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Jonathan Dickinson State Park: A Florida treasure

Jonathan Dickinson State Park is big, wild and full of adventure. It’s time you planned a visit to enjoy these seven things:

  1. Hikes from a half-mile to 10 miles long.
  2. Scenic paved bike trails and popular mountain bike trails.
  3. Campgrounds for tents and RVs.
  4. Cute little cabins.
  5. Excellent kayak and canoe river.
  6. Horseback trail rides in winter.
  7. Fascinating history from the 1600s to WWII.

If you love the outdoors, I promise you will find something to love at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Sunrise over the pine forest in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Sunrise over the pine forest in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Jonathan Dickinson State Park on U.S. 1 in Hobe Sound will delight kayakers, bicyclists,  mountain bikers,  hikers, campers, history-lovers, wildlife watchers and folks who just like a nice picnic site. I even took my 86-year-old mother on the narrated boat tour along the Loxahatchee River – she loved it!

There are a dozen beautifully situated cabins near the Loxahatchee River that allow non-campers to stay overnight in the park for $80 a night in summer and $95 a night in winter.

This is the rare Florida park where you could spend several days and not explore all the trails and recreational opportunities. And it’s located within an hour or two of nature-starved urban South Florida.

I’ve personally seen eagles, osprey, deer, gopher tortoises, manatees, dolphins, an array of birds and alligators plus admired fields of colorful wildflowers.

Kayaking and canoeing at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Jonathan Dickinson State Park loxahatchee at high water Jonathan Dickinson State Park: A Florida treasure
Two weeks after a heavy rain storm, the current was swift along the Loxahatchee River. (Photo: David Blasco)

Jonathan Dickinson is best known for its river, the Loxahatchee, which was Florida’s first federally designated Wild and Scenic River. It’s a beauty, particularly the narrow, twisty section you access from Riverbend Park.  I think it’s the best canoe or kayak river in South Florida. Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to paddling the Loxamatchee.

From Jonathan Dickinson, you can put in your kayaks or canoes or rent them.  Here, the river  is broad and tidal. Paddlers often see wading birds and occasionally manatees, ospreys and bald eagles. Upstream a short distance there is a tributary of the Loxahatchee, Kitching Creek, that is winding and narrow with overhanging trees and Spanish moss. Kayakers see alligators here and many consider it the highlight of paddling the river from Dickinson.

Trapper Nelson's Historical Site on the Loxahatchee River can be visited only by boat. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Trapper Nelson’s Historical Site on the Loxahatchee River can be visited only by boat. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

If you continue upstream, you reach another highlight — the fascinating home of Trapper Nelson, one of those fabulous characters who have helped make Florida funky from its early days.  Nelson started out living off the land as a trapper and fur trader in the 1930s, but soon became well-known enough to turn himself and his home into one of the area’s first tourist attractions, “Trapper’s Zoo and Jungle Gardens.” He died somewhat mysteriously in 1968 and his rustic buildings are evocative and beautifully situated on a wild part of the river.

While Trapper’s area is within Jonathan Dickinson State Park, it is accessible only by boat – either kayak/canoe or via a guided tour on the Loxahatchee Queen II.  See details below for the boat tour. Its hours vary by season, so check with the park rangers.

Here’s a useful guide to paddling the river, including travel times and distances.

Bicycling at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Jonathan Dickinson State Park bike trail
Section of the bicycle trail near river/concessions at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

Jonathan Dickinson is big enough that we enjoyed just bicycling on its lightly trafficked roadways in addition to its off-road trails.

We loved the paved bicycle trail that runs along the roadbed of Old Dixie Highway, for about two miles. Dixie Highway is the original route folks took to visit Florida in the 1920s and 1930s and it ran right through what is now the park. As we pedaled the lovely tree-shaded trail, we tried to spot evidence of the old road. Our favorite find: A fading yellow stripe visible at some points, once the divider for two-lane Dixie Highway.

This bike trail in Jonathan Dickinson State Park is actually Old Dixie Highway, which was closed through this area in World War II. (Photo: David Blasco)
This bike trail in Jonathan Dickinson State Park is actually Old Dixie Highway, which was closed through this area in World War II. (Photo: David Blasco)

Mountain bikers treasure Jonathan Dickenson for its well-maintained Camp Murphy Off-Road Bicycle Trail System, which is a nine-mile network of mountain bike trails. It contains loops for beginners all the way up to “black diamond, experts only” trails. Even on weekdays, if the weather is nice, you can count on plenty of mountain bikers to be parked at the trailhead near the train tracks.

