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.) We were trilled to discover the two-lane residential North Beach Road dead ends into Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.
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 National Wildlife Refuge. (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 7.5 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 three miles north. The road dead-ends at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
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.
The refuge has a new name honoring environmentalist
The name of the refuge has been officially changed to Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. The late Nathaniel P. Reed was an environmentalist in Florida and friend of the refuge. His family was instrumental in creating the refuge. Reed, who had a long career in public service, helped co-write the Endangered Species Act in 1973 when he served as assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks in the US Department of the Interior during the Nixon administration.
Links for planning a visit to Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
What’s nearby? This Jupiter Island area offers many outstanding locations.
- Overview of outdoor and natural outings in Jupiter, including restaurants and hotels.
- Jonathan Dickinson State Park for hiking, biking camping, cabins, kayaking, birding and more.
- Kayaking the wild and scenic Loxahatchee River
- Blowing Rocks Preserve: Dramatic beach is unique
- Jupiter Inlet and Lighthouse Museum
- The “secret beach” at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
- Kayaking to St. Lucie Preserve State Park and its remote, pristine beach
- Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, free park with native animals
- Riverbend Park is great for family bicycling, picnics, walks
- Biking Jupiter Island, scenic low-traffic beachfront road
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.