Length: 40.3 miles (linear)
Welcome to South Florida as envisioned by entrepreneur Hamilton Disston and Florida governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward at the turn of the last century, the “useless swamplands” of the upper Everglades drained to reveal the rich “black gold” beneath the sawgrass, a nutrient-rich muck ideal for agriculture. Sliced and diced by canals, what were once the Everglades is now a patchwork of cattle ranches, muck farms, and the nation’s largest sugar cane holdings.
You catch a glimpse of the former wild swamps south of Lake Okeechobee during a brief walk through the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area. From the beginning to the end of this segment, the trail follows levees managed by the South Florida Water Management District, paralleling the canals. Shade is at a premium, usually found as a brief respite under a rare tree or in the shadow of a water control structure. Blazing is extremely sporadic. But the open nature of the hike allows you panoramic views of agriculture in action, especially the fascinating process of a sugar cane harvest. Expect to make good time on these easily traversed dikes. Camping is permitted anywhere along the route, but use common sense: use the dike as a shield between your tent and any nearby roads or buildings. Do not camp next to a sugar cane field in flower (stalks topped with tufts) because the flowering fields are burned on a rotating basis. Although water is available all along the route from the trailside canals, it can be of dubious quality thanks to agricultural runoff; filter before boiling.