Seen on your GPS or a satellite photo, Corbett WMA appears to be wetlands, wetlands, and more wetlands. But this popular wildlife management area west of West Palm Beach is a place of superlatives: vast prairies, enormous trees, and landscapes that seem to go on forever. Painted with colorful wildflowers in every season, it echoes the beauty of its bigger cousin, Big Cypress, including a notable cypress strand called Hole-in-the-Wall.
Location: Royal Palm Beach
Length: 11.7 miles
Lat-Long: 26.852819,-80.449783 to 26.855395,-80.302809
Fees / Permits: Day use fee payable at entrance kiosk
Difficulty: moderate to rugged
Bug factor: moderate to annoying
Please note if you are backpacking westbound, dogs are NOT permitted in DuPuis Reserve.
Corbett WMA is managed by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and is used extensively by hunters during the fall and spring hunting seasons. It’s smart to check the FWC website before you plan your trip to ensure you’re not hiking in the middle of general gun season. If you are hiking during hunting season, even small game or turkey season, wear an orange vest or orange pack cover for safety’s sake.
The western end of this hike, Little Gopher Campsite, can only be reached by backpacking.
Corbett lies at the northwestern edge of the suburban spread of Palm Beach County. From I-95, follow Northlake Boulevard west for 12 miles to its end. From the Florida Turnpike, take Okeechobee Boulevard west 1 mile to Jog Road. Turn right and drive north to the Beeline Highway. Turn left and follow SR 710 for 1.2 miles to where it meets Northlake Boulevard. Turn left and drive 8.9 miles to the end of the road.
At the end of Northlake Boulevard, turn right onto Seminole-Pratt-Whitney Road. Almost immediately, you see the Corbett WMA sign. Continue north as the road becomes a hard-packed dirt road; keep to the left at the fork. After 3 miles, you reach the sign that says “Everglades Youth Camp.” Turn left. Stop at the self-service pay station and drop off your entrance fee before continuing down the forest road for 0.5 mile. After you pass the lake, take the right fork to drive into the Youth Camp. Just before the gates, make a left at the “Hungryland Boardwalk” sign and follow the one-lane road down to where it ends in a clearing ringed by picnic tables.
Leaving Little Gopher Campsite, the trail rounds a deep depression filled with greenish water – not exactly appealing – before popping out on a broad sand road where deep spots cradle pools of water. Follow the blazes across and to the right and around the big puddle. The blazes lead you down the road for a short piece, passing several sloughs filled with water lettuce and large mounds that are part of a archeological site, the Big Gopher Mound Complex, which includes the unusual ridges, mounds, and slender canals surrounding the Little Gopher Campsite. By 0.3 mile, the trail makes a sharp left off into the pine forest, away from an intersection of forest roads. Turning right, it heads into a cypress strand and then emerges into another pine forest.
Passing a deer stand after rambling down a corridor edged with saw palmetto, you continue beneath the pines to zigzag through another cypress strand, this one filled with young trees laden with bromeliads. At a half mile, a stream drains the strand; step over or wade through it, depending on the depth. As you walk through the next cypress strand, notice the open area off to the right – a prairie in the distance. Emerging from the strand, you enter a mixed pine-palm forest. Making a sharp right onto a forest road, the trail leads you up on a berm at the next double blaze. You’ll be popping on and off the berm for a while as the trail skirts deep, watery spots in the road below. The prairie is now evident off to the right, beyond the canal below this berm. It’s a tight corridor for backpacks.
At the Road 3 sign at 0.9 mile, the trail continues straight ahead. Two roads go off to the left; don’t follow them. Dropping through a deep dip in the road that can easily fill with water, the road heads off to the left, but the trail continues straight ahead along a shady corridor, the berm and ditch still off to your right. At a crazy intersection of roads at 1.1 miles, turn left and look for the next orange blaze to lead you into the forest on the right, tall pines swaying above the cabbage palms. When the trail pops back out on the road, follow it to the right.
Veering off to the right on a forest road into a broad, open savanna, the character of the trail changes to a mowed, grassy footpath. It’s clear that this area floods at times, given the bog buttons and sundews along the footpath. Views are expansive all around you, and at certain times of year, including mid-summer and late fall, the prairies will be ablaze in a palette of wildflowers. Look for orange blazes on the pine trees in the distance, but watch out for the fire ant nests. The trail begins to play tag with the forest road for the next quarter mile, crossing it often to showcase one view or another, and as you reach the pine forest, notice how tall the pines are.
