Only an hour or two drive from the dense Miami-Broward-Palm Beach metro area with 6 million people, Jupiter, Florida, makes an excellent getaway for natural, outdoor and wild experiences.
Based in Jupiter FL, you can kayak through spectacular scenery and hike for days.
Things to do in Jupiter FL include climbing a historic landmark lighthouse, visiting a free wildlife rescue center full of Florida animals and spending time at an unusual beach with a craggy limestone shoreline so different from the usual Florida beaches.
Add to that several excellent Florida-style restaurants overlooking the water, and you have the ingredients for a great couple of days.
While it lacks an Old Florida feel or downtown, Jupiter FL is located in an area with expansive state parks and a national wildlife refuge plus it has several attractive county and city facilities that are worth discovering. Within 45 minutes, there are multiple excellent places to kayak, hike and bike, plus three free interesting places to see and learn about native wildlife.
Florida Rambler has detailed stories about many of these features. Here are highlights of things to in Jupiter, FL, for nature lovers.
1. Kayaking the Loxahatchee River
The Loxahatchee is one of only two federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the state. It has been preserved in its spectacular natural state as it winds through a cypress forest laden with airplants and filled with ferns, lush tropical foliage and wildlife including alligators. I consider it one of the best kayak trips in South Florida.
You can kayak the Loxahatchee in trips of various lengths, from a two-hour out and back, which is also offered as a guided tour, to an adventurous all-day paddle downstream.
Trips on the most scenic part of the Loxahatchee start at Riverbend Park and the outfitter there, Jupiter Outdoor Center, offers a variety of services.
2. Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Jonathan Dickinson State park can keep a lover of the outdoors busy for days with hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, wildlife watching and soaking up the natural beauty.
If you’re a camper, this is where you want to snag a reservation, especially in the River Campground, one of two in the park. Or, hike into the backcountry to one of two primitive hike-in campsites.
If you like cabins, reserve one of 12 here.
For hikers, there are 17 miles of trails.
For bicyclists, there are several miles of paved trails plus the little-trafficked park roads. The very popular Camp Murphy Off-Road Bicycle Trail System has a nine-mile network of mountain bike trails.
There’s a scenic boat tour up the Loxahatchee River to the historic site, once home to Trapper Nelson, “the Wild Man of the Loxahatchee,” a legendary backwoodsman who operated a wildlife zoo here from the 1930s to the ’50s. His rustic home and buildings can be visited, but only by boat.
Here’s a comprehensive Florida Rambler story on Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park, 16450 SE Federal Highway, Hobe Sound FL 33455, 772-546-2771.
3. Blowing Rock Preserve
In a region with miles of sandy beaches, Blowing Rocks Preserve is unique: Its craggy limestone shore looks like it belongs in Maine or Hawaii.
Owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island is as wild and natural as a beach can get. The conservancy doesn’t even let you bring food or beverages.
If the seas are calm, the limestone rocks in the water attract sealife and make for good snorkeling. Don’t miss the short trail through the sea grapes paralleling the beach – it’s the original route of A1A!
Blowing Rocks Preserve, 574 S. Beach Road, Hobe Sound, FL 33455, 561-744-6668
4. Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum
The historic 105-foot red Jupiter lighthouse is one of the few Florida lighthouses you can climb. Built in 1860, it’s the oldest structure in Palm Beach County. The sweeping view from the top of both the Loxahatchee River and the Atlantic is worth the 105 steps it takes to get there.
There’s a whole complex of activities around the lighthouse. A waterfront museum in the newly restored WWII building offers Florida history exhibits plus there are outdoor exhibits and the Tindall Pioneer Homestead, the earliest Jupiter house still existing.
The grounds around the lighthouse are federally designated as an “Outstanding Natural Area.” There are two short hiking trails through what is largely sunny scrub habitat. On the south side (the lighthouse side) the trail takes you down along the Loxahatchee River and offers signs identifying some of the native trees and plants. It offers good views of the lighthouse.
The one mile loop across the street from the lighthouse includes an elevated and covered overlook with a glimpse of the Intracoastal. On an April visit, we enjoyed spotting a gopher tortoise and admired the beautiful yellow flowers of the prickly pear cactus.
There is no charge to walk trails in the natural area. Admission to the lighthouse/museum complex is $12 for adults, $6 children ages 6 to 18, ages 5 and under free. Closed Mondays.
Jupiter Lighthouse, 500 Captain Armours Way, Jupiter.
5. Two wild, undeveloped “secret” beaches
I like to call the beach at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge a secret beach because I “discovered” it on a bike ride.
The Hobe Sound NWR beach is located on Jupiter Island, a barrier island limited to single-family homes of very rich people. You find the beach by heading up a dead-end road at the north end of the island.
There are no signs alerting you to it. After 30-plus years of exploring Florida’s southeast, I had never come across this magnificent beach — more than 5 miles of wild, broad unspoiled sandy shore.
Where the boundary for the refuge’s beach ends, another wild and hard-to-reach beach begins, the beach at St. Lucie Preserve State Park, which extends 2.7 miles to the inlet where the St. Lucie River empties into the ocean.
Other than walking five miles in the sand, the only way to each St. Lucie Preserve State Park is by boat – and it’s fun to visit by kayak. We paddled across the Intracoastal to reach it for a delightful outing.
