John D. MacArthur Beach State Park offers one of my favorite kinds of kayak trails – a trip to an island reachable only by boat. To make it better, it’s an historic island with an interesting story.
Add to that numerous ospreys swooping overhead, a shaded walk through a forest of native vegetation and some deserted little beaches, and you have the recipe for a great day in a kayak. (We even saw a dolphin swim nearby.)
I have visited John D. MacArthur Beach State Park many times for its splendid beach, which is the perfect place for long walks and good snorkeling.
To get to the beach, you cross a long boardwalk over the shallow, clear saltwater lagoon. This water here beckons to kayakers, so this time we loaded our canoe and drove to North Palm Beach.
You can kayak on that saltwater lagoon, but the park also extends west of A1A to Munyon Island, 45 acres of undeveloped island in Lake Worth/the Intracoastal Waterway. It has excellent picnic shelters, a trail and its own little hidden beaches.
We spent four hours, leisurely paddling and admiring the wildlife, picnicking on the island and exploring the trail on the island. We also paddled the peaceful mangrove channels within Munyon Island itself.
This historic island has a fascinating history.
Dr. James Munyon bought the island in 1901 and decided its proximity to Palm Beach made it a perfect location for a resort.
By 1903 he had built the Hotel Hygeia, named after the Greek goddess of health. Munyon marketed the resort as a place for ailing northerners to restore their vitality. It was five stories high with 21 rooms and eight baths — sort of inconceivable when you see this island today, which is actually much bigger than in 1903.
Guests drank “Dr. Munyon’s Paw-Paw Elixer,” made from fermented papaya juice, which he bottled there. The elixir was reported to be made from allspice, angelica, anise, bitter orange, cane sugar, elderflower, orange, gentian, ginger, hibiscus, orange blossom, papaya, passion fruit and pink grapefruit.
The real secret? Like a lot of patent medicines of its days, it had a strong alcoholic kick.
The successful hotel operation ended in 1917, as so many such resorts did in those days: A fire burnt it to the ground.
The hotel was not rebuilt and Dr. Munyon died the next year. The island remained undeveloped and it tripled in size as dredged earth from the Intracoastal was piled along its western shore from the 1930s to 1950s. John D. MacArthur bought the land in 1955 and he donated it to the State of Florida in 1981.
Kayakers can spend a couple hours kayaking around and in Munyon Island. You can enter the island’s interior from the northern end to explore a half mile on mangrove channels and then paddle back out. The interior of the island is full of birds — lots of herons and ibis.
On the western side of the island, there is a large dock for power boats and a sandy beach where kayaks can land. The dock leads you to two picnic shelters and a boardwalk but, alas, no restrooms.
In the past, signage explained the history of Munyon Island, but a storm destroyed that, as it did half of the island boardwalk, much of which is now closed. Munyon Island history is explained, however, in the nature center, so be sure to stop there.
The thrill for me was paddling along the southeast end of the island and realizing there are still visible ruins of Dr. Munyon’s Hotel Hygiea.
We hadn’t seen them on a previous visit, but comparing historic photos with the visible submerged old rock wall and tower, we were convinced these are remnants of the historic hotel. They’re largely underwater at high tide now. (Thank you, global warming.)
We loved coming upon the sandy beaches on the north and western ends of the island, which would make great places to swim or wade on a hot day.
If you bring your own kayak, launch inside the park at a small opening in the mangroves visible from the parking lot and marked by a sign. Kayak rentals are south of there near the nature center.
On Munyon Island, there’s a beach with easy landing and a boardwalk onto the island interior on the west side, next to the large metal dock for powerboats.
From the park’s launch site, it will take 45 minutes to an hour to reach Munyon Island, depending on wind, tide and your energy level.
The park rents kayaks from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: For a half day, it’s $30 for a single, $45 for a double; for a full-day, it’s $50 for single, $60 for a double. Hourly is $12 for a single and $18 for a double. Kayak information.
NOTE: The area around Munyon Island becomes a mud flat at low tide, so be sure to plan your outing around high tide. Your best bet is to launch your kayak about two hours before high tide.
Munyon Island kayak trail
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
10900 Jack Nicklaus Drive (A1A),
North Palm Beach 33408
- Park website
- Rambler story on MacArthur State Park and its beach
- Admission to the park is $5 per vehicle.
More things to do near John D. MacArthur State Park
- West Palm Beach: Old city, modern vibe with awesome variety of things to do
- Lake Trail, a bike trail on the elite island of Palm Beach
- Bike trails at Riverbend Park in Jupiter
- Peanut Island for snorkeling and camping
- Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for birding, hiking, kayaking and beautiful cypress-swamp boardwalk
- Snorkeling on Peanut Island
- Hiking and biking at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach
- Ten ways to enjoy history and beauty of Town of Palm Beach
- A guide to things to do in Delray Beach
- Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens: Feel harmony in nature
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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.