Spring and summer are the perfect times to get active. So instead of hiding indoors and using the Wii as an excuse for exercise, visit one of Florida’s natural gems, Jonathan Dickinson State Park [JD]. Situated on the Martin/Palm Beach County border, JD is named after Jonathan Dickinson, who found himself shipwrecked along with his family in 1696. After being held captive by the Jaega Indians for several days, Dickinson et al. were sent up to St. Augustine, where they were harassed nearly every mile of the journey (depicted in great detail in Jonathan Dickinson’s own journal, now published under the title, Jonathan Dickinson’s Journal).
Now the same parcel of land where Dickinson sought refuge from the sea only to find hostilities from the native inhabitants is preserved as one of the finest state parks in Florida. Covering 11,500 acres of untouched Florida wilderness, JD runs the gamut of Florida’s natural terrain, including: sand pine scrub, sand dunes, pine flatwoods, mangrove and river swamps, and cypress sloughs. The Loxahatchee River cuts through the park with its many elbows and eddies, making the park rife with wildlife. Bobcats, deer, otters, manatees, alligators and even the occasional black bear make appearances at the park, while a multitude of birds (more than 150 species), reptiles and fish nest and call JD home.
With such a wide berth of land covering so many mini habitats, a trip to JD can be a great way to enjoy the solitude of nature, to bond with the family, or simply get out and experience something new. To get those motivational juices flowing, palmbeachillustrated.com has a list of ten things to do at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
1 Hike the nature trail. With four scenic trails, JD gives visitors a chance to be one with nature while exploring the park’s many habitats. The Kitching Creek and Wilson Creek Trails both lead out from the picnic area and work their way through pine flatwood, along the respective creeks. The Hobe Mountain Trail is a shorter boardwalk trail that meanders through the sand pine scrub to the 27-foot-tall observation tower, which sits on Hobe Mountain, the highest natural hill south of Lake Okeechobee, standing at a ‘commanding’ 86 feet tall. The observation tower gives visitors 360-degree views of the park. The Sand Pine Scrub Nature Trial is self-guided and a portion of the Florida Trail.
2 Get your paddle on with self-guided canoe and kayak expeditions. Explore the Loxahatchee River while getting a great workout. While exploring the river, paddlers will see alligators lazily sunning themselves on shore, manatees quietly cruising the river bottom and birds perched on limbs. Rentals are available. For current rates and information call 564-746-1466.
3 Become a field operative and search out the park’s many wild inhabitants. The animal life at JD gives visitors a glimpse of what Jonathan Dickinson stumbled upon 300 years prior. Birds of every color, size and sound flit from tree to tree and dive into the water, fish in talon or beak as they flap free of the river’s embrace. Deer and foxes eye visitors from a distance, while otters play along the water’s edge like rambunctious children in a never ending game of tag. On rare occasion, visitors may even spot the elusive Florida black bear slinking off into the woods. The reptile life at JD is astounding, with alligators, turtles galore, and more snakes than you can shake a stick at, while the insect life, well … bring a can of Off. JD is also a place of refuge for endangered species like the Florida manatee, Florida scrub-jays, gopher tortoises and Eastern indigo snakes.
4 Pedal your heart out. JD is equipped for every rider under the sun with two distinct trails, as well as eight miles of multiuse trails at the Eagle View area. The paved trail, which runs along the old roadbed of Old Dixie Highway, is short at just under two miles, but is accessible for any level of rider.
The Camp Murphy Off-road Bicycle Trial is a South Florida mountain biker’s dream. With nearly nine miles of trail, which varies in difficulty from novice (green markers) to expert (black markers). Rife with obstacles, natural and manmade, the Camp Murphy trail allows riders to test their mettle and endurance while getting an excellent cardiovascular exercise. For beginners, there is a skills park near the trailhead built and maintained by Club Scrub (the people who maintain the Camp Murphy trail, keeping it safe and enjoyable for all to use), which mimics the obstacles riders will encounter on the trail; a great way to prepare, especially for anyone new to the trail.
5 Jonathan Dickinson State Park allows visitors to explore the park with horse in tow. Eight miles of multiuse trails cut through the park, starting at the Eagle View area. The self-guided trails will take riders and their mounts throughout the park, and for those looking to camp out with their horses, JD has full-facility campgrounds for horse and rider.
6 Embrace the outdoor life and go camping. Whether you are looking to rough it or set up base in a cabin, JD has all the bases covered with multiple campsite locales. Fun for the entire family, the full facility camping sites include water and electricity, restrooms with showers and a picnic area with grill. For those looking to rough it, JD also has two backpack camps, where campers can settle down along segments of the Florida Trail.
If you are looking for a more civil night in the park, JD has 12 cabins available for rent. Fully furnished and equipped with kitchens and a fire ring, a night of ghost tales and s’mores is in order.
7 Let a captain do the navigating down the Loxahatchee River on the Loxahatchee Queen II boat tour. The two-hour tour (not to be confused with that three-hour tour that stranded Gilligan and friends) is perfect for families and brings visitors to the resident of Jonathan Dickinson’s most well known inhabitant, Trapper Nelson.
Trapper came to the Loxahatchee in the 1930s, living off the land, trapping wild game for food and selling furs for income. After garnering acclaim as the “Wildman of the Loxahatchee,” the onetime hermit began transitioning his homestead into a tourist attraction after WWII. Visitors could rent boats and go on boat tours while Trapper would wrestle alligators and handle native poisonous snakes. After buying close to 1,000 acres of land along the Loxahatchee, Trapper’s land was preserved by the parks department after his mysterious death in 1968.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park has preserved the parcel of land and now takes visitors on tours of the grounds.
8 The fishing at JD is top notch, giving anglers the opportunity to fish fresh, salt and brackish waters. Species can vary depending on location and time of year, but don’t be shocked to snag tarpon, snook and snapper, as well as largemouth bass and gar in any given stretch of the river. If you are looking for sole freshwater fishing holes, small ponds and lakes dot the eastern stretches of the park.
9 The Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center is a great place to bring the kids for an entertaining and educational afternoon. Displays and exhibits of the park’s history and conservation efforts give visitors a chance to learn more about the park’s importance and the ecosystems it preserves. Discover what type of animals and plants call the park home, while uncovering the historical side of the park.
Popular features of the Kimbell Center are the Ranger Programs. Join JD’s rangers on adventures from netting the critters in Pine Grove Lake, discovering the park’s many insects and snake species, to learning about the world of water and watershed, and the importance of controlled burns. Registration for Ranger Programs is required and advanced notice is appreciated: 561-745-5551
10 Help sustain Jonathan Dickinson State Park and volunteer. Volunteerism is a vital part of any park within the parks system, and JD is no exception. People of all ages can volunteer (children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult) to help in the education center, with special programs like the Ranger Program, as well as working in the park, helping with maintenance, construction and exotic species removal.
16450 S.E. Federal Hwy.
Hobe Sound, FL 33455