More from Florida Rambler about kayaking to St. Lucie Preserve State Park.
More from Florida Rambler about “the secret beach” at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.
6. Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
This is a free and fun way to see native wildlife. Animal lovers and particularly families will enjoy this wildlife sanctuary located in a green and shaded setting. It showcases native critters from panthers and black bears to bald eagles and otters.
Busch Wildlife Sanctuary at Loxahatchee River District, 2500 Jupiter Park Drive, Jupiter, FL 33458. Closed Sundays.
More from Florida Rambler on Busch Wildlife Sanctuary.
7. Hobe Sound Nature Center
This free nature center just a few miles north of Jonathan Dickinson State Park is small but one of those hidden gems you like to discover, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
It’s an educational outreach program housed at the headquarters of the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. It has a small collection of animals that have been rehabilitated but cannot go back into the wild.
When I entered the exhibit, I admired the taxidermy display of two birds, a red tailed hawk and a barred owl — and then the hawk blinked, and I realized they were both very much alive. The birds have lived here for 20 years and are used to visit schools and educational programs.
Tanks contain interesting native species, including baby alligators, a spotted skunk, common Florida snakes and more.
Adults may spend 20 minutes looking at the animals, I suspect kids would be entertained for much longer
I also recommend the very short loop trail behind the nature center. The trail traverses a surprisingly hilly area, almost mountainous by Florida standards. The trail is blinding white sand and is formed by ancient dunes. It eventually leads down to a pretty little sandy beach on the clear water of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Hobe Sound Nature Center, 13640 SE Federal Hwy, Hobe Sound, FL 33455, (772) 546-2067. Closed Sundays.
8. The Loxahatchee River Center
Here’s another free place to see animals and a good stop for families. The river center is a small aquarium with tanks representing creatures who live in the Loxahatchee River from its freshwater origins down to inlet. Kids will particularly love the touch tank, where a staff member will fish out creatures that kids can hold.
The River Center is located in Burt Reynolds Park, a waterfront park with picnic pavilions, horseshoe courts, a volleyball court, a playground, boat ramp, and even a self-serve paddleboard concession.
The Loxahatchee River Center, 805 US 1, Jupiter, FL 33477, (561) 743-7123. Closed Sundays and Monday.
9. Riverbend Park
Riverbend Park is where you put in your canoe or kayak to paddle the beautiful upstream sections of the Loxahatchee River. But there are other good reasons to visit: It has 10 miles of shady, scenic bike trails that are particularly suited to family bicycle outings, and you can rent bikes here. It’s also the site of a historic battleground.
Riverbend Park, 9060 Indiantown Road, Jupiter, (561) 741-1359
10. Dubois Park
Beloved by locals, Dubois Park is a delightful park with a snorkeling lagoon, sandy beach and picnic areas along the clear waters at the Jupiter Inlet. There’s a boat ramp for kayaks. Parents like the shallow, sandy areas without waves where younger kids are safe. With clear water and fish from the inlet and ocean, the snorkeling is good. The place gets crowded on weekend afternoons; arrive early or come later in the day.
Dubois Park, 19075 Dubois Road, Jupiter, FL 33477
11. Biking on Jupiter Island
The primary development on the beautiful barrier island east of Jupiter is mansions for millionaires (who are being squeezed out by billionaires.)
What this means for you and me: There’s a scenic two-lane beachfront road with well-kept landscaping, very little traffic and excellent biking. And it goes on 15 miles ending in the “secret” beach at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, described above.
12. Spring training at Roger Dean Stadium
Visit Jupiter in spring and you can experience one of the best spots in Florida to enjoy spring training baseball games.
Built in 1998, Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium is one of two shared ballparks in the Grapefruit League, hosting the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins.
The stadium, with field boxes, loge boxes, bleachers, grass berm and luxury skybox seating, is lauded for its selection of food, beer and its family-friendly atmosphere.
The stadium is in a bustling shopping complex with restaurants and sports bars packed with fans throughout Grapefruit League season.
Spring training games start at the end of February. Here’s the 2023 schedule at Roger Dean.
Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, 4751 Main Street, Jupiter, FL 33458
Florida Rambler guide to spring training in Florida
Restaurants in Jupiter, FL
You won’t have trouble finding a pl.ace to eat; there are a lot of good choices in Jupiter.
There’s a cluster of restaurants between US 1 and the beach with great waterfront views and outdoor seating. I’ve enjoyed the food and ambiance at U-Tiki Beach, which has postcard views of the lighthouse, and Guanabanas, where the fountains, tropical landscaping and waterfront views are a Florida fantasy.
But there are other waterfront spots in this area that people like: You might want to consider the upscale 1000 North or the waterfront restaurant Jetty’s overlooking the lighthouse or the classic beach bar Square Grouper Tiki Bar. 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.
Several restaurants are located in the recently developed Riverwalk area along the Intracoastal, which offers great views, a nice place to stroll, hotels, shops and an outdoor music venue.
Hotels in Jupiter FL
We love staying in the cabins at Jonathan Dickinson State Park .
We also like the moderately priced Jupiter Waterfront Inn, which feels like a mom-and-pop hotel and features waterfront views of the Intracoastal from the rooms. Right in the heart of the Riverwalk area is the moderately priced Best Western Intracoastal Inn.
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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.