You can do it all here.
A prime destination for camping, hiking, off-road bicycling, fishing and limited canoeing,Â this vastÂ 22,000-acre wildlife refuge is a classic South Florida wilderness with wetÂ prairiesÂ and marshes, cypress domes, oakwood hammocks, pine flatlandsÂ and abundant wildlife.
The refuge, managed by the South Florida Water Management District, isÂ open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, except in hunting season.
There are no feesÂ â€” not even forÂ camping â€” although you need a special use permitÂ (online)Â to camp in the awesomeÂ family campground or for group camping near the fishing pier.Â
Camping in the Dupuis Wildlife Management Area is free
The “family” campground is a bucolicÂ oasis one mile deep into the refuge, far from the rumbling farm trucks alongÂ the two-lane Kanner Highway.
I really loved this campground for its scenic beauty and access to trails, both for hiking and bicycling. For kayaking and canoeing, though, youâ€™ll have to transport your boats at leastÂ six miles deeper into the preserve, 13 miles for more satisfyingÂ paddling experience.
Only tents and pop-up tent trailers (no RVs) are allowed on the 16 spacious but primitive sites encircling a lovely pond. Many of the sites are shaded, some are waterfront.Â Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring, and there are two composting outhousesÂ available toÂ campers. No other amenities, no hookups, no showers, although there is a single spigot with drinkable water near the campground host. Generators are not permitted, adding to the serenity of the campground.
While you are able toÂ make reservations in advance, sites are not assigned, so it’s first come, first served on arrival. No need to check in at the Visitor Center because the lock combination for access will be sent to you via e-mail once you complete the online registration form.
An alligator may roam into the campground while you’re there, but as long as you don’t feed them, they are unlikely to bother you. If you do feed them, alligators see you as a source of food andÂ become aggressive.
TheÂ tent campgroundÂ gateÂ isÂ locked and a combination is required. It will be provided after you file for the special-use permit. There is a campground hostÂ who lives on site, and there are occasional patrols by Florida Wildlife Commission rangers, but if you really need help quickly, you’ll need to call 911 to contact the Martin County Sheriff’s Office. I tested cellular service in the campground, and the signal was clear.
Access to the family campground is through Gate 1Â on the Kanner Highway.Â
RV Campground is also free
RV’s are welcome at the refuge’s less-restrictive campground, which is designed forÂ equestrian activities but accommodating to anybody with an RV, tent or pop-up.
These sites are primitive. There are noÂ hookups, no picnic tables or fire rings. Spigots with potable water are shared among campers.Â Generators are permitted but hours are restricted. If you are not prepared for boondocking, this campground is not for you.
There is a rest room with shower, a barn to stable horses and a dump station, but thereÂ are no other amenities. There is a spigot with drinking water at the rest-room building.
This campground is less scenic, more of a sprawling fieldÂ with an occasional shade tree. There are designated camping areas for equestrians and non-equestrians, although the day I visited, RVâ€™s without horses were scattered throughout both areas.Â
A campground host lives there year around.
Kim Willis, assistant land managerÂ for the refuge, says no special use permits are currently required to camp in the RV campground, although sheÂ expects a special-use permit requirement in the nearÂ future.
Group Camping and Backpackers
A group campground is located 7.5 miles deep in the refuge near the fishing pier and nature-trail boardwalk. A free special-useÂ license is required, and the campground is available to groups of 15 or more people. Again, these sites are primitive and there are no facilities. Pack it in, pack it out.
There are three primitive campsites for backpackers along the hiking trails. You can get details at the Visitor Center or online.
Pets are now allowed throughout the refuge and camping areas, but they must be kept on a leash at all times.
Hiking and BikingÂ
There is a designated parking area for hikers and bicyclists inside Gate 2, but day visitors are also welcome to enter the refuge and navigate theÂ network of unpaved but well-maintained shell-rock roads winding throughout the refuge for access toÂ 22 miles of trails developed and blazed by the Florida Trail Association.
There are four loop trails that range from 5 miles to nearly 16 miles, with a 7-mile extension from the last loop.
For a shorter hike, park atÂ Gate 2 and hike one mile round trip to the old â€œGovernorâ€™s House,” a small structure formerÂ owners of the refuge used as a camping cabin. There are picnic tables adjacent to the house. You can also drive to the house along the Jim Lake Grade from Gate 1.
All of the marked roads toÂ bicycles, but bicycles are not welcome on the loop trails, horse trails or the Dupuis section of the Ocean to Lake Trail, which cuts through the refuge.
The 62-mile Ocean to Lake TrailÂ has connectors on each side of the refuge,Â east through the adjacent J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management AreaÂ to Jupiter and west to connect with the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail at Port Mayaca.
Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, Port Mayaca
This 110-mile paved trail circumnavigates Lake Okeechobee atop the Herbert Hoover Dike, which protects agricultural areas and homes around the lake from flooding. Several sections of the trail south of Port MayacaÂ are closed through 2018 while the Corps of Engineers repairs the dike, but you can currently ride or hike on the trail north of the locks at Port Mayaca.
