had no respiratory problems but my eyes did begin to water. It was also about 300 yards in length.

With a large number of fields and the continuous operations, burning fields are probably a reality for most hikers. If you are comfortable and have no breathing issues, walking through it should not be a major concern. This is not California.

The hardest part about the canal walks is they are very long stretches of very straight trail. If you are hiking the official trail atop the levees, the trail can get weedy at times. But it if it has not been mowed recently, there is nearly always a road running parallel to the trail that you could find refuge on if needed.

A five or six mile section near the end of the canal walks had not been mowed when I came by. The grass was fairly thick and from the comments in the FarOut app, It looks like it gets even worse the further you go.

About one mile into it, I encountered the mowers actively mowing. There happened to be a bridge across the Canal out to the road right where the mowers were, so I decided to move over to the road to avoid them.

The road is not busy, so it is not a bad road walk, but it is long.

Just before the canals reach lake Okeechobee, you encounter at tiny post office. It has very limited hours so I don’t know how many people use it. It also looks very weathered and run down. But I am sure the air conditioning feels great if it is open.

John Stretch Memorial Park is where the West Okeechobee or East Okeechobee trails diverge. It is a nice park with lots of shaded picnic tables and a bathroom with running water.

The cell service is also very good, as is the Uber service into Clewiston. Clewiston is a large town with full services.

You can’t camp at the park, but there are official camping spots along the trails on Herbert Hoover Dike where you could camp if you are not going into town.

Pick one Emotion

I would have to pick gratitude. Gratitude for the hospitality at the New testament Baptist Church. Gratitude for the effort of volunteers maintaining water caches.

Hiking the entire reservation in one day is not impossible, but it means you have to camp the entrance and expect to camp near the exit. Having another option in the middle of the reservation affords a tremendous amount of flexibility in your schedule. It also gives you more time to explore the reservation itself.

The canal walks to the lake are very long walks. And if the water in the canals is as bad as they say, then having water caches makes all the difference in the world.

It would not be life threatening in this area to run out of water. But no one wants to drink water that has a high chance of making them sick. I’m grateful that I did not have to drink out of the canals.

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Comments 1

  • Doug Wise : Jan 12th

    Great write up – Thanks for all the useful information. I have been eye-balling the FL Trail for a while and have had a bunch of questions. Nice to see a few people hiking the trail and sharing.
    I am about two years out from being able to start working on some long trails I have wanted to do for the last 25 years.
    Happy Hiking!


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