Alligator-Infested Lakes: Why Lake Okeechobee Is the Gator Capital of Florida

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: July 20, 2023
© Allison Michael/
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Key Points:

  • Alligators are a key part of Florida’s ecosystem and also a popular tourist attraction.
  • Lake Okeechobee, located in the eastern part of the state, is a favorite spot for these reptiles.
  • The 79-mile long, 9-foot deep lake is home to about 30,000 of the apex predators.
Infographic of Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee is geographically one of the most outstanding features of Florida.

Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and the 10th largest freshwater lake in the United States. It’s so big that, if you gaze out from the shore, you can’t see the other side. Gators are found in all of Florida’s freshwater, but nowhere more so than in Lake Okeechobee.

Read on to learn why Lake Okeechobee is the gator capital of Florida! 

Alligators in America

Gator from Lakeland Florida
There are only two types of alligators: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator.

© Pankratov

American alligators are native to the southeastern part of the United States. They’re common in Florida, where they can be found in any type of freshwater. Lake Okeechobee is the alligator epicenter of this alligator-laden state.

How Big Are Alligators?

Alligators typically grow up to about 14 feet long and can weigh over 1,000 pounds. The largest confirmed alligator ever killed in Florida was 14 feet and 3.5 inches long. It died at the hands of a trapper, who had been called in for a nuisance gator problem, in 1997, in Lake Monroe. Lake Okeechobee is home to plenty of big gators itself, with almost 2,000 bull gators at last count. A bull gator is one that measures over nine feet long.

What Do Alligators Eat?

Florida man catches a gator
Alligators are carnivores that kill by overpowering and drowning their prey.


Alligators are an integral part of the native ecosystem of Florida. They’re apex predators who affect the entire food chain and food web around them. Thanks to ecotourism, they’re also one of the biggest draws to Florida. Lake Okeechobee alligators eat pickerel, crappie, bluegill, and largemouth bass. They’re also known to prey on amphibians, watersnakes, small birds, and rodents, especially when young.

Lake Okeechobee: Gator Capital of Florida

Lake Okeechobee is the most alligator-infested lake in Florida. There are more alligators living in the waters of Lake Okeechobee than in the waters of any of Florida’s other lakes. The lake is 730 square miles with an average depth of only nine feet. It straddles five counties and is fed by the Kissimmee River. Further, it’s 36 miles long and 29 miles wide, which means you can’t see the other side from the shore. With almost 30,000 alligators at last counting, it’s no wonder Lake Okeechobee is known as the gator capital of Florida. 

How Many Alligators Are in Lake Okeechobee?

tiny baby alligator
American alligators are common throughout the state of Florida.


There are nearly 30,000 alligators living in Lake Okeechobee. There are around one million alligators dispersed throughout the state. In fact, there are so many alligators in Florida that there’s actually a hunting season for them. The hunting season runs from August 15 through November 1. During those 10 weeks, you’re not likely to see any big alligators; they lay low until hunting season ends.

Alligator hunting is facilitated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which gives out a select few permits per year. People eat the meat and use the skin for accessories like belts, boots, and wallets. 

Can You Swim in Lake Okeechobee?

Lake Okeechobee is home to tens of thousands of alligators. Moreover, more than a few of the largest gators in the state call the lake home. Every year, wildlife officials go out at night and shine flashlights on the water. Alligators’ eyes shine in the light, and they use these eye shines to count gators — and to count the number of large gators. Large gators are classified as those over nine feet long. And, there are over 1,700 of them living in Lake Okeechobee today. So no, it is not a good idea to take a swim in Florida’s largest freshwater lake. Lake Okeechobee is the most alligator-infested lake in Florida, so it’s not the best place to take a dip.

Have There Been Alligator Attacks in Lake Okeechobee?

american crocodile vs american alligator
Alligators in Lake Okeechobee rule as the uncontested kings and queens of the water.

© Proxmire

Alligators actually have a lot more to fear from humans than humans do from alligators. In fact, they were hunted so heavily in the first half of the twentieth century that they were officially listed as endangered in 1967. Thanks to efforts to conserve alligators in Florida, the state is home to an estimated one million alligators today. Alligators are extremely dangerous animals and should be treated with the utmost respect and caution.

In 2008, an 18-year-old attempted to swim across one of Lake Okeechobee’s numerous canals. It was the middle of the night, and, by some accounts, alcohol was involved in the decision to take the plunge. The young man made it across the canal, but his left arm never did. The to-blame alligator was 11.5 feet long. In 2015, the victim was fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm valued at over $100,000. Thankfully, he didn’t have to pay for the new arm; it was donated by a charitable organization, as well as the two firms that created it.

Where Can You See Alligators in Lake Okeechobee?

One of the best ways to see alligators in Lake Okeechobee is to take a walk, or a bicycle ride, along the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST). This paved trail is a part of the much larger Florida National Scenic Trail. The LOST circumnavigates the lake in its entirety, though sections are often closed for dike or pathway repairs. 

Alligators live in all the waters of Lake Okeechobee, so spend enough time there, and you’re bound to see an alligator. Just remember to stay at least 10 feet from the water’s edge and keep dogs and children at least that far back. Never approach an alligator, no matter how big it is. And, always be aware of your surroundings when exploring the alligator-infested lakes of Florida.

Where Is Lake Okeechobee Located on a Map?

Lake Okeechobee is south of the Kissimmee River, the lake’s main source. It is located in Glades, Hendry, Martin, Okeechobee, and Palm Beach counties. The lake is situated around 40 miles northwest of West Palm Beach.

What Else Lives in Lake Okeechobee?

baby manatee and mother
Manatees live in Lake Okeechobee while other mammalian species such as river otters also depend on the lake, as well.

©Lukasz Machowczyk/

The body of water referred to as Florida’s inland sea is home to a wide variety of fish. The most populous species are bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, and pickerel. There are also black bullhead, redear fish, and warmouth. Amphibian species include broad-headed skinks, eastern newts, green anoles, greenhouse frogs, and southern toads.

It is also home to a wide selection of avian species including American bald eagles, burrowing owls, cranes, crested caracaras, egrets, herons, and mottled ducks, purple gallinules. Mammalian denizens include American minks, fox squirrels, eastern grey squirrels, manatees, marsh rabbits, opossums, raccoons, and North American river otters.

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About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

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