Here’s a map of the mountain-biking trail system.

Hiking at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Jonathan Dickinson State Park: Wildflowers blooming in spring along the "red" segment in the EaglesView Multi-use Trail System. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Jonathan Dickinson State Park: Wildflowers blooming in spring along the EaglesView Multi-use Trail System. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Jonathan Dickinson is hiker heaven, with a good range of wild and scenic hikes and some very good birding.

There’s a great short boardwalk trail –a half-mile trail up “Hobe Mountain” – South Florida’s highest point, with a 360-degree view of the ocean, Intracoastal Waterway and park.

There are medium-length hikes: A favorite is Kitching Creek Loop trail. Here’s a trail map and guide. The trailhead is off the main parking lot by the river concession area. You can make it a short hike by coming back via the Wilson Creek trail, a larger loop with a beautiful overlook of Kitching Creek or, if you go beyond the overlook, a 7.5 mile hike through scenic forests and meadows.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park dickinson wildlife Jonathan Dickinson State Park: A Florida treasure
Wildlife along the trail at Jonathan Dickinson State Park: Gopher tortoises are commonly seen in the pine scrub areas of the park closer to US 1. Birders like the EaglesView trail system, which starts at the equestrian camping parking area. The pine tree with a pipe inserted is designed to be nesting site for red cockaded woodpeckers. At the bottom left is a great crested flycatcher. At bottom right is a Bachman’s sparrow, a species birders come to see. (Photos: David Blasco)

Birders frequent the Dickinson State Park trails. The Kimbell Education and Visitor Center has interesting interactive exhibits on wildlife in the park, which will enhance your walk. When we visited, a map shown below was displayed to help you spot some of the birds to see in the park.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park trail map with locations marked  where you should watch for specific bird species.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park trail map with locations marked where you should watch for specific bird species.

For back-packers or long-distance hikers, there is the 9.8 mile East Loop Trail.  Ask for a trail map at the ranger station.

When we hiked in Jonathan Dickinson once, we ended up wading through ankle-deep water at points, so be aware some trails can be wet, particularly early in the winter.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park Kitching Creek trail
Be warned: Jonathan Dickinson State Park trails are sometimes wet. This was a November hike and that’s the trail. (It was really fun though.) (Photo: David Blasco)

Backpackers can hike into two wilderness camp sites on segments of the Florida Trail. Maps of the trail are available at the Ranger Station. One camp is five miles out along the trail, and the other is nine miles out. A pitcher pump is located near each camp and water must be treated. (Reservations are not required, but are suggested: 772-546-2771 for information and reservations.)

Map of Jonathan Dickinson hiking trails

Jonathan Dickinson State Park Jonathan Dickinson map 2 1 Jonathan Dickinson State Park: A Florida treasure
Hiking Trails in Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Camping at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

travel trailer at Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Typical RV site in the Pine Grove Campground. The “Pine Grove” was wiped out by hurricanes in 2004. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Two family campgrounds are located at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Pine Grove Campground, with 90 sites, is located near the ranger entrance station on the east side of the park. The River Campground, with 45 sites, is about four miles from the park entrance, near the Loxahatchee River.

Both campgrounds have large, tiled restrooms with hot showers. All sites include water, electricity, table and grill. A dump station is located in each campground. Pets are welcome.  The maximum RV length is 45 feet.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park jonathan dickinson riverside campsite Jonathan Dickinson State Park: A Florida treasure
Tent camping at Jonathan Dickinson State Park River Campground. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Our first choice would be the River Campground, where low-lying vegetation and tall trees offer privacy and shade at most sites. Since it is deep in the park, there is no road noise other than minimal traffic during daylight hours to the nearby boat ramp. The campground has paths to the boat ramp and the park concession, where you can rent canoes or take the boat tour.

The new Pine Grove Campground, on the other hand, has small trees with little shade and a low-lying berm that separates it from U.S. 1, where highway traffic can disrupt the camping experience.  On the plus side, the new Pine Grove campground has paved access roads and level, well-maintained camping pads that are good for RVs (but not so much for tents).

