A Taste of Nature in The Palm Beaches

July 30, 2018

Savor these natural areas and outdoor activities that are quintessential South Florida.

One of the best parts of a visit to The Palm Beaches is being outdoors. Time spent in the tropical sun, enjoying the sand and surf, is always relaxing and fun-filled. Then there are the diverse natural Florida areas: tracts of sawgrass and acres of open glades and winding rivers. Exploring The Palm Beaches’ many preserves and wildlife areas could be an exciting vacation all by itself.

Here's a list of natural parks and preserves that are easy to find and easy to explore. Get a healthy “taste” of local nature and be back in time for sunset on the beach!

Bird preening and the Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Preening birds are plentiful at Wakodahatchee Wetlands near Delray Beach
(Photo: Gwen Bard Shelton)

Wakodahatchee Wetlands

Delray Beach is a town of diverse attractions and things to do. A drive east, and you’re on a beautiful beach with sun and shimmering blue water. A drive west, and you’ll soon find yourself at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a small preserve that’s a significant natural showcase. The wetlands are 50 acres of undeveloped land intended to filter treated wastewater and feed it into the Everglades. The designated walk is easy at under a mile, and it has many great birdwatching opportunities, informational signs and viewing benches. A restroom is nearby, and a return to Delray takes just a few minutes. This is a great way to sample nature as part of a full day’s schedule.
 

 

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Green Cay Nature Center

If you’re in the Boynton Beach area, another entertaining and time-saving walk is just west of town.

Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands overlooks 100 acres of constructed wetland from a 1 1/2-mile boardwalk trail. Shimmering water is everywhere since the area is filled with natural ponds, examples of hammock swamp and ages-old cypress swamp. This quick visit will bring you close to egret and bunting during bird season, and a nature center will entertain and educate the entire family about the natural treasures to be found in the wetlands.
 

Jupiter Ridge Nature Center

Just a few miles south of the historic Jupiter Lighthouse is Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, easily accessible from U.S. Highway 1. This hilly, 274-acre natural area contains scrubby flatwood, depression marsh and mangrove swamp ecosystems. The pristine, unspoiled area also boasts gently rolling hills, which are fairly rare in the naturally flat landscapes of South Florida. Three short trails are available, with an observation platform to view the tidal swamp channels of Old Lake Worth Creek.
 

 

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Royal Palm Beach Pines

The farther west you travel in The Palm Beaches, the closer you get to natural, unseen waterways that transport water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. While much of the land has been altered by development, vast sections survive largely unchanged. The area called Royal Palm Beach Pines is a 10-mile drive from downtown West Palm Beach and a perfect place to experience what the area looked like thousands of years ago. This 772-acre site includes mesic flatwoods, wet flatwoods, hydric hammock, wet prairie, depression marsh and dome swamp. It's a fantastic area during birdwatching season, with many birds like bald eagle, red-shouldered hawk and Florida sandhill crane calling this home. Two trails under 1,000 feet are available, so a visit can be quick yet satisfying. 
 

 

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Pondhawk Park

Sometimes finding nature doesn’t require a drive to the country. This is the case with Pondhawk Park, a 79-acre natural area accessible by walking through the Boca Raton Spanish River Library parking lot. A wetland restoration project inside the park provides habitat for osprey, black-necked stilt and white ibis. The park’s namesake is the pondhawk dragonfly, which is common throughout these woodlands. Trails here range from 1/4-mile to just over 3/4-mile, so even a short visit can cover a significant part of the park.
 

 

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Juno Dunes Natural Area

With parking just off U.S. Highway 1, a walk along Juno Dunes could not be easier to enjoy. The 576-acre area is nestled between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. The area contains a diverse ecosystem of scrub forest positioned alongside ocean dunes, offering a wide selection of local plants and wildflowers. There are two hikes to choose from, each about a mile in length. Bring a hat, because finding a shady spot can be a challenge. The oceanside loop connects to Juno Beach’s Loggerhead Park, which offers restrooms, a playground and the popular Loggerhead Marinelife Center, where you can learn about sea turtles and visit a recovery center for injured specimens.
 
Taking a short but satisfying nature walk is easy in The Palm Beaches. In just an hour or two, you can explore a diverse selection of landscapes and learn about the dynamic ecosystems of Florida. To help plan your trip, take a look at our Interactive Itinerary Planner.

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