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Loxahatchee River: Kayak a wild, scenic river in South Florida

Last updated on June 22nd, 2020 at 04:31 pm

Two weeks after a heavy rain storm, the current was swift kayaking the Loxahatchee River.

Two weeks after a heavy rain storm, the current was swift kayaking the Loxahatchee River. (Photos: Bonnie Gross)

Within an hour’s drive of the urban tangle of South Florida, one of Florida’s two nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers meanders through a spectacular scenery: The Loxahatchee River. (The other is the Wekiva in Central Florida.)

Located in Jupiter, the northern-most city of populous Palm Beach County, the Loxahatchee River may be South Florida’s best kayaking river and makes a great place for a variety of canoe and paddling outings.

The “wild and scenic” part is the 7.6 mile stretch from Riverbend Park in Jupiter downstream to Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

The Loxahatchee River offers several alternatives, ranging from kid-friendly one- or two-hour kayak or canoe trips to an all-day adventure. You can bring or rent canoes or kayaks easily and inexpensively.

Turtles along the Loxahatchee River, which means river of turtles.

Turtles along the Loxahatchee River, which means river of turtles.

Here’s a rundown of alternatives for paddlers:

A two-hour kayak through the cypress forest

This is the most common and popular kayak trip on the Loxahatchee River. 

Loxahatchee River, Palm Beach County: Best paddling for miles

Loxahatchee  River offers some of the best paddling for miles (Photo: David Blasco)

This trip takes in the best scenery on the Loxahatchee River, from Riverbend Park to Masten Dam in two hours roundtrip.

For this outing, you begin at Riverbend Park, kayak as far as you want, and then paddle back, upstream, to where you started. Although the Loxahatchee River has a bit of a current, it is not that difficult to kayak back. The outfitters recommend that for each hour downstream, you allow one hour and 15 minutes upstream.

We found the scenery so stunning, we were happy to see it again more slowly on the upstream leg.

Riverbend Park has a separate launch area for people who bring their own canoes and kayaks.

More information: Jupiter Outdoors Center

This video gives you a 30-second glimpse of kayaking the upper Loxahatchee River:

The longer one-way Loxahatchee River kayak trip

When I first started paddling the Loxahatchee (decades ago), the most popular outing was the eight-mile trip from Riverbend Park, 9060 W. Indiantown Rd., Jupiter, to Jonathan Dickenson State Park, with livery service back to Riverbend. It’s now available only by special arrangement. 

On this five- to six-hour trip, you kayak under a canopy of cypress trees with a profusions of ferns, airplants and cypress knees lining the sometimes narrow, twisty route. Birds, turtles and alligators are common. The kayak trail includes paddling over two small dams that give a tiny whitewater thrill.

A few miles downstream, boaters may have to pull the kayak over fallen logs. Kayakers pass by Trapper Nelson’s camp, an interesting stop to explore and enjoy a picnic, and then the river changes character and broadens into a mangrove estuary.

Loxahatchee River, Palm Beach County: Lily

Swamp lilies along the Loxahatchee River

The twistiness and obstacle course of logs can make portions of it a challenge compared to kayaking a free flowing wider river. Come prepared with food and water and perhaps a rain poncho. (I once paddled the last two hours in a driving rain and wish I’d taken that advice.)

Note: The outfitters who have taken over the operation at Riverbend Park — Jupiter Outdoor Center, which has operated a large operation in eastern Jupiter on the Loxahatchee — do not routinely offer the full-day trip to Jonathan Dickinson. You must make arrangements in advance by calling 561-746-7053. 

Canoe upstream at Jonathon Dickinson State Park

This kayak or canoe trip allows you to experience a different Loxahatchee River. Here, the river is broad and tidal. Paddlers often see wading birds and occasionally manatees, ospreys and bald eagles.

A deer along Kitching Creek, a tributary of the Loxahatchee River with Jonathan Dickinson State Park..

A deer along Kitching Creek, a tributary of the Loxahatchee River within Jonathan Dickinson State Park.. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Upstream a short distance there is a tributary of the Loxahatchee River, Kitching Creek, that is winding and narrow with overhanging trees and Spanish moss. Kayakers have seen alligators there; we paddled right up to a deer munching on mangrove leaves. (To find Kitching Creek, look for a water-measurement installation at its mouth.)

You can put your own canoe or kayak in or rent. More information, call (561) 746-1466 or here.

This video by Marcelo Pavao shows peaceful paddling in the eastern portion of the Loxahatchee, where he was lucky enough to see manatees.

Kayak outings beginning near Jupiter Inlet

The Jupiter Outdoor Center,1000 A1A, Jupiter, rents kayaks and standup paddleboards from their dock as well as operating various area tours. From the outdoor center, you can paddle around mangrove islands and explore Jupiter Inlet. More information: Jupiter Outdoor Center, 561-747-0063.

Note: It is easy to be confused by the various places called Loxahatchee. About 45 minutes south, you will find the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach, an Everglades experience with a nice kayaking trail through a sawgrass marsh. It has no connection to the Loxahatchee River, however.

Loxahatchee River kayak and canoe details

The eggs of the apple snail looked like bubblegum stuck to the cypress knees along the Loxahatchee River kayak trip in March

The eggs of the apple snail looked like bubblegum stuck to the cypress knees along the Loxahatchee River kayak trip in March . (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

More things to do in Palm Beach County and nearby:

The Loxahatchee River is located in an area filled with fantastic outdoor opportunities. It’s a great base for kayaking, hiking, biking, snorkeling, beaches, history and even terrific bars and restaurants. Here are som eof our favorite outings:

  • Jonathan Dickinson State Park is a big park, with long hiking trails, good bike trails for both road bikes and mountain bikes and some very cool history. The little cabins there are a great place to stay; there are also good campgrounds. Here’s a comprehensive story on Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
  • Twenty minutes east of Riverbend Park is Blowing Rocks Preserve, an outstanding and unique beach very nearby. Next door to Blowing Rocks is a good places for snorkeling from shore.
  • On your way to Blowing Rocks, you’ll pass the historic 1860 Jupiter lighthouse, which is one of the few lighthouses you can climb. The waterfront museum in the newly restored WWII building offers indoor Florida history exhibits, outdoor exhibits and the Tindall Pioneer Homestead. It’s $9 for adults, $5 children ages 6 to 18, ages 5 and under free.
  • Guanabanas is 15 minutes from the park and it’s a completely outdoor waterfront restaurant with a huge banyan tree, chickee huts, waterfalls and lush landscaping.  The place would be worth visiting just for its appearance, but its fresh, locally sourced seafood is outstanding as well.
  • Square Grouper Tiki Bar, 111 Love St., Jupiter:  This is such a classic beach bar that it was used as the locale for the “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” music video featuring country music artist Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett.  It’s right on the sandy beach of the Loxahatchee River overlooking the 1860 lighthouse and the inlet. It’s very popular; best time to visit is in the afternoon.  Here’s what Yelpers say and here’s the “Five O’Clock Somewhere video.
  • Twenty minutes south Jonathan Dickinson State Park is another grem: John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, which has a spectacular beach and offers a nice kayak paddle to Munyon Island.

From the Editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

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