Goin’ Fishin’ in South Central Florida’s Freshwater Frontier: Casting about the Counties of Glades, Hardee, Highlands & Okeechobee. A Media FAM Tour Itinerary.
Arrangements by the good folks of Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee Counties. Specific names and details located within itinerary. This project received financial assistance from Enterprise Florida and The Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development.
Monday’s Destination: Sebring, Florida
From Miami, access US Hwy 27 North from I-75. When you arrive in South Bay, know that you’ve entered Florida’s Freshwater Frontier. Stay on US HWY 27 North thru Clewiston in Hendry County and Moore Haven in Glades County. Plan on stopping in Palmdale to visit Patty Register at Gatorama. If you can, try to catch their last show of the day at 3:45 pm. The park closed at 5 p.m. daily.
Per their web site: “Patty and Allen Register are the owners of Gatorama, a historic roadside tourist attraction exhibiting the largest collection of large alligators and crocs anywhere! As pioneers in the alligator industry they are a sixth generation cracker family living on the edge of civilization. They share their corner of the ‘Glades and the story of the most successful sustainable use model in the world for the recovery of an endangered species with visitors to their park everyday. They were the first producer to ship farm raised alligator tail and ribs on the World Wide Web. Gatorama exports raw materials (hides) and sells raw, finished, and value added products to wholesalers and consumers.” www.gatorama.com Phone # 863-675-0623
After spending some quality time with Patty and Allen and a few hundred alligators, continue north on Hwy 27 to Sebring in Highlands County.
Make your way to Sebring Lakeside Golf Resort Inn & Tea Room for a 2-night stay. From Hwy 27, turn right at the light onto the Sebring Parkway. At this traffic light, Wal-Mart and Schumacher Rd. is on your left and Sebring Parkway is to the right. Continue on Sebring Parkway approximately ¾ of 1 mile. Watch on the north side (left as you head east) for the bright, LCD sign. At the next road (Eastview) turn left. At the first intersection, cross Sunset onto Northwood following the golf course on your left for one block. Northwood dead-ends at the Inn & Tea Room on Lake Sebring Drive.
Sebring Lakeside Golf Resort Inn & Tea Room, 600 Lake Sebring Dr., www.2sebring.com
Meet Mark & Maria Baker, proprietors. Phone # 863-385-7113. They are a lovely couple and very knowledgeable about this historic property. Plan on spending some time visiting with them once you get settled in your room.
For dinner, we suggest Chicane’s in Sebring at Inn on the Lakes. Christine Hatfield, proprietor. Be comfortable but not too casual. It’s the only place this week where you can be a bit dressier if you prefer. But hey, it’s still Florida so you do not need a neck tie.
www.innonthelakes.com/sebring-restaurant.html (863) 471-9400.
For additional information about Highlands County tourism, contact John Scherlacher, Director of the Highlands County CVB: 863-386-1316 www.highlandscvb.com
Tuesday: Explore Highlands County
Fishin’ on Lake Istokpoga with Don Hatcher, of Don Hatcher Fishing www.donhatcherfishing.com. 863-655-0265 office, 863-214-1740 cell. Don will meet you at 6:45 a.m. the dock at Istokpoga Park on SR 98 past Spring Lake and Arbuckle Creek, but before Lorida.
Prior to meeting Don, enjoy a hearty breakfast at Dee’s Place Restaurant in Historic Downtown Sebring, 138 North Ridgewood Drive. 863-471-2228. www.dsplace.org Dee’s Place opens at 5:00 a.m.
After the fishing trip, lunch is served back at the Sebring Lakeside Golf Resort Inn & Tea Room. Tea Room hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Golfing? Make 2 p.m. Tee-Times at Deer Run Golf Course in Sun N Lakes Country Club of Sebring. From Sebring Lakeside, turn right onto the Parkway, and then turn right onto Hwy 27 North. Turn left at the very next light onto Sun N Lakes Blvd. The clubhouse is located about a mile past Florida Hospital on the left side of the road. Clubhouse Phone: 863-385-4830.
Tuesday evening you are own your own to relax back at the Sebring Lakeside Golf Resort Inn & Tea Room. However, if you want a wonderful, authentic Mexican meal in, check out Taqueria Merlo, 1004 W Main St, Avon Park, FL 33825. Phone 863-452-1811.
Wednesday: Fishin’ in Hardee County
For breakfast, drive to Zolfo Springs via the back road through Highlands Hammock State Park to Pioneer Restaurant, located at the corner of Highway 17 and 64.
Turn Right on HAMMOCK RD (CR-634) – go 8.113.0 mile. Along the way, you’ll enter Highlands Hammock State Park. Stop at the guard house at the park’s entrance and tell them you’re going thru to the county road. Follow the signs to turn right onto the county road. It’s a white, dirt road. Drive slowly, and you might see deer or other wildlife. Stay on the county road until it becomes pavement and you come to a 4-way paved intersection.
