Boardwalks open parks to disabled, but benefit many more

Green Cay Wetlands
Green Cay boardwalk and nature center. (Photo: Kimo)

More than 25 years 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 accessible to those in wheelchairs, thanks to the many parks that have built wheelchair-accessible boardwalks.

When my mother visits me in the winter, we always throw a wheelchair in the trunk of our car so this once avid hiker can still experience the woods and wilds, even with 90+ years of age and arthritis.

Seeing  Florida’s beauty while pushing a wheelchair, I have come to love some of these boardwalks.  Of course, boardwalks aren’t just for wheelchairs and 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 the woods on a trail.

These boardwalks are primarily near my home in Fort Lauderdale. If you have favorites I’ve missed anywhere in Florida, please add them in the comments field so this can be a resource.

Florida’s best boardwalks

Corkscrew Sanctuary Naples Christmas Wreath Lichen
This beautiful red lichen on the boardwalk railing at Corkscrew Swamp in Naples is called Christmas wreath lichen. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Corkscrew Swamp, Naples.  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.

Green Cay Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Preserve, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach.  These two free boardwalks are just two miles apart and they are among the best birding locations in South Florida. Wakodahatchee has a three-quarter-mile boardwalk and Green Cay has 1.5 miles of boardwalk. At both of these manmade wetlands, you will see birds that are so used to the passing people and you can get extraordinarily close. Because of the number of retirees in the area, you always see wheelchairs here. More about Green Cay and Wakodahatchee.

Fern Forest Nature Preserve, Coconut Creek. This is the prettiest short nature hike 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.

Grassy Waters Preserve Boardwalk in West Palm Beach
Grassy Waters Preserve Boardwalk in West Palm Beach.

Grassy Waters Preserve, West Palm Beach. 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.

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Boynton Beach., 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. More on Loxahatchee Refuge.

Peaceful Waters Preserve, Wellington.   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.

A family at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Fort Myers.
A family at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Fort Myers.

Six Miles Slough Fort Myers.. 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.

Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, Everglades City, This is just short of a half-mile long, but it’s well worth a stop if you’re traveling across Florida on the Tamiami Trail. It’s part of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and it takes you through old growth cypress swampland. It’s a truly stunning place. And free.

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.

kayak/hiking combination we enjoyed on Turkey Creek.)

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. I have visited here at dozens of times and have never failed to see several 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.

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.

Other great Florida places to explore by wheelchair

Trails that are paved for bikes are often great experiences for the disabled and those in wheelchairs. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed:

The observation tower at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: Wikimedia.)
The observation tower at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: Wikimedia.)

Shark Valley path at Everglades National Park, Miami. Shark Valley, the entrance to Everglades National Park off the Tamiami Trail directly west of Miami, is such a reliably wonderful outing that it’s one of my favorite places to take visitors. The paved 15-mile path is ideal for wheelchairs. You get close to a range of birds and alligators and you can go as far as you want. More on Shark Valley.

Hollywood Broadwalk. 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.

More favorite boardwalks:

You’ll find a 2-mile long boardwalk surrounded by water on three sides plus pass through an active gopher tortoise community at Smyrna Dunes Park. Here’s the official website and here are some photos of the boardwalk. Parking is $10.

Billyboardwalks has collected his 20 favorites via YouTube videos. Most are not covered on this page and are located more centrally in Florida.

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