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Legendary Fisheating Creek: Kayak trail lives up to hype, but timing is everything

For decades, I have wanted to kayak Fisheating Creek, which is just west of Lake Okeechobee.

The problem: For 10 years, the stream was closed to kayaks and canoes because it was in private hands. During that time (1989-1998) Fisheating Creek achieved legendary status. (Isn’t that how prohibition works? Forbid it and we want it even more?)

But since the state purchased the creek lands in 1998, the biggest challenge to Fisheating Creek kayak trips has been fluctuating water level. In the summer, when Florida is hot and buggy, water levels are high enough to kayak Fisheating Creek. When the weather cools and the mosquitos subside, water levels plummet.

The dark tea-colored water was a mirror for the cypress forest along Fisheating Creek.
The dark tea-colored water is a mirror for the cypress forest along Fisheating Creek.

If you want to experience Fisheating Creek kayaking and be comfortable, you have to time it to a few brief weeks in the fall.

So, on a beautiful November day, my husband and I realized,THIS was the weekend, and we might not have another soon.

After years of hearing about it, our expectations were high, and, generally, that’s a bad thing when traveling. Consider this: Florida’s best-known and most-loved nature photographer, Clyde Butcher, says it was seeing Fisheating Creek that first opened his eyes to the true beauty of Florida.

A wood stork takes flight while we are kayaking Fisheating Creek near Lake Okeechobee. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A wood stork takes flight while we are kayaking Fisheating Creek near Lake Okeechobee. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Our experience? Even with that, Fisheating Creek lived up to our expectations.

It is spectacularly scenic, with every stroke of our 8-mile kayak trip bringing us to a photo-worthy scene. We were never outside the sight or sound of wildlife, with birds squawking and trilling, heron and wood storks flying as we approached and dozens of alligators lounging, splashing and cruising.

Cypress knees along Fisheating Creek near Lake Okeechobee. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Cypress knees along Fisheating Creek near Lake Okeechobee. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

There was no sign of man except the trail markers that kept you from paddling down dead ends. But the star is the forest of ancient cypress trees and knees, full of Spanish moss, air plants; each tree unique and full of personality.

This is, without question, one of the prettiest rivers in South Florida, and it’s only two hours from the 6 million people who live in the Palm Beach, Broward and Miami Dade counties.

Fisheating Creek kayak trip: Planning an outing

Fisheating Creek was beautiful for the entire 8 mile paddle. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Fisheating Creek was beautiful for the entire 8 mile paddle. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Because all put-in spots are on private land, you have two choices in kayaking Fisheating Creek, and both start at the Fisheating Creek Outpost, a beautiful live-oak-shaded campground and boat ramp right off U.S. 27.

You can bring your own kayak or canoe and put in here and then paddle upstream or downstream and back and it will cost you just $2 per person. You also can rent canoes and kayaks here. Rates are here.

Another option: pay for livery service for your or their kayak or canoe and start upstream and paddle back to the outpost campground. (We brought our trusty canoe to have it carried by livery, which, it turns out, was not worth the trouble. It cost $50 to livery our canoe and $55 to rent one of theirs to be launched at the same place.)

Gators are constant companions for Fisheating Creek kayaking. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Gators are constant companions for Fisheating Creek kayaking. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

If you choose the livery service option, you can be delivered eight miles upstream at Burnt Bridge, which makes an excellent four- or five-hour day trip.

You also can be delivered 16 miles upstream at Ingrams Crossing, which is about an eight-hour paddle. If you’re a camper, you can stop and make a primitive camp at sites along the way and make a weekend out of it.

These livery options are only available when water levels are sufficient. (Here’s where to check.)

This primitive campsite is a camping site while kayaking Fisheating Creek.. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
This primitive campsite is accessible only when canoeing or kayaking Fisheating Creek.. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On our first visit, we kayaked the eight mile route from Burnt Bridge when the water in Fisheating Creek was 2.75 feet high. You need 1.5 feet of water to kayak (2 feet to canoe) without constant portaging. At 2.75 feet, the water level was perfect, with a gentle current and no obstacles.

In November 2021, we returned when the water was 4.5 feet.

On our first trip, there were plenty of exposed sandbars that made perfect spots for a lunch break and a few areas of higher ground that appeared to be popular (though very clean) primitive camping sites.

On our second trip with higher water, there were few sandbars and you wouldn’t find a good campsite until after the half-way mark.

It is also possible to paddle downstream from the Outpost and explore the stream and its backwaters. (See more on that below.)

A primitive campsite along Fisheating Creek near Lake Okeechobee. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A primitive kayaking campsite along Fisheating Creek near Lake Okeechobee when water was 2.75 feet deep. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The wild world of Fisheating Creek 

Fisheating Creek is 52 miles long, starting in Highlands County and ending at Lake Okeechobee. The most popular section for kayakers is upstream from Fisheating Creek Outpost.

At some points on this marked trail, Fisheating Creek narrows into a shaded almost swift stream through islands of cypress trees, with tight switchbacks.  At other points, it widens into slow-moving sunny lakes. The water is a dark orange tea color from tannins.

While the trail has twists, turns, deadends and points where you paddle right through a forest of cypress trees, there are plenty of blue-painted trail markers plus signs indicating the distance to Lake O every mile AND metal paddling-trial signs. It’s easy to follow.

The kayak trail on Fisheating Creek at times goes through what looks like an impenetrable cypress forest. But the blue blazes (tree at center) keep you on the trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The kayak trail on Fisheating Creek at times goes through what looks like an impenetrable cypress forest. But the blue blazes (tree at center) keep you on the trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On a perfect autumn day, we came across perhaps five other boats, including a few fishermen reporting some action. Occasionally, we’d hear a little traffic noise in the distance, but most of the time, we were immersed in a wild world that felt primeval.