You can hike to the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail from Dupuis, or drive three miles west of the Dupuis Visitor Center to Port Mayaca and cross the bridge to the north side of the St. Lucie Canal for access. Â
The ride itself is certainly scenic, at least at first, but it quickly becomes monotonous with very few trees and very little relief from South Floridaâ€™s scorching sun. Still, itâ€™s worth spending a few hours atop the dike so you can get a feeling for the vastness of the lake.Â
For the latest information on closures, visit this page updated by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. For more information about the trail, read this article on FloridaHikes.com.Â Hereâ€™s another link for the Ocean to Lake Trail.
KayaksÂ andÂ canoes
Opportunities for kayaking and canoeing are limited and hard to reach, butÂ you can find them.
From Gate 1, take the Jim Lakes Grade to the Dupuis Grade, and follow the shell-rock road forÂ 7.5 miles deep to the fishing pier, where there is a small open water area bound by marsh. There is not much area to paddle, but it’s excellent for fishing, according to Willis. No motors.
A more adventurous launch is at the end ofÂ the Powerline GradeÂ (turn left inside the refuge atÂ Gate 1) and driveÂ 13 miles south to anÂ open water marsh that allows a little more freedom to roam. Willis advises that the marsh is not difficult to navigate, and it’s fairly easy to find your way back to the launch point, but she adds that it wouldn’t hurt to bring a GPSÂ just in case. Motors are OK here, and you may encounter a few jon boats.
The alligator population is thick here, though, so act accordingly — and cautiously. Like most wildlife in the refuge, alligators are unlikely to bother you unless you bother them. Still, I personally wouldn’t be paddling out there on a paddleboard or a sit-on-top kayak.
Another option to consider is outside the refugeÂ atÂ the Port Mayaca Locks. From here, you can launch a boat intoÂ the St. Lucie Canal, which is the eastern segment of the cross-stateÂ Okeechobee Waterway, and accessÂ the rim canal surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
The boat launch is on the north side of the locks off U.S. 441.
Birds and Wildlife
A noteworthy stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail, the refuge includesÂ mesic oak hammocks, cypress domes, pine flatwoods and wetland habitats that harbor more than a hundredÂ species, from anhingas and warblers to falcons, eagles and owls.
Stop at the Visitor Center for a map and then drive south from Gate 1 along Jim Lake Grade, then turn left (south) toward the fishing pier.Â Along the way, check wetlands for Eastern Phoebes and pines for Wild Turkeys. Bird the roadsideÂ forÂ Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Songbirds are common throughout the refuge.
You may also find Bachman’s Sparrow, Bald Eagle, Crested Caracara, Painted Bunting, Swallow-tailed KiteÂ andÂ Wood Storks. You can downloadÂ the DuPuis Bird List PDFÂ for a complete list of birdsÂ that may be seen in the refuge.
You can also referenceÂ recent sightings with this linkÂ fromÂ the ebird.org hot list.
In addition to birds, you’ll findÂ evidence throughout the refuge of of alligators,Â river otters, feral hogs, coyotes, white-tailed deer, to name a few.
If You Go
Visitor Center: Open Monday through Thursday, 8:30 am until 4 p.m., sometimes on Friday, but never on weekends. For information, call (561) 924-5310.
Special Use Permit (for camping): Select the Dupuis campground at the bottom of the page and check the calendar
IMPORTANT:Â Refuge is closed during hunting seasons.Â During archery, muzzleloading gun, general gun, general gun mobility-impaired and spring turkey seasons, camping is allowed only by individuals participating in the hunt and only in the equestrian campground at Gate 3. The family campground is closed when hunters are in the woods.
For closure dates, refer to this Hunting Calendar.
Nearby things to do and places to stayÂ
Seminole Inn, Indiantown â€” If you are not into camping and are looking for a place to stay close to the Dupuis Wildlife Management Area and Lake Okeechobee, try the historic Seminole Inn in Indiantown, about 6 miles west of the refuge on State Road 76 (Kanner Highway). The inn is full of charm, including a broad porch with inviting rocking chairs, a lobby with a handsome fireplace and a dining room with hardwood floors, a 12-foot pecky cypress ceiling and large arched windows. Each of the innâ€™s 22 rooms is decorated differently with Old Florida decor, with prices ranging from $75 to $120. Lunches are served Monday through Saturday. Sunday is a big buffet brunch. Dinner is served Friday and Saturday nights, and itâ€™s a buffet with carving stations for $13.95. The specialty of the house is fried green tomatoes, and you can order them as a side dish or in an outstanding sandwich ($7.95) with bacon on homemade bread for lunch. Book a room online, or call 772-597-3777.
Barley Barber Swamp, Indiantown â€” This old-growth forest with 1,000-year-old trees is closely guarded because it is next to a Florida Power & Light power plant. With a little advance planning, you can walk its 1.1 mile boardwalk on free tours. The boardwalk is only accessible October to May, and you must reserve a spot on a bus to reach it. If you are staying at the Seminole Inn (above), tours will be arranged for you. Read more here about the Barley Barber Swamp.