Off the Beaten Path from West Palm Beach: South Bay, Fla.
South Bay, once known as the “Crossroads of Florida,” was double-crossed when the main highway through town (441) was bypassed by more modern I-95 and I-75. As it idled on a road less traveled, over time the town shifted into a more natural pace. Now when it comes to providing simple pleasures like camping, fishing, and bird watching, South Bay has a triple play of activities that remind you when on a rural Florida road trip, simple pleasures are the best.
1. Camp Meeting
Throughout the year, and especially during winter months, camping on the shores of Lake Okeechobee is a popular pastime – and the South Bay RV Park is one of the lake’s most popular destinations. Located at the base of the levee that encircles the lake, the county park offers 72 spaces for tents and RVs, with each providing full hook-ups, an outdoor grill, and picnic table. There’s camp-wide Wi-Fi, a playground, basketball court, shuffleboard court, fire rings, a multi-purpose pavilion, an air-conditioned recreation room, a laundry, restrooms, and hot showers.
From the boat ramp on the opposite side of the dike, follow the channel into the wide-open waters of “The Big O” and embark on a fishing, bird watching, or sightseeing excursion. In the water lurk crappie, bluegill, red-ear sunfish, catfish, and largemouth bass -- the prize catch for freshwater anglers. In the sky, in the reeds, and along the shore look for wading birds and raptors including herons, egrets, ibis, wood storks, coots, kites, and bald eagles.
2. Circle Tour
The same levee you crossed en route to the lake is the same one you’d use to hike around the lake. Atop the 35-foot high Herbert Hoover Dike that completely encircles the lake, the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail and one of the state’s most visited recreational paths. Some hearty travelers take on the challenge of “Hiking the Big O” and complete the full 110-mile over several days, but chances are you’d want to pace yourself by hiking or biking a more moderate distance. Even on a short excursion, from the advantage of this elevated vantage point you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the lake. And with a keen eye (better yet, with a pair of binoculars), you’ll enjoy searching for native and migrating birds as well as wildlife including alligators, turtles, and otters.
3. Park Place
South Bay’s prime attractions lean toward Lake Okeechobee. It’s only natural. That tradition holds true just a few miles west of the campground at the John Stretch Park. At 56 acres, the rectangular park stretches along US 27 and is easily noticeable thanks to an outdoor display of vintage engines, pumps, valves, and pipes that once were part of the flood control facility. It’s a pleasing stop with old-fashioned picnic shelters encircling a small pond and a pavilion available for large events. Cross the levee and, once again, you’ll see the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail as well as the lake itself. While this location finds its fair share of anglers navigating around Ritta Island to reach their favorite fishing spot, some travelers prefer to canoe or kayak in the calm waters of the canal that borders the park.
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