Bear Right on PARNELL RD – go 1.82.9 mile
Turn Left on STEVE ROBERTS SPECIAL ROAD (CR-636) – go 10.917.5 mile
Turn Left on E SR-64 – go 0.91.4 mile
Continue on FLORIDA CRACKER TRL (SR-64) – Cross over US HWY 17.
Turn Left into the parking lot of Pioneer Restaurant.
2902 US Highway 17 S, Zolfo Springs, FL 33890, 863-735-0726
After breakfast Wednesday, follow SR 64 WEST a few hundred yards to Pioneer Park. Turn right into the Park and find the boat ramp. Enjoy fishin’ along the Peace River and take in the beautiful nature and history on display at the Park. After a while, venture to Hardee Lakes (about a 20 minute drive north of the park). Try to be back on the road by 12 noon.
Your next destination Wednesday afternoon is Glades County. You’re going to have almost a 2.5 hour drive, so grab a quick bite on the road to tide you over till dinner.
Your goal is to be at the Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area Fort Center Trail near Lakeport by 3 pm. If you’re traveling via US HWY 27 S, almost at the town limits of Moore Haven, turn Left onto SR 78. Drive approx. 8.5 miles and turn Left onto Banana Grove Road, the entrance to Fort Center WMA. It’s a gravel road, and ends at a parking lot with kiosk and restrooms. Arrive by 3 p.m. if at all possible, to have time hike around before it gets dark. Office # 863-946-1194. http://myfwc.com/Recreation/WMASites_FisheatingCreek_index.htm
For additional information, contact Tracy Whirls, the Glades County TDC director. She has a new brochure & web site and some exciting stuff to tell you about how they are preparing for future growth in tourism in Glades County. Tracy’s office # is: (863) 946-0300. www.visitglades.com
When finished exploring, drive out and turn Left onto SR 78 and go a couple of miles. You’ll see Lakeport Motel on your Right just past the Marathon gas station. Don’t miss it. It sits back off the road. Check in and relax. Lakeport Motel doesn’t have a web site. But there’s a photo on Visit Glades web site: www.visitglades.com/lakeport-lodge
The official address is SR 78 and CR 721, Lakeport, FL 33471 Phone: 863-946-2020. Joanie is office manager, Bonnie, the proprietor. Bonnie’s office # is 863-946-0567.
At your leisure that evening, drive North on CR 721 into the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation. Explore and end up at the Seminole Casino for dinner at Josiah Restaurant. Signage is good on the Reservation. http://www.seminolebrightoncasino.com/dining
For addition information, contact Brian Zappatini, Director of Marketing of the Seminole Casino, 863-467-9998.
Thursday: Fishin’ on Lake Okeechobee
Fishing guide the morning will be Art Hodges of Moonshine Bay. www.moonshinebay.net
Art will pick you up from your breakfast spot. You’ll have already talked to him and arranged details of your fishing trip. Phone # is 863-946-0435.
Breakfast is available at the Country Side Café, located 2 miles south of the Lakeport Motel on the right hand side of the road. Look for a sign saying something about the best food on the lake. Brenda and Jim Weeks are the owners. Address: 12585 E State Road 78, Moore Haven, FL. Phone # is 863-946-1341.
After fishing with Art, return to the hotel to clean up and check out. Then, enjoy a lunch at the Duck Pub in Lakeport, in front of the Lakeport Motel. Owner Bonnie (same one from motel!) will welcome you for lunch.
After lunch, drive north on SR 78 North to Okeechobee County. Stop in and check out the Okee-Tantie Campground & Marina, 10430 State Road 78 W, Okeechobee, FL 34974. From the Duck Pub, turn right onto SR 78 and go approx. 8 miles. The Campground is on the right after you cross over the Kissimmee River.
Ask for directions to meet up with Jason for an airboat ride from Okeechobee Airboat Tours. http://okeechobeeairboat.com For more information, contact Kathy Scott, with the Okeechobee County Tourism Development Council: 863-763-3959, 800-871-4403, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following the airboat ride, plan to visit Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center & Butterfly Gardens. Great photo opportunities. Located at 14895 N.W. 30th Terrace Okeechobee FL 34972. Take US Hwy 441 north out of the city of Okeechobee. Turn left onto Potter Road/68A. Turn left onto NW 30th Terrace. Look for the signs to Arnold’s. The earlier the better, and no later than 4 p.m. For more information, contact Sue Arnold. http://www.arnoldsbutterflyhaven.com/index.htm
After Arnold’s, enjoy dinner at Cowboy’s BBQ & Steak Company in Okeechobee. To get there from Arnold’s Drive back into the city on US Hwy 441South and you’ll see Cowboy’s on your right, less than 1 mile south of SR 70. Phone # 863-634-7220, 102 SW 14th St., Okeechobee. http://www.cowboysbarbqueandsteakco.com If owner Jim McCoin is there, ask him about their two new locations: one in Fort Pierce and one in Sebring.
Now that you’ve toured and explored a portion of four of the six counties of Florida’s Freshwater Frontier, enjoy your drive home and let your co-pilot in the passenger seats look at the Heritage and Cultural Travel guide to South Central Florida to plan your next vacation in Florida’s Freshwater Frontier!