Starting with a surprising contrast between the wild tropical hammocks of Loxahatchee Slough and a levee walk along the C-18 Canal through the backyards of subdivisions in Jupiter Farms, the Florida Trail takes a turn into urban wilds along the shellrock paths of popular Riverbend Park. Once it enters the backcountry of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, you’re back into vast stretches of open landscapes crossed by interstates, with rugged scrambles through cypress-lined tributaries of the Loxahatchee River.
Location: Jupiter Farms
Length: 10.5 miles
Lat-Lon: 26.892218,-80.181454 to 27.004009,-80.163947
Fees / Permits: permits required for camping; fee for camping at Kitching Creek
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Bug factor: moderate to high
Restroom: at Riverbend Park
To access this section of trail if you are not doing it as a part of a traverse the whole Ocean-to-Lake Hiking Trail, park either at Riverbend Park or access the trail at C-18 in Jupiter Farms. This is Ocean-to-Lake Hiking Trail Day 5, headed eastbound.
Trail access is possible in Jupiter Farms (see map), but the only place to park a car along this section is at Riverbend Park. It’s along Indiantown Road to the west of Jupiter, just a couple of miles past the interchange with Florida’s Turnpike and I-95.
Set in the dense cabbage palm forest of Lucky Hammock, the Lucky Tract campsite is the starting point for this section of the Ocean-to-Lake Hiking Trail. Follow the blue blaze to the main trail and turn left.
You catch a brief glimpse of a cypress strand off to the left where the trail heads deeper into the hammock, with extremely tall and lush wild coffee lining both sides of the footpath up and over your head. Here and there are little clearings in the hammock where sunlight streams down between the cabbage palms, but the trail keeps to the shady corridor. Both poison ivy and shoelace ferns grow up the trunks of the cabbage palms. After a half mile, you leave Lucky Hammock for the familiar surroundings of open prairies with scattered pines and cypress trees.
The trail ducks into a cypress slough – part of the original natural waterway now usurped by the C-18 canal. After a tenth of a mile of wading, you reach a fenceline where the trail ascends into another tropical hammock. This tropical corridor is full of very large strap ferns growing on the root balls of the cabbage palms, plus other unusual ferns that look like spleenworts. Emerging into sunlight, you can see one more extensive wade through the cypress strand. Climbing out of the water and up and over fill material from the canal – which looks like midden material, with lots of fossilized shells – the trail pops out into a wholly human-created space, the C-18 canal and its berms, at 0.8 mile. There is a kiosk here and access to the trail via a road in Jupiter Farms.
Blazes lead you east along the C-18, a stark contrast to the natural beauty of the Lucky Tract with its lines of Australian pines and houses crowded up to property line. Within a mile, a guardrail provides a place for backpackers to take a rest stop in this shadeless section. Past a water control structure, watch for a blaze on the left as the trail dives into the woods along the fenceline to provide some shade under the pines and tropical understory. There’s another blaze on a stump as you emerge from the tropical tunnel and climb back up towards the dike. Go around the waterway on your left and you can see another blaze in the forest on the left. Providing decent shade, the trail sticks to an open area under pines and palms, still near the fenceline, a tunnel through tropical vegetation. Walk through a soggy cypress strand before you glimpse a pedestrian bridge across the canal.
The view to the left yields to an open grassy area as you pass a locked gate. After 2.3 miles, you reach the back gate to Riverbend Park, close to the fence. The path through here is crushed limerock and there are many signposts, as this is a park on the fringe of suburbia in Jupiter. A side trail leads to a chickee shelter and a privy. Crossing East Slough, a stream in a culvert, you come up to a side trail, Main Trail, that leads out to the main parking area at Riverbend Park. Continue straight, meandering through the pine and palm hammock.
The last left out to the parking area is at 3.6 miles via the Pine Walk. Go straight ahead, and the Ocean to Lake Trail continues winding its way to the underpass beneath Indiantown Road. After that brief moment of coolness, the trail makes a sharp left through tropical hammock paralleling the road westbound.
After you cross the stile, the Ocean to Lake Trail continues along the fenceline in the woods. Cross over a forest road coming in from a gate along Indiantown Road. Continue straight ahead through pine/palm wet flatwoods on a slightly higher, slightly drier piece of old Jeep trail. At 4.3 miles, the trail pops out into an open field next to the Loxahatchee River and an old orange grove. Blazes follow the fenceline towards the river. Exit through a gate to cross the river on the pedestrian part of the highway bridge. From the western side of the bridge you can see a strip mall with a gas station, hardware store, and restaurants. It’s the only resupply along the entire Ocean-to-Lake Hiking Trail, so if you’re backpacking, you’ll want to stop and stock up.
The trail leaves the berm of Indiantown Road to enter a tropical hammock, zigzagging between the palms in a very dense understory, including much marsh fern and poison ivy. Walk across a 4-way junction of paths and continue deeper into the hammock, past a pretty little cabin, before leading along the fenceline of a farm to get to the forest beyond, dense oak hammocks along the rim of the Loxahatchee River. The trail follows an old Jeep track on a bluff above the river, dancing in and out of shade. By 5.5 miles, the footpath descends into cypress bottomland, and it’s here that things can get wet.
After crossing BZs Creek, you ascend into scrubby flatwoods where gallberry and saw palmetto grows densely. The trail dips through another tributary that runs through the scrubby flatwoods and immediately rises back up into the sugar sand, ascending into scrub with diminutive trees. By 6 miles, you can see traffic zipping by on the Turnpike as the trail winds through the scrub. Cypress trees mark the edge of the Loxahatchee River floodplain off to the right. At the fenceline, blazes lead you to a directional sign which guides you left under both overpasses – the Turnpike and I-95 – in the Loxahatchee River floodplain. It’s a sharp turn left again and along the wall of I-95. As the trail detaches from the highway’s edge, it leads you into a stark, shadeless upland of scrubby flatwoods where the pines have been devastated by pine bark beetles.
Dropping down into Hells Creek at 7 miles – a good water source – the trail climbs back into the scrub, working its way farther away from the highway towards the treeline of the Loxahatchee River. At a three-way intersection close to the river, continue straight ahead. By 7.9 miles, as it drops down to Cypress Creek, the trail approaches a line of cabbage palms offering the first shade you’ve seen since Hells Creek.
Cypress Creek is a beauty spot, its long bridge a place to sit and relax in the sun. On the far side of the creek, the trail meanders through tropical hammock for a while, crossing boardwalks before emerging into higher, drier pine flatwoods for a stretch. Following an old forest road, it leads you beneath the pines to a former orange grove, Hobe Groves, at 8.8 miles.
It’s here you’ll encounter the trickiest maneuver on the Ocean-to-Lake, crossing Hobe Groves Canal. The trail drops quickly from the old grove down beneath the oaks to the edge of the canal. Most people take their shoes and socks off to do the wade, which can vary in depth from season-to-season. It’s a big scramble up the other side before you stop to put your socks and shoes back on.
After the canal, the trail ascends into a vast pine flatwoods characteristic of Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The blazes lead you along a forest road through this wide-open landscape, where you may spy deer in the distance. You cross one sand road en route before reaching obvious signage and a white-blazed side trail at 10.7 miles to the Kitching Creek campsite. Continue along this 0.2 mile side trail to the camping area. It has its own composting privy and plenty of space for tent campers, plus a pitcher pump for non-potable water and a fire ring.
Thanks to Bryce Layman at Litepacker for his assistance in transcribing the field notes for this hike.