Who would expect a nature preserve to be hiding behind the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens? That’s what you’ll find at Frenchman’s Forest Natural Area, a 172-acre natural area with seven different habitats to explore, from a mangrove-lined waterway to scrubby flatwoods with saw palmetto and a boardwalk through a cypress swamp. It’s an amazing array of diversity on one piece of land near the Intracoastal Waterway in Palm Beach Gardens. Four hiking trails (one of them accessible) intertwine to show off the natural area.
Location: Palm Beach Gardens
Length: Up to 2.9 miles in four trails
Lat-Long: 26.856899, -80.072673
Type: multiple loops and balloon
Fees / Permits: none
Good for: birding, wildflowers
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
The preserve is open sunrise to sunset. A map is displayed and available at the trailhead kiosk. Birding is excellent at the observation deck on Lake Worth Creek. Pets are not permitted.
From the intersection of PGA Blvd and Prosperity Farms Rd, east of the Gardens Mall, turn north and follow Prosperity Farms Rd for 2 miles to the parking area on the left, just after you cross the creek.
Start off from the parking area on the Blazing Star Nature Trail, an accessible sidewalk which leads you past an observation platform overlooking the mangrove marsh and terminates in a loop within a shady oak hammock. At 1.3 miles, the Saw Palmetto Hiking Trail (blazed yellow) is the main loop, with the red-blazed Staggerbush Hiking Trail a spur that loops through scrub habitat, connecting to the blue-blazed Archie’s Creek Hiking Trail crossing the cypress dome. Look for terrestrial orchids in the shady palm hammock at the end of the boardwalk across the cypress dome; enjoy the many large and old South Florida slash pines still standing in this forest. Gopher tortoises live in the sandy hills along the paved access trail.