Boardwalks open parks to disabled, families and others
The best boardwalks in Florida allow everyone to explore Florida’s natural beauty, including people in wheelchairs and families with strollers.
Three decades ago, an important civil right law was signed – the Americans with Disability Act. Thanks to the ADA, streets, sidewalks, public transportation and buildings are all more accessible to people with mobility disabilities.
Partly thanks to the ADA, Florida’s magical natural beauty is also easier to experience as many parks have built wheelchair-accessible boardwalks.
Of course, boardwalks aren’t just for the disabled. Families with strollers love them too, as well as those who want flat, easy surfaces for steadier walking.
Boardwalks are a perfect way to introduce people to nature who are not ready or able to plunge into thick woods or a muddy trail.
These 18 boardwalks are all located in southern half of the Florida peninsula. (We’d love to assemble a similar list for northern Florida. Please add your suggestions in the comments field at the end of the article.)
Best boardwalks in Florida
Naples: Corkscrew Swamp Santuary
The scenery here – an unspoiled cypress swamp – is spectacular, and so is the birding. But what really makes Corkscrew special is the length of this boardwalk. At 2.25 miles, you really have a chance to be immersed in this green and serene world. More about Corkscrew Swamp.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center, 375 Sanctuary Road West
Naples, FL 34120
Delray Beach: Wakodahatchee Preserve
This free boardwalk passes through a man-made wetland and in winter it is full of wildlife. Walking along the three-quarter-mile-long boardwalk recently, we saw all sort of bird plus an alligator and marsh rabbits. The birds that are so used to people you often can get extraordinarily close. Every season offers a different variety of birds and bird life, from feeding to nesting to fledging. This is a particularly good place from from February to April, when dozens of wood storks and other birds nest here close to the boardwalk. More about Wakodahatchee.
13026 Jog Road, Delray Beach
Green Cay Wetlands and Nature Center, 12800 Hagen Ranch Road, Boynton Beach
Coconut Creek: Fern Forest Nature Preserve
This is the prettiest short nature hike and best boardwalk near me. First thing to like: It’s free. The half-mile trail winds through a tropical hardwood hammock and a very pretty cypress-maple swamp, providing a taste of what South Florida looked like before we paved it over. While it’s short, this ranks as one of the best boardwalks in Florida because it is located in one of the most overbuilt, nature-starved parts of the state.
Fern Forest Nature Preserve, 201 Lyons Rd. South, Coconut Creek
West Palm Beach: Grassy Waters Preserve
This free boardwalk trail is just under a mile long and takes you past a staffed nature center. What I love about the boardwalk is that it has very low rails, so that if you’re pushing a wheelchair or stroller, the rider has excellent visibility. This is a great trail for families, as there are inviting rocking chairs situated under chickee huts along the way — magnets for kids.
Grassy Waters Preserve, 8264 Northlake Blvd., West Palm Beach
Boynton Beach: Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Behind the Visitors Center is the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk, there’s a 1-mile trail through a beautiful forest of natural cypress. It’s shaded, cool and picturesque. Hikers can find more trails in the preserve, which is excellent for birding in the winter. More on Loxahatchee Refuge.
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Boynton Beach, 10216 Lee Road,
Wellington: Peaceful Waters Sanctuary
Located a half hour west of Lake Worth just down the road from Royal Palm Polo in Wellington, this is a 30-acre manmade wetland with a 1,500- foot boardwalk and a one mile trail. While this is a very short boardwalk, it’s good for birders in the winter.
Peaceful Waters Preserve, 11676 Pierson Road, Wellington, FL
Fort Myers: Six Miles Slough
This free preserve is just five minutes off I-75 and this makes a great stop on a road trip. The 1.2 mile boardwalk goes through an unspoiled cypress swamp, a hidden treasure similar to Corkscrew Swamp. There is excellent signage and many volunteers to enhance a visitor’s appreciation of nature.
Six Miles Slough, 7751 Penzance Blvd., Fort Myers
Everglades City: Fakahatchee Strand Preserve Boardwalk
This big, remote state park had one of my favorite boardwalks in Florida — until Hurricane Ian flooded and destroyed it. It’s being rebuilt, but probably won’t open until 2025 earliest. In the meantime, what was meant to be an addition to the boardwalk is scheduled to open in early winter 2023. It promises to be excellent for birders and wildlife.
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, 27020 Tamiami Trail East, Naples
Naples: Gordon River Greenway
Gordon River Greenway, Naples: This free 2-mile-long parkway near the Naples airport has a 12-foot-wide boardwalk with several entrances, covered benches and a bridge spanning the Gordon River. Entrances at 1590 Goodlette-Frank Road and 1596 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples. NOTE: The Gordon River Greenway has reopened after Hurricane Ian swept through.
