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Great hiking, biking trails at Grassy Waters Preserve

Last updated on December 19th, 2021 at 09:39 pm

It’s hard to find good hiking and biking trails in paved-over South Florida, and that’s what makes Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach so special.

It’s a 20-square-mile wetland whose primary purpose is to provide drinking water for the city of West Palm Beach.

But the city has made good use of the preserved land by developing outstanding recreational features — a boardwalk trail through a cypress swamp as pretty as any you’ll ever find, plus more than 20 miles of additional trails, most suitable for hiking and fat-tire bikes.

Cypress trees at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach
Cypress trees at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Grassy Water Preserve boardwalk: Easy-to-access shaded beauty 

The Grassy Waters boardwalk trail is .6 of a mile long and takes you past a staffed nature center, where you can get detailed trail maps for the rest of the preserve.

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.

We’ve seen an alligator and wading birds along this shady trail that is brimming with ferns and air plants. Even if you come for the longer trails, don’t miss this one: It’s just too pretty.

View from chickee hut at Grassy Waters Preserve.
View from chickee hut at Grassy Waters Preserve. (Photo by Jennifer McBride via Flickr.)

Longer hikes at Grassy Waters Preserve

To access the longer trails, you need to drive to various trail heads.  (Here’s the Grassy Waters Preserve trail map; you also can get this map at the nature center.)

The longest trail is the Owahee Trail, 16.6 miles along the preserve’s perimeter. The several-mile sections we walked were actually hard-packed sand and dirt roads on the levee. The trail is good for mountain bikes not for thin-tire bikes.

Cypress Boardwalk at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach
Cypress Boardwalk at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach (Photo by Jennifer McBride via Flickr.)

The area is full of wildlife. On hikes in two separate stretches, we saw alligators, deer, roseate spoonbills, various herons, hawks and more.

The best place to start this hike is where 45th Street ends at the preserve, where there is a large parking lot. If you walk or bicycle south on the Owahee Trail at this point, you pass some of the best birding plus several boardwalks into the wetland.

The main man-made feature here is the large Solid Waste Authority plant and landfill, which looms large along Jog Road. (The trailhead described above is just south of the SWA headquarters.)

Boardwalk at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach
Boardwalk at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The SWA property itself has four miles of hiking trails around its headquarters that connect to the Owahee Trail. The SWA trails may suffer from a landfill smell at times, but they are full of wildlife.

A large wading bird rookery flourishes here. (Trails may be closed during nesting season in spring.) We saw at least a dozen alligators lounging. A bicyclist advised us to head down one trail that was a little too wild for us — there were hundreds of black vultures overhead and the ground was littered with bones from their feasting. We didn’t get far. It seemed with that many big birds overhead, we were likely to get our heads and shoulders decorated.

Alligators and vultures at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach
Alligators and vultures on SWA trails at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach.

There are also several miles of good hiking trails at another Grassy Waters trailhead, 8537 Northlake Boulevard,  across Northlake Boulevard from the Cypress Boardwalk trail.  

Hog Hammock Trail is a 2.8 mile trail suitable for mountain bikes and hiking. At its farthest end, you can add the Promontary Trail, which is 1.2 miles out and back. The total hike is about five miles and includes some good sweeping views of the landscape, beautiful shady trees and some board walks over cypress swamp. On the day we hiked, these trails had attracted several bicyclists.

At this same trailhead, it’s also worth taking the Eagle Trail. A half-mile out-and-back along Gator Lake is a narrow, twisty trail. (Not for bikes.) There are limestone outcroppings underfoot and a few nice lake overviews.

Trail at Sunset at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach
Trail on Solid Waste Authority property near Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach. (Photo: David Blasco)

The trailhead at  8537 Northlake Boulevard has good facilities for picnics and includes a clean restroom.

At a third trail head, you can explore Apoxee (“beyond tomorrow” in the Miccosukee language, pronouned A-po-hee) Park, which is on the west side of Jog Road one mile north of Okeechobee Boulevard. It has 2.5 mile trail through a wetland hammock and pine flatwoods. This trail can get wet and muddy after heavy rain. Visitors, though, say wildlife is plentiful — alligators, turtles, birds, deer. It connects to the south end of the Owahee Trail.

Other activities at Grassy Waters Preserve

There are regular program, such as guided hikes or kayak trips. Because Grassy Waters Preserve protects a source for drinking water, no kayaking or paddling is allowed except as part of guided paddle tours.

Resources for planning your trip:

Grassy Waters Preserve
(561) 804-4985

Main Entrance:   8264 Northlake Blvd.,  West Palm Beach, Florida 33412
 Features: Cypress Boardwalk Trail, Nature Center
 Hours: Monday-Saturday: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 
 Sunday: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
 Closed all government holidays

Watershed Management Entrance: 8537 Northlake Blvd., West Palm Beach, Florida 33412
 Features: Hog Hammock Trail, Eagle Trail, Gator Lake
 Hours 7 a.m- 5 p.m. daily

Apoxee Entrance: 3125 Jog Road, West Palm Beach, Florida 33412
 Features: Apoxee Trail, Owahee Trail
 Hours: 7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily

  • Dogs are not permitted within Grassy Waters.
  • There are two wheelchairs available to borrow upon request at the Grassy Waters Nature Center for use on the ADA-accessible Cypress Boardwalk Trail.

More things to do in West Palm Beach area:

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.

This page may include affiliate links from which we may earn a modest commission if a purchase is made. More often, we include free courtesy links to small businesses, such as kayak outfitters, from whom we receive no commission. 

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