For backpackers headed to the urban southeastern part of the Florida, Jonathan Dickinson State Park provides more than 11,000 acres to roam on a series of three trails maintained by the Florida Trail Association. Although the East Loop took some severe battering during the hurricanes of 2005, losing the sand pine scrub canopy along the ancient dunes, it’s still a popular destination for hikers and has had its campsite (Scrub Jay campsite) rebuilt and relocated. Along its length, you’ll traverse some of the highest hills in South Florida, enjoy sweeping views across pine flatwoods, scramble through the scrub forests, and encounter some of the remains of Camp Murphy, a World War II era military installation. The 9.8-mile loop can be tackled as a long day hike or an overnight trip, or in conjunction with hiking the larger double-loop system (using the connector to the Kitching Creek Loop) or the Ocean-to-Lake Trail, all of which are maintained by the Florida Trail Association.
Location: Hobe Sound
Length: 9.8 miles
Lat-Long: 27.003877, -80.101422
Type: Loop with connectors to other trails
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee, camping fee
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: available in the park but not along the trail
You must check in with park rangers before backpacking to ensure that there is space remaining at the backcountry campsite. There is an extra fee for camping. Take plenty of water, as water is scarce along the loop. There is a pitcher pump at the campsite but it doesn’t always work.
For more information: Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Take Florida’s Turnpike exit 116 or I-95 exit 87A, SR 706 (Indiantown Rd), Jupiter. Drive east 5 miles to US 1. Turn left and continue north 5.1 miles to the park entrance on the left. Park your car at the parking area adjacent to the ranger’s station at the entrance
Just past the park entrance, turn right to park at the far end of the large parking lot. Also known as the “Scrub Jay Loop” (due to the name of its sole campsite), the trail is in some of the highest rolling hills in South Florida. Once a shady sand pine scrub, it was stripped bare by hurricanes to expose bright white sand and young scrub plants reclaiming the ancient dunes. You can hear the hum of cars on US 1 and catch glimpses of the highway, and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other side of it, from the highest hills.
After a mile, the trail heads straight down a hill facing the observation tower atop Hobe Mountain, the highest natural point south of Lake Okeechobee. The tower is reached from a different trail, however, so the East Loop leads you past the foundation of an old building – part of World War II era Camp Murphy – and past some park housing. You cross a paved road, the original A1A, after 2.1 miles. Turn right and follow the blazes a short stretch before the trail jogs left back into the scrub.
The trail no longer crosses the railroad tracks, but instead turns to parallel them through scrubby flatwoods. It reaches the crumbling ruins of Camp Murphy. Built here in 1942 by the U.S. Army to take advantage of the high hills overlooking Hobe Sound, the better to watch for German submarines, Camp Murphy housed nearly 10,000 men. Their primary mission was to invent what we know today as radar. After the war, the Army transferred the land to the state of Florida, and it became Jonathan Dickinson State Park in 1950.
The East Loop briefly follows part of the Camp Murphy bike path before diving into the scrub to the right. It emerges on the edge of a large pond, with Pine Grove Campground on the far shore. A boardwalk with a bench dedicated to my friend Sunny, who was the trail master for this park before cancer claimed her, overlooks the pond and keeps your feet dry. Rising up into the scrub again, the trail crosses the bike trail and emerges at the park entrance road. Walk up towards the ranger’s station to return to your car in the parking area, completing your hike.