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Can You Swim in Lake Okeechobee?

Can You Swim in Lake Okeechobee?

Florida’s Inland Sea, also known as Lake Okeechobee, is a massive lake in the Sunshine State. Legions of anglers congregate in its waters in hopes of catching trophy bass. If you’re not into fishing and looking for a place to cool off, you may wonder, “Can you swim in Lake Okeechobee?”

Today, we’re diving into all things about this unique lake. You’ll have everything you could need for an aquatic adventure on Lake Okeechobee. Let’s get started!

Where Is Lake Okeechobee?

Lake Okeechobee sits in the southeast region of Florida. Five counties share the lake; Glades, Okeechobee, Martin, Palm Beach, and Henry. These counties converge to a single point near the middle of the lake.

Lake Okeechobee & the Stuart, Florida Boat Show | MOTM VLOG #25

The lake is near West Palm Beach, Vero Beach, and Sebring. However, it’s less than a three-hour drive from tourist cities like Miami, Orlando, and Tampa. Lake Okeechobee is an excellent alternative if salt water isn’t your thing.

Is Lake Okeechobee Toxic?

Resulting from a bustling agricultural industry, Lake Okeechobee and many other Florida water sources often experience high levels of blue-green algae. While the state has been battling these algae growths across the state for years, 2021 and 2022 have seen extreme cases. The dangerous algae affect Lake Okeechobee and many rivers, streams, and other waterways that connect to the lake.

The Florida Department of Health often issues alerts when they notice an abundance of harmful blue-green algal toxins in bodies of water in the state. In January 2022, the state took samples and discovered the toxin levels far exceeded what the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rates as safe.

Boats on Lake Okeechobee
While Lake Okeechobee is great for sailing, it might not be wise to hop in for a swim.

Can You Swim in Lake Okeechobee?

While Lake Okeechobee would appear to be an excellent swimming hole, it’s not. The water suffers from decades of pollution. Chemicals that help grow food have found their way into the waters. You’ll see warning signs at many of the best swimming spots.

Those brave enough to enter the waters should beware of algae blooms and evade them. Avoid getting lake water in your eyes, mouth, and nose, and shower as soon as possible.

Despite the potential dangers, many still swim in the waters. Skiing, tubing, and swimming remain popular activities, especially with many locals. If you take a few precautions and avoid the algae blooms, you can swim in Lake Okeechobee.

Pro Tip: Want to visit Lake Okeechobee? Use our guide on how to explore Florida’s Lake Okeechobee by RV.

Brother and sister fishing
Enjoy water skiing, tubing, fishing, and more on Lake Okeechobee.

Why Is the Lake So Dark? 

Lake Okeechobee is very dark and often appears deep brown. This makes it less than appealing for many water activity enthusiasts. The two primary reasons for the dark water are naturally occurring tannins and pollutants from agricultural and storm runoff.

The naturally occurring tannins result from decaying tree roots and other organic matter. These often float to the bottom and rise when the weather disturbs them, especially during the rainy season. So part of the unattractive coloring is natural and is no reason to worry.

However, what is concerning is the high amount of pollutants and “muck” that travel into the lake each year. Agricultural and storm runoff are the primary culprits. Heavy rains wash chemicals from golf courses, homes, and farms into the water system. These dangerous chemicals eventually find their way into various water sources. 

Boat anchored on Lake Okeechobee
Keep an eye out for algae blooms if you choose to swim in Lake Okeechobee.

How Deep Is the Deepest Part of Lake Okeechobee?

Despite its impressive size, Lake Okeechobee is disappointingly shallow. The deepest sections of the lake are no more than 12 feet deep. If you’re looking for a Florida lake with depth, you’ll want to check out “Deep Lake.” It’s 90 feet deep and about 100 miles southwest of Lake Okeechobee, near Everglades City.

Does Okeechobee Lake Have Alligators?

Like most bodies of water in Florida, Lake Okeechobee has alligators. Estimates typically are that around 30,000 alligators are in the lake. That’s a lot of alligators!

You may wonder if you can still swim in Lake Okeechobee with so many gators in the water. While the number of alligators may seem rather large, you must consider the lake’s massive size. The lake is 28 times bigger than Central Florida’s Lake Jesup, which has roughly half the alligators as Lake Okeechobee.

Sunset over Lake Okeechobee
Sail into the sunset on Lake Okeechobee.

Any time you enter a body of water in Florida, you should assume there are alligators in it. Alligator attacks on humans are pretty rare, with the state average of eight unprovoked bites each year. From 1948 to 2021, there were only 442 unprovoked bites, with 26 resulting in fatalities. While the risk of an alligator attack is slim, it’s still a potential risk.

Can You Sail in Lake Okeechobee?

Florida is a boater’s paradise. You can sail in Lake Okeechobee, but many prefer to find cleaner and deeper waters. Not only can you sail in Lake Okeechobee, but you can sail across the entire state via the Okeechobee Waterway. There are size restrictions for vessels, so ensure you’ll fit if you plan to travel the coast!

Pro Tip: Don’t want to risk swimming in Lake Okeechobee? Instead, head to the Best Beaches in Florida you can visit by RV!

Man fishing on Lake Okeechobee
For fishing fanatics, Lake Okeechobee offers some of the best bass fishing in the US.

Why Does Okeechobee Have Locks?

Lake Okeechobee has locks because the lake sits 12-18 feet above sea level. These locks allow vessels to travel up and down the channel without dumping the lake water into the ocean. You can see the five locks along the Okeechobee Waterway at public recreation areas. Bring a picnic lunch and watch the boats pass through the locks along the route.

Is It Worth Visiting Lake Okeechobee? 

Lake Okeechobee offers some of the best bass fishing in the country. However,  changing levels of algae and other pollutants make swimming and other aquatic activities challenging.

"Toxic Lake: The Untold Story of Lake Okeechobee" featuring Kait Parker of Weather.com

While you can swim in Lake Okeechobee, you may prefer different activities. Going for a walk along the coast or cruising around the lake can be a fun and memorable experience. However, if you’re looking for waves and sandy beaches, you’ll want to stick to one of the many beautiful beaches that line the state’s coast. 

Want to help clean up and protect Florida’s waterways? Consider visiting or volunteering at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center. Learn more here: Help Save Florida’s Waterways By Visiting This Ocean Eco Center

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