Entrances at 1590 Goodlette-Frank Road and 1596 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples.
Homestead: Everglades National Park
Boardwalks within Everglades National Park. At the Homestead entrance, one of the very best ways to experience the Everglades is the Anhinga Trail, an accessible .8 mile paved and boardwalk trail — one of the best boardwalks in Florida for seeing Everglades flora and fauna. I have visited here at dozens of times and have never failed to see alligators clearly and close. A range of Everglades birds — great blue herons, great white egret, cormorants, anhingas, moorhen, coot, wood storks — are almost always visible. Then, as you travel through the park, there are several other short boardwalks at stops along the way.
The Pinelands Trail is another half-mile walk, this time through another environment, a typical Florida pine forest. The Mahogony Hammock Trail is a half-mile boardwalk that takes you through the sort of jungly Tarzan-movie setting that many people come expecting at the Everglades.
Everglades National Park Visitor Center, 40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead
Miami: Everglades National Park, Shark Valley
Shark Valley has basically one trail – a smoothly paved 15-mile loop that is perfect for wheelchairs and strollers. This trail is also used by bicyclists and a tram, but once you get more than a few steps from the parking lot, it is not crowded or hard to navigate.
At this trail, the alligators and birds line the trail in winter, seeming to be oblivious to the humans steps away. Here, you may have to walk around the alligators, who sometimes sun themselves with body parts extending onto the trail. In the first mile of the trail on a sunny winter day, you’re likely to count dozens of alligators, plus myriad birds, often right next to the gators. More on Shark Valley.
Everglades National Park, Shark Valley entrance, 36000 SW 8th St, Miami
Miami Beach: Miami Beach Boardwalk
The Miami Beach Boardwalk, Maim Beach. This is a very long and scenic pathway, stretching from the South Beach north for about 40 blocks. It has views of the Atlantic ocean, the lavish hotels and is a superb spot for people watching.
Location: The boardwalk runs along the ocean from 5th Street to 46th Street. There is metered parking between 5th and 14th street on Ocean Drive plus a half dozen public garages within a block or two of the boardwalk. See details in the link.
This old-fashioned beach-side promenade is 2.5 miles long. It’s popular with walkers, strollers and cyclists. There is a fabulous view of the ocean and beach the whole way and lots of mom-and-pop shops and motels. More on the Hollywood Broadwalk.
Location: A paved trail that includes what is considered the Hollywood Broadwalk runs along the beach from Franklin Street at the north end to Jefferson Street. There is parking at lots and garages along the way. We like to use the metered parking at the north end along streets that dead-end into the pathway if we can find a space there.
Orlando: Orlando Wetlands Park
A half hour from downtown Orlando, this free 1650-acre manmade wetland offers some of the best wildlife viewing in Central Florida. Nature photographers love it. The city recently opened the 2,200 foot long Cypress Boardwalk. The site provides advanced treatment of reclaimed water. There are also free tram tours here September through May on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hikers can take a 3.9 mile loop trail or the 2.5 mile “birding loop.” Come prepared with hats and sunscreen; this is full sun. The park has restrooms. Here’s more information and here’s a PDF of a map and guide. It’s free.
Orlando Wetlands Park, 25155 Wheeler Rd, Christmas, FL 32709
Five minutes off the Turnpike, you’ll find this lovely free preserve and a .7 mile boardwalk to Lake Apopka. We ate our sandwiches here on a break from a long drive and during 20 minutes sitting in the shady shelter overlooking the lake we saw both an alligator cruise by and an American bald eagle fly overhead.
The preserve has a cracker-style building as its nature center and preserves one of the last original fish-camp cabins from the shores of Lake Apopka. Lake Apopka was a famous fishing destination with more than 16 fish camps until we polluted the lake and killed the fish. Happily, fish are again thriving in the lake and wildlife has returned.
New Smyrna Beach: Smyrna Dunes Park
New Smyrna Beach: You’ll find a 2-mile long boardwalk surrounded by water on three sides plus pass through an active gopher tortoise community, Here’s the official website and here are some photos of the boardwalk. Parking is $10.
Smyrna Dunes Park, 2995 N. Peninsula Ave., New Smyrna Beach
Tampa: Lettuce Lake Conservation Park
This boardwalk on the north end of Tampa extends a mile into a lush wetland along the Hillsborough River. It’s a great place to see wildife including alligators, turtles and birds; many visitors mention hearing owls hooting. The tree-lined pathway leads to a lookout tower with a scenic view of the beautiful Hillsborough River. The park is full of recreational opportunities, too: A playground, picnic tables, kayak rentals. Admission is just $2 per vehicle. The park opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. in spring and summer and 6 p.m. in fall and winter.
Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, 6920 East Fletcher Ave., Tampa, FL 33637. (813) 987-6204
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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.