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Autism-Friendly Nature Trails in The Palm Beaches, Florida

Autism-Friendly Nature Trails in The Palm Beaches

Explore our guide to autism-friendly nature trails in The Palm Beaches, Florida. Discover tranquil paths tailored to sensory needs, offering inclusive experiences for families and individuals on the autism spectrum.

By: Candi Spitz

The world of Autism can be unpredictable and overwhelming, which is why I often incorporate nature trails into our schedule as a more calming activity.  Though my twins are sensory seeking, there comes a point in time when we all just hit sensory overload from nonstop activities, chaotic schedules, and let’s face it – life in general.  Reconnecting with nature is a great way to center ourselves and focus. However, with children on the Autism Spectrum – a simple nature walk may not hold their attention.

So I am constantly looking for more interactive natural areas that offer a variety of activities that allow them to enjoy the beauty of nature while still fulfilling their sensory needs.  Below are some of our favorite autism-friendly nature trails in The Palm Beaches.

Autism-Friendly Nature Trails in The Palm Beaches, Florida

Arthur R Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Address: 10216 Lee Road, Boynton Beach, FL 33473.

This is our absolute favorite natural area in Palm Beach County.  As one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the nation with more than 145,000 acres of land, I can promise you will not run out of new areas to explore. 

Our first stop is always the Nature Center which is conveniently located near the entrance.  This allows the kids to get in some interactive activities before we start exploring nature. There is an interactive airboat video/ride…. a media room… and other sensory experiences.  The kids love the hands-on activities!  The Nature Center also makes for a quick outing if you aren’t looking to spend the day on the trails.  There is an attached boardwalk, which allows for a brief nature walk, behind it with restrooms nearby.  This also makes a great place to stop for a picnic or snack break with the kids.

There are countless nature trails at the wildlife refuge to explore: from small loops (under a quarter of a mile) to extensive trails in upwards of 50 miles, so you can create a new adventure every time.

Our favorite time of year to visit the Marsh Trail is from March through June when the lubber grasshoppers can be found along the trail.  These twins wait for this all year!  They start in March as cute, little one inch grasshoppers and by June, these grasshoppers can be up to 4 inches in length.  We bring critter boxes and catch them as we walk – and of course always release them before we leave.  There are countless opportunities to see other wildlife along the trails – during the spring we frequently see bunnies, a few alligators in the water, and a variety of butterflies and birds. There are also biking paths for those who prefer to ride.

Keep in mind this is only one of the many trails to choose from. Here is a detailed listing of the trails.

Sunsets are absolutely magical at the Arthur R Marshall Refuge.  You can view from the pier, from observation towers or simply sit along the water and watch the sunset.  People come from all over to experience this nightly.  And they offer boat ramps for those who prefer to be on the water. 

I highly recommend adding this Natural Area into your family’s routine.

Jupiter Flatwoods Trail

Address: 3377 Church St, Jupiter, FL 33458.

In 2019, the North Jupiter Flatwoods Natural Area was officially designated “autism-friendly” by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD).  This was the first designated area in the state of Florida.

This trail is one I always recommend to parents when they are first trying to incorporate nature walks with their child.  New experiences can be hard for our children and there are so many unpredictable obstacles in nature: from heat to dirt to bugs and more, so having a sensory-friendly nature trail is ideal! The first half mile of the trail is paved – which is great for those with mobility issues.  There are boardwalks with fencing and barriers near the water to help deter curious minds from wandering and exploring too closely.  Along the trail you can find benches, a swing (our favorite), and even a sensory wall.  You can participate in a scavenger hunt and they even have a Social Narrative story available to help you prepare your child for this new adventure.

This is definitely another must-experience adventure!

Peaceful Waters Sanctuary 

Address: 11676 Pierson Road, Wellington, FL 33414.

If your children love otters – this is an absolute must-visit!

Located in Village Park in Wellington, Peaceful Waters is a 30-acre wetlands park with 1,500 feet of elevated nature boardwalks and one mile of walking trails.  Our favorite part of this trail is the otters!!!!  There are typically a handful of playful otters that can be seen from the boardwalk.  My boys run to where the otters like to play as soon as we get there just to watch them splash around and act silly. 

The boardwalk isn’t a long walk – which is great for kids who have a short attention span. And the beauty of this trail is that it is located within Village Park so you have the playgrounds, open ballfields to run around on, restrooms, and parking close by.

For those who want a longer walk, there are longer nature trails off the boardwalk which also get you a little closer to nature.  We have seen otters sunning themselves on the trail, bunnies running wild and of course lots of lizards.  This area is great for bird watching as well.  It is a hidden gem in Wellington.

Pondhawk Natural Area

Address: 1501 NW Spanish River Blvd, Boca Raton (Next to Spanish River Library).

Does your child have a love of reading? Or listening to stories? If so, the StoryWalk Nature Trail is just what you’ve been looking for.

My twins have been captivated by this trail for years now.  Located next to the Spanish River Library in Boca Raton, this trail incorporates the beauty of nature with the love of reading.  Throughout the trail, you will find enlarged pages of children’s books in weatherproof enclosures mounted on posts for children and their parents to read as they walk by.  

For kids like mine who want a longer walk, connected to the StoryWalk is a walking path that runs through a tunnel – which is always fun for children who are learning to echo – and connects to the park system on the opposite side of the street.  Here you will find another smaller trail around the lake, an outside fitness station, and access to the ballfields.  There are also public restrooms located conveniently here as well. 

These are just a few of the many opportunities to visit natural areas in Palm Beach County; however, they are the ones that we have found to be the most autism/sensory-friendly and ones that we love to visit over and over again.  And don’t get discouraged if your child doesn’t take to it right away. 

As with any new experience, it can come with anxiety over the unknown.  Take advantage of social stories available, such as the example above for the Jupiter Flatwoods Trail, to help prepare your child for your nature walk.  Make it fun! 

And don’t forget to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray!  Helpful hint – we always spray bug spray on our shoes and ankles before we venture out on the trails.  It is not as much of a sensory issue for my twins when I only spray shoes and ankles and seems to really help keep the bugs away! 

More Resources for People on The Autism Spectrum

About the Author: Candi Spitz

Candi Spitz is the Director of Development and Community Relations for the non-profit 211 Palm Beach and Treasure Coast.  211 is the only free and confidential Crisis Hotline and Community Helpline serving the residents of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast that provides suicide prevention, crisis intervention, information, assessment, and referral to community service for people of all ages.

She has also served as an Ambassador for Project Lifesaver International Ambassador since 2012 and was currently serves as the Director of Ambassador and Public Relations.  Candi is also a radio and tv personality and has been the Host of WPTV NewsChannel 5’s segment “Take 5: Now You Know” since 2018.   She is the former National Spokesperson for Autism Speaks, she spent years as a Special Needs Advocate for the Palm Beach County Court System, and she has served as an autism trainer for Palm Beach County law enforcement and rescue workers.

Most importantly, she is the mother of identical twin sons, Brendan and Jaden, who both were diagnosed with Autism in 2009. She knows firsthand the struggles and concerns that families face each day as they navigate the maze of life with special needs and is passionate about helping families find the help they so desperately need.

Autism-Friendly Nature Trails in The Palm Beaches, Florida


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