Secret beaches are the stuff of vacation dreams. But in Florida, hidden and unspoiled beaches are as rare as flamingos.
I found one, though, at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, midway between West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie.
How can I call a beach that is part of the national refuge system a secret?
It’s located at the end of a dead-end road on a barrier island that gets little outside traffic. There are no signs alerting you to it. After 30-plus years of exploring Florida’s southeast, I had never come across this magnificent beach — more than 5 miles of wild, broad unspoiled sandy shore, lined with thick native vegetation and without a condo or T-shirt shop in sight.
On a hot and sunny Saturday morning, there were more turtle nests than people on the beach. We saw four beach umbrellas, eight surfers and two fishermen.
We walked for miles, often with a vast expanse of beach, ocean and sky ahead of us without another person visible.
We stumbled on Hobe Sound NWR while bicycling lovely North Beach Road on Jupiter Island. (That’s another story, which you can read here.) The two-lane residential North Beach Road dead ends into Hobe Sound NWR.
Arriving by bike, we entered for free. (Vehicles are $5 per person.) There is a parking lot, portable toilets and a wooden observation platform atop of the dune. That’s it for development at the beach section of Hobe Sound NWR. (There is another part of the wildlife refuge on Federal Highway in Hobe Sound with a nature center.)
Starting from the parking lot, you can walk north on the beach all the way to the St. Lucie River Inlet. (The last section is actually St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park.)
The coarse sand is studded with many shells — mostly small and common ones, but every few feet there will be a perfect little shell that reminds you of how beautiful common things in nature can be.
We swam on a day when the waves were impressive enough to attract surfers, which meant the surf bounced us around a bit.
There is no lifeguard and the water can get deep within a few steps, so this won’t be the perfect place for children to swim.
The beach at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
Greatest asset: This might be the most wild, natural and secluded beach in all of South Florida.
Parking: The beach is not well-known, so one can usually find a space in the small lot. Parking is $5.
Fees: Only parking.
Alcohol: The list of items barred from the refuge do not specifically list alcohol, but since picnicking is not allowed, that probably includes alcohol.
Location and directions to Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge: The quickest route is to exit I-95 at County Road 708, also known as Bridge Road, and drive two miles east. Once you cross the Intracoastal, you pass through a lovely section of road lined with arching ficus trees. At the ocean, there is a free parking lot for an excellent public beach, Hobe Sound Martin County Beach Park. Turn left and drive 3 miles north. The road dead-ends at Hobe Sound NWR.
If you come from the south, consider getting off I-95 at Indiantown Road and driving up Jupiter Island for a scenic drive past mansions. You’ll pass the Jupiter Lighthouse and Blowing Rocks Preserve on your way north.
Links for planning a visit to Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
- Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge official site.
- Hobe Sound NWR Nature Center
- Biking Jupiter Island, a Florida Rambler guide
What’s nearby? This Jupiter Island area offers many outstanding locations.
- St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park, a state park reachable only boat.
- Blowing Rocks Preserve, an outstanding and unique beach very nearby
- The historic 1860 Jupiter lighthouse, which is one of the few lighthouses you can climb. The waterfront museum in the newly restored WWII building offers indoor Florida history exhibits, outdoor exhibits and the Tindall Pioneer Homestead. It’s $9 for adults, $5 children ages 6 to 18, ages 5 and under free.
- Square Grouper Tiki Bar, 111 Love St., Jupiter: This is such a classic beach bar that it was used as the locale for the “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” music video featuring country music artist Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. It’s right on the sandy beach of the Loxahatchee River overlooking the 1860 lighthouse and the inlet. It’s very popular; best time to visit is in the afternoon. Here’s what Yelpers say and here’s the “Five O’Clock Somewhere video.
- Nearby is Jonathan Dickinson State Park, with outstanding hiking and biking trails plus kayaking, a boat trip up the Loxahatchee, campgrounds and even cabins you can rent.
- One of the best kayak trails in South Florida is on the Loxahatchee, which is also nearby.