Just outside the park, and within reasonable walking distance of the Pine Grove campground, is a church, a few shops and a full-service marina with a nice tiki bar that serves burgers and local seafood from Thursday through Sunday. The tiki bar also features entertainment.

While there are 120 campsites, these campgrounds are popular, so reserve early (you can book 11 months in advance) or monitor the reservation site for cancellations. Camping is $26 a night plus utility fees, booking fees and taxes.

There are also two backpack camps on segments of the Florida Trail. One camp is five miles out along the trail, and the other is nine miles out. Reserve primitive sites at ranger station, 772-546-2771.

Cabin rentals at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Jonathan Dickinson State Park cabin
Cabin at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

There are 12 cabins. The smaller units have a maximum capacity of four in two queen beds, one of which is a sleeper-sofa.  Cabins 6 and 7 sleep six.

Most of the “cabins” are actually miniature trailers with about 300 square feet of space, although they do have complete kitchens and small bathrooms with tubs. The units come with linens plus heat and air conditioning. They are beautifully situated in a shady grove of pine trees near the Loxahatchee River. Price: $80 a night in summer; $95 in winter. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on the Jonathan Dickinson State Park cabins.

Historic tidbits about Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Trapper Nelson: "The wild man of the Loxahatchee," whose property is now par t of Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
Trapper Nelson: “The wild man of the Loxahatchee,” whose story is told at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park has all sort of fascinating stories from several different eras of history, starting in 1696, when Jonathan Dickinson, a Quaker merchant from Port Royal, Jamaica ,was shipwrecked near here.  He and members of his party were captured by the Jaega Indians. Dickinson kept a detailed journal that was widely read at the time. He escaped, traveled to St. Augustine and then on to Colonial Philadelphia, where years later he was elected mayor.

More recent history was made during World War II, when the land that would become the park was developed as Camp Murphy, a top-secret radar training school.

At the time, Dixie Highway was diverted around the park and more than 1,000 buildings quickly sprang up from the scrub.

More than 6,000 people were stationed at the camp, which had its own power plants, sewer system, church and theater. Few locals had any idea what was going on, only that it was a secret Army base.  After two years of operation, in November 1944, Camp Murphy was deactivated and the operation was shut down.

As we explored the park, we were delighted to come across a few closed buildings from the Camp Murphy days and a historic marker.

Details for planning your visit to Jonathan Dickinson State Park

  • Elsa Kimbell  Environmental Education and Research Center.  The interpretive center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and has free wifi.

Exhibits at the Kimbell Education and Visitor Center tell many stories about the park's history and environment. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Exhibits at the Kimbell Education and Visitor Center tell many stories about the park’s history and environment. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
  • Canoe and kayak rental:  Canoes rent for $28 for two hours and $5 an hour after that. Single kayaks are $23 for the first two hours and then $5 an hour. Doubles are $33 for the first two hours and then $5 an hour. Standup paddleboards are $25 for two hours. Motor boats are rented for $55 for two hours; $25 each additional hour. (Prices are as of April 2022.) Details here.
  • Shuttle service upriver for canoe or kayak rental: This service, between Riverbend Park and Jonathan Dickinson, is offered by Jupiter Outdoor Center. Call 561-285-8992 for more information.
  • Bicycle rentals: Bikes rent for $12- $35 an hour and include mountain bikes. Details here.
  • Guided boat tours of the Loxahatchee River. The Loxahatchee Queen II tour boat takes 25 passengers on  a narrated two-hour outing to Trapper Nelson’s site. Call 561-746-1466 for more information or see details here.
  • Horseback riding at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. In winter, an outfitter brings 20 horses from the Smoky Mountains area south to run trail rides and wagon rides every day. See info on the website or call for details: 561-746-1466.
  • Swimming at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Yes, there is a small “beach” near the picnic areas along the river, where I thought the river was murky and uninviting. Yes, some people do swim there in summer. A ranger told us: “They’re mostly not from Florida.” Spectacular beaches on the Atlantic Ocean are only 15 minutes away.

What’s nearby? Things to do in the Hobe Sound/Jupiter 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 compensation.

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Carlos Megias

Sunday 12th of December 2021

Can I bring my 2 springer spaniels to stay in the cabins?

Bonnie Gross

Sunday 12th of December 2021

I am afraid not. The state park policy is: "Pets are not permitted on beaches or playgrounds, or in bathing areas, cabins, park buildings, or concession facilities."

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