Our slice of South Florida is packed with paths—walking paths, that is. As spring eases into summer, step outside and enjoy well kempt walkways lined with native foliage, fascinating fauna and prehistoric wetlands. We’ve curated some of the top paths from Boca Raton to Vero Beach, so you can get stepping this summer.
Daggerwing Nature Center features the best of summer walking—a beautiful boardwalk and a reprise from the heat in the form of a 3,000-square-foot exhibition hall. At just more than a half-mile in length, the elevated boardwalk provides two trail options that wind through 40 acres of swampland. The boardwalk is a walkers-only zone (no pets, joggers, runners, bikers or skaters allowed), is dotted with benches and includes an observation tower. While you’re there, see if you can spot the Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly while keeping watch at the tower or at the butterfly garden surrounding the exhibition hall.
Photo by Connie Shackleford
For real waterworks, visit the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, which holds 20 million gallons of water distributed over 39 acres of wetlands sliced into eight emergent marsh regions. The name Wakodahatchee comes from the Seminole Indian term for “created waters,” and the area is in fact man-made: It was built in the mid-1990s to illustrate native wetland areas. Since then, it has blossomed with a variety of aquatic plants and has attracted much wildlife, especially birds. Birdwatchers can stroll the three-quarter-mile boardwalk on alert for more than 140 species. In the summer, look for the vibrantly hued Purple Gallinule as it arrives to feast on the fireflag plant flower.
Photo by Connie Shackleford
West Palm Beach
Okeeheelee Nature Center, located on Forest Hill Boulevard one mile west of Jog Road, feels worlds away from busy downtown West Palm Beach. The two-and-a-half-mile trail provides a thorough workout as you snake through pine flatwoods and wetlands. Communing with wildlife is a top priority here, and many animals can be spotted along the trail. White-tailed deer frequently gather at the deer enclosure overlook, painted buntings add a dose of color to the surroundings, gopher tortoises graze alongside walkers and wood ducks, the mascot of the nature center, are waiting to quack hello.
Palm Beach Gardens
Spanning 172 acres, Frenchman’s Forest Natural Area is an unparalleled slice of Floridian wildlife and terrain. The area is part of the Northeast Everglades Natural Area and is composed of seven ecosystems: mesic flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods, wet flatwoods, strand swamp, hydric hammock, mangrove swamp and a depression marsh. The majority of Frenchman’s Forest sits to the west of Prosperity Farms Road and includes a nature trail, an observation platform and two natural-surface hiking trails. About a half-mile away, a smaller portion of the area, Prosperity Oaks has natural-surface hiking trails and two educational kiosks. At either location, you might see a southern leopard frog, a great horned owl, a Chuck-will’s-widow or even a bobcat.
Farther north, McKee Botanical Garden houses one of the most unique walking paths in South Florida. Arthur G. McKee and Waldo E. Sexton founded McKee Jungle Gardens in 1932 and enlisted famed architect William Lyman Phillips to design the landscape. The area fell into decline over decades of development but was revitalized and reopened in 2001. Today, McKee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered a project of national significance by The Garden Conservancy. The trail guides visitors through 10,000 native and tropical plants spread across 18 acres—with waterfalls giving way to streams and ponds dotted with a large collection of water lilies—and to the Hall of Giants and the Spanish Kitchen, two historic structures that have been restored to their original designs. For an extra treat, visit the garden June 20 for an annual celebration when 300 water lily plants of more than 100 varieties will be in bloom.
- McKee Botanical Garden photos by JPR Images