Our constant companion were the sights and sounds of the splendid wildlife:  The machine-gun rattle of kingfishers flying back and forth;  the complaining urnk, urnk of the flocks of ibis; the croaking calls of the great blue heron. We saw many wood storks, anhinga, one sandhill crane, a few hawks, osprey and all the types of heron and egrets common to South Florida. We didn’t see some other regularly spotted residents: swallow-tail kites and caracara.

Reflections along Fisheating Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Reflections along Fisheating Creek kayak trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

There were alligators everywhere. Most were shy enough to silently slip into the water as we approached. A few plunged into the water showily – one managed to douse me and my camera in a big mud-flecked splash.

On a previous visit, we saw deer along the creek and muddy spots show evidence of wild hogs. Florida panthers also range through this area.

Kayaking downstream from Fisheating Creek Outpost

Downstream from the outpost, Fisheating Creek kayakig is spectactularly beautiful. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Downstream from the outpost, Fisheating Creek kayaking is spectactularly beautiful. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

It’s great paddling with the current using the livery service, as described above. But the scenery is just as stunning if you paddle downstream and return, paddling against the light current, back to the outpost. It might even be possible to paddle east a distance in winter when it gets too shallow upstream.

On our second visit to Fisheating Creek, we paddled about four miles east, which is downstream, from the outpost to a widening of the river called Paradise Lake. There was 2.1 feet of water, which turned out to be plenty. We had to walk over only one sandbar.

It was an absolutely stunning trip: The whole way, it was wild and pristine, with no signs of man except for a few other boaters, a single cabin and three pieces of litter. We took some wrong turns (which were all beautiful) and spent about six hours there, enjoying the company of uncountable alligators, herons, hawks, ibis and kingfishers plus a pileated woodpecker and loud-but-unseen owl.

I recommend this trip for day paddlers and also campers, because you can pitch a tent along the many sandbars for a wild and primitive camping experience.

Here’s a tip for this kayak trail option: If you paddle east, about 20 minutes after you go under US2, you come to a confusing area with many waterway options. Don’t take the left turn or the right turn — both lead to dead ends. Watch the current and choose the straighter course. At some points along the river, trees are banded with blue as trail markers.

Initially, there may be paddlers and fishermen, but as you kayak further from the start, you are likely to have the magnificent cypress forest to yourself.

Camping at Fisheating Creek Outpost

Camping at Fisheating Creek Outpost off U.S. 27 near Palmdale. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Camping at Fisheating Creek Outpost off U.S. 27 near Palmdale. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The campground at Fisheating Creek Outpost, part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area, has 120 sites. There are 68 sites for tent campers and 48 RV full-hookup sites with 30 and 50 amp electric, water and sewer. There is also one cabin, available for rent for two night stays.

Fisheating Creek Outpost is a favorite group campsite for Scout and church groups.

Here are details and prices for camping.

Along the river, primitive camping is popular and allowed. Check with personnel at the outpost for details.

Downstream on a beautiful November weekend, we saw two big sandbars occupied by kayak/canoe campers. There were plenty of other excellent camp sites.

Fisheating Creek water level and planning your trip.

This is a truly special spot; worth a little trouble. If you are willing to paddle during the wet season, bring lots of bug spray and good sun protection. Keep in mind: Kayaking Fisheating Creek when there is more than five feet of water is a challenge because the river blends into the adjoining cypress forest and it is easy to get off the trail.

Here’s the link to Fisheating Creek water levels.

My advice: Mark your calendar for early fall, monitor water levels and make a point to plan a trip here sometime between early October and early December. Fisheating Creek belongs on the bucket list of those who love the Florida outdoors.

Resources for kayaking Fisheating Creek and camping

Fisheating Creek Outpost
Address: 7555 N US Hwy 27, Palmdale, FL 33944
Phone:(863) 675-5999

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Janet H.

Thursday 1st of December 2022

Your piece on kayaking Fisheating Creek motivated me and my husband to check it out. We decided the livery service was the way to go. We picked the PERFECT cool weekend right before Thanksgiving. Wow…there were more gators than I would have liked to have seen, but they had no interest other then sunning on the bank. It was an awesome run and just an hour outside of our hurricane damaged Ft Myers. It was a wonderful reprieve and so relaxing. Thank you!

Rick Cunningham

Tuesday 9th of November 2021

Used to camp there a lot in the 70's. Favorite memory of the canoe trip from Burnt Bridge was when me and my buddy were almost back to the campground when we passed by a huge alligator - at least 10'. His back ridges scraped along the bottom of our canoe! I'll never forget that "eeeeeeecccchhh." LOL

Louise Wilkins

Monday 2nd of November 2020

Love your Florida information and the pictures are beautiful. I am so happy to read your reports. I am 81 year old widow. When my husband was alive we camped at Florida "wild spots" Have lived in Florida is 1961. Look forward to future reports and pictures

Bruce Lyon

Monday 13th of December 2021

@Louise Wilkins, I'm 82, very active, divorced, looking for a buddy to do stuff with.


Wednesday 8th of July 2020

Great information! And great pictures too! Beautiful location! I definitely want to do this this fall!

Leonard Bryant

Wednesday 15th of May 2019

Please write about the settlement that was supposed to open a trail so you can boat all the way to Lake Okeechobee . The state has yet to do what they were supposed do over 20 yrs. ago.............

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