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Riverbend Park: Paddle the Loxahatchee

Stephen Brown

Jupiter is blessed with one of the most scenic and explorer-friendly rivers in the state. The Loxahatchee River cuts through a primordial environment that has long been lost elsewhere to development, farming and ranching in nearby towns. The meandering river and its watershed encompass a 260-square-mile ecosystem that includes freshwater creeks and brackish estuary that feed into the Jupiter Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. Designated Florida’s first Wild and Scenic River—one of only two—the Loxahatchee takes visitors on a trip paddling back in time.

Loxahatchee River - Riverbend Park - National Wild and Scenic River -

   For a truly wild experience, take a self-guided canoe trip embarking from Riverbend Park just off Indiantown Road. Head downstream towards the Northwest Fork, where a nearly nine-mile stretch is protected by the National Wild and Scenic River Program. Slow-moving and easy to navigate—though there are some tight elbows that require some maneuverability—this portion of the river is shaded by old cypress growth and sabal palms, while alligators lurk and turtle lazily sun themselves on roots and embankments. Two small dams act as mini waterfalls when the water levels are low, adding a little fun to the flow.

   Three self-guided paddle options are available at Riverbend Park: the Cypress Canopy, the Secret of Riverbend Park Boating and the Jonathan Dickinson Run.

The Cypress Canopy tour takes paddlers on a three- to four-hour trip down the Loxahatchee River. This paddle will have canoers going with and against the current, starting and ending at the Riverbend Park Canoe launch. Either head to the Master Dam and back, a 2.5-mile round-trip, or paddle a little farther downstream to the Turnpike overpass and pull a U-turn—a 3.5-mile round-trip.

The Secret of Riverbend Park Boating tour takes explorers upriver on a 5.5-mile loop tour of the park’s lakes, ponds, marshland and cypress swamp as well as a stretch of the old Loxahatchee River. With little to no current, this is the perfect place for beginners and kids. Begin at the Riverbend Park canoe launch, heading south toward the Picnic Loop and Picnic Island. From there, the blue trail heads into marsh that leads into West Lake, a great fishing spot that feeds into a small stream dubbed Hunters Run. After a short paddle, the run opens into the South Pond—a large, open marsh where gators, turtles and birds roam—and later to Little Pond, the spot for otter watching. Beyond, Cow Pen Lake leads to the East Slough Run, a primordial stretch that feeds into the watershed. Deer and gator are spotted just about everywhere along the run. Along Gator Slough Run, look for baby gators in the spring clinging to logs, rocks and even their mother’s snout. The Old River Run, the inlet and outlet of this five-plus-mile loop, has just recently been opened to the public for paddling and is a great way to experience the river without the cross-current paddle.

  • Rental kayaks cost $26.50 for a half day, $37 for a full day; canoes and double kayaks cost $32 for a half day, $42.50 for a full day.
  • Open year round. Water levels may affect navigability. Call 561-746-7053 to check conditions.
  • For more information, visit canoeoutfittersofflorida.com/riverbendboating.

Master Dam on the Loxahatchee River - Riverbend Park - Kayaking the Loxahatchee River

For paddlers looking for a little adventure, take the Jonathan Dickinson Run. This is a longer trek, tackling 8.5 miles of the Loxahatchee for a five- to seven-hour paddle. Starting at Riverbend Park before 10 a.m., explorers will make their way downstream over the two dams, past the turnpike and onwards to Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Along the way, make a pit stop at Trapper Nelson’s cabin and homestead as the river and cypress swamp gives way to brackish mangrove estuary, where manatee can be spotted cruising along with canoes and osprey spy the water from above. Return transportation to Riverbend Park from Jonathan Dickinson leaves at 4 p.m.

  • Available on Saturday and Sunday between September and May. Reservations are highly recommended. To RSVP, call 561-746-7053.
  • Kayak rentals cost $52; canoes/double kayak cost $62; three-person canoes cost $74.
  • For more information, visit canoeoutfittersofflorida.com/jonathandickinson.

Word to the wise: There are plenty of bugs taking up residence in and along the Loxahatchee River, so a can of bug spray will go a long way. Also, watch out for spiderwebs that span across the river. We suggest heading out on the canoe around 10 a.m., after earlier paddlers have cleared a path through the webs.

Cypress Swamp along the Loxahatchee River

Get Historic

Rather explore the park on land? As part of the Northeast Everglades Trails Association, Riverbend Park boasts more than 13 miles of trails. With easily accessible paved walking paths, grassy swaths cutting through meadow and portions of both the Florida Trail and the Ocean-to-Lake Trail, the park offers plenty of options for hikers.

   The park encompasses 684 acres of historically and environmentally significant land and watershed for preservation and recreation use. Within Riverbend is the Loxahatchee River Battlefield Park, a site of ancient middens and the two battlegrounds from the Second Seminole War. In January of 1838, two battles waged along the Loxahatchee in the heart of the Second Seminole War: Powell’s Battle and Jesup’s Battle.

On January 15, 1838, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Levin M. Powell and the U.S. Navy’s Waterborne Everglades Expeditionary Unit took to the southwest fork of the Loxahatchee River by boat while in pursuit of a Seminole encampment. Powell and his band of 80 men were met by musket fire and quickly overpowered by the superior numbers of the Seminoles, narrowly escaping a massacre.

Nine days later, on January 24, Major General Thomas S. Jesup, who led a commanding 1,500 troops, met 300 Seminoles on the swampy banks of the Loxahatchee. Although Jesup had superior numbers, the battle was not a route, as the Seminoles escaped into the swamps.

  • These sites are marked with informative kiosks, authentic Chickee huts and trails that meander through the battlefields.

Hit the trail by bike. A total of 18 miles (15 miles east of the river, three miles west) relatively flat and easy trails can be tackled by bike. Canoe Outfitters offers bike rentals (adults: $10.60 half day, $21.20 full day; children: $5.30 half day, $10.60 full day) and trail maps.

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