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Urban paddle: Al Capone’s island and backyards of the rich and famous

There are hundreds of miles of canals in South Florida that lend themselves to an urban paddle, and most are lined with upscale homes.

But only a few neighborhoods can match the Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club, making a Boca Raton urban paddle a good candidate for things to do.

Forbes magazine has ranked Royal Palm Yacht Club as one of the most exclusive gated communities in the world.

Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club canal
A leisurely paddle through the Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

I’ve often passed through Royal Palm Yacht Club’s waterways in my fishing boat, taking a shortcut to the Boca Raton Inlet, but have never given much more than a passing nod to the elegant mansions lining the waterways filled with mega-yachts.

Oh sure, we gawked. But we never explored. This time, we left the motorboat at home in favor of kayaks for a slow crawl. 

Homes of Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club are elegant, if overstated.
Back yards of elegant homes in Royal Palm Yacht Club. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Launch at Pioneer Park in Deerfield Beach, east of Dixie Highway and north of Hillsboro Boulevard, and paddle down the Hillsboro Canal to the Royal Palm Yacht Club marina, where a cutoff canal will take you into a network of backyard waterways.

After exploring a few canals, exit the neighborhood near Deerfield Island Park, a spoil island once owned by Al Capone and accessible only by boat.

Beach on Deerfield Island
A pocket beach on Capone Island. Don’t forget the picnic lunch! (Photo/Bob Rountree)

Bring a picnic lunch and go for a hike on the island, or just lounge on one of the island’s beaches for your midday meal before continuing your urban adventure. (Pick up your picnic lunch at the Pickle Barrel on Hillsboro Boulevard, not far from Pioneer Park.)

Begin your paddle from Pioneer Park

The boat ramp at Pioneer Park in Deerfield Beach is an ideal starting point to access the Royal Palm Yacht Club’s canal network. While the club is a gated community, the canals are public waterways.

Paddling past the Royal Palm Yacht Club marina.
Making the turn at the Royal Palm Yacht Club marina. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

From the boat ramp at Pioneer Park, go north then east under the U.S. 1 bridge.  A large marina complex will be on your right, and the Royal Palm Yacht Club will be on your left.

Paddle around the yacht club marina into Royal Palm’s canals, which access smaller branch canals.

These homes are awesome; the landscaping out of a magazine.

You rarely see residents enjoying their tropical back yards, but you will see and hear fountains and waterfalls, fish jumping in the canals and birds in the groomed trees.

It’s quiet. A leisurely paddle past the homes of the rich and famous.

The canals are public but the properties are not. Respect their privacy and steer clear of their docks, which are undoubtedly rigged with screeching alarms.

While this is usually a trouble-free paddle, be aware that on the east side of the neighborhood is the Intracoastal Waterway, which is busy on weekends with boaters who don’t pay much attention to speed limits or kayaks. Avoid it if you can.

Within the confines of Royal Palm’s canals, there is virtually no boat traffic.

Capone Island/Deerfield Island Park

The docks at Deerfield Island Park
Deerfield Island Park has a small marina for boats, just off the Hillsboro Canal. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Editor’s Note: As of April 2024, Deerfield Island Park is closed for improvements and is expected to re-open later this summer. Improvements include a new marine study center, renovated dockage and a new park ferry. The ferry will operate between the island and Sullivan Park on the Intracoastal Waterway. For updates, go to

Deerfield Island Park is a 54-acre island bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway, the Hillsboro Canal and Royal Palm Yacht Club.

There is a small marina on the south side of the island, along the Hillsboro Canal, where you can pull your kayaks and paddleboards onto the floating docks.

The island has two nature trails that traverse through a diverse community of vegetation, including a lot of non-native species that are gradually being removed and replaced. 

The half-mile Coquina Trail includes an observation platform overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, and the three-quarter-mile Mangrove Trail has a 1,600-foot boardwalk that bridges a mangrove swamp on the west side of the island.

There are picnic tables and a small shelter, or you can just picnic on the grass near the marina.

The island also has a few small beaches, where you can just pull up your kayaks and picnic. We found a beach on the north side of the island that was ideal.

Gangster Al Capone once owned Deerfield Island

Al Capone fishes off Palm Island in Miami
Al Capone

The island was once on a peninsula that extended south from Boca Raton, leading to quite a few turf wars between Palm Beach and Broward counties, Boca Raton and Deerfield Beach, over whose jurisdiction the island belongs.

But upon one thing everybody agreed – Al Capone was not welcome here.

The notorious gangster, who already owned a home on Palm Island in Miami, tried for years to build a home on the peninsula.

But his neighbors in Boca Raton fought Capone every step of the way. The city approved ordinances designed to scuttle Capone’s efforts, which eventually died when he was shuttled off to prison.

The island was later cut off by a canal, but Capone’s signature remained. It became known among locals as Capone Island.

Not coincidentally, a casino was located across the Hillsboro Canal from Capone’s island in what is now Sullivan Park. The casino later became a popular restaurant known as the Riverview, which was demolished during the 1990’s.

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David Kaether

Saturday 6th of June 2020

Thanks for the fine article. I am an avid kayaker who lives in Deerfield Beach. I will definitely check this area out. I plan to launch from the new kayak launch at the Hillsboro El Rio park on SW 18th St. in Boca Raton. It looks like a wonderful kayak launch site.

Jay gleitman

Wednesday 21st of September 2022

@David Kaether, ..nice park and launch, but if you have a kayak trailer. Like i do, u cannot park it there. Just wanted to let others know.

Bob Rountree

Saturday 6th of June 2020

Let me know how the new park works out. I'll add it to the story after I get your feedback.

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