Around 2 miles, the trail turns south and comes to a junction of many forest roads. Continue straight ahead, up and over a small berm between the palmettos, and you discover a sturdy bridge over a large canal, where many lotuses float on the surface of the water. This is one of the reliable water sources along the trail. Beyond the bridge, it’s like walking into another world. You descend into a forest of pines with an open understory that seems to go on forever. It’s another savanna, but this time, with a canopy to keep you cool. The trail rounds clumps of saw palmetto. In the early morning, the songs of the birds echo through the pines. The beauty is almost surreal. By 2.5 miles, you begin to a cypress dome in the center of an open prairie off to the left, but the seemingly infinite forest continues to your right and ahead. The trail nudges you up to the edge of the prairie, with just a thin screen of vegetation between you and the grassland. Leaving the prairie, you head back into the pine savanna and encounter the back side of a Florida Trail sign that’s been heavily used for target practice. The trail emerges at South Grade a moment later at 3 miles.
Transitioning to a more open pine savanna, the trail makes its way between the perfectly round prairies, easing up to their shores. There are many of these along the remainder of today’s hike, some of which can be used as water sources if you can access the clear water at knee-deep level. Each has a small cypress dome or tree island in the middle. As you continue, cypresses appear amid the pines. This is low ground. Impermanent swamp buggy roads begin to appear more frequently. Crossing a broad sand road, you enter a younger pine savanna with little shade, which continues to about 3.5 miles. Here, the older pines dominate, with heavy pine duff underfoot and an understory of cabbage palm.
Crossing two sand roads in quick succession before reaching a third, the trail now enters a cypress strand, where colorful bromeliads cling to the trunks of slender cypress. While it seems this might be the Hole-in-the-Wall, it is not. Leaving the strand, the trail makes an abrupt left into a stand of pine trees where active eradication of invasive Old World climbing fern is going on – gray masses of the dead ferns hang in ghostly stringers from the trees. Making a right past a forest road to enter more pine flatwoods, the trail crosses the next forest road at 3.9 miles and makes a jog into another cypress strand. Finally! It’s the Hole-in-the-Wall. Passing through “The Wall,” this westernmost of landscape-sized cypress strands in Corbett, nearly always means a wade, and even in the drought conditions we encountered on this hike, there were big puddles to slosh through.
Emerging from the east side of the strand, the trail crosses a messy swamp buggy road and rises up into the pine savannas, transitioning easily into tall slash pine with distant cypress domes. At 4.1 miles, the trail rounds a large open prairie to the right, with a smattering of shade cast on the footpath from the pines above. Passing two more similar prairies off to the right and left – all with some water under drought conditions – the trail keeps you to the dry spaces between before it draws close to a road which floods easily. Turning away from the road to the right, you traverse more savanna with scattered pines and distant cypress domes. Turning away from the wet prairies, you walk through a pretty little cypress dome at 4.8 miles. Coming up to a big wet prairie with a little marsh in the distance, the trail makes a sharp left turn. You cross Road 7 at 5.4 miles, continuing beneath another beautiful stand of tall slash pines, and another sand road soon after.
A road comes up from the left and there is a broad prairie off to the right at 5.7 miles. Rounding the prairie, just past a road, you come to the junction with the blue-blazed trail to Bowman Island Campsite (26.841345, -80.375495) at 5.9 miles. This is the other designated campsite within Corbett WMA. To reach it, follow the blue blaze south. Depending on water levels, you may have to wade through a wet prairie to the island, which is otherwise high and dry.
Pay attention to the blazes as you leave this junction, since swamp buggy roads lead in all directions. Rounding the next wet prairie, you pass a tree with metal flashing skirting the trunk. Look up, and you;ll see a very large woodpecker hole in the tree, a reminder that this is a wildlife management area and that biologists are out here on a regular basis conducting studies and monitoring species. The flashing is likely to prevent snakes from climbing up into the nest. At 6.5 miles you cross a forest road and can see water in a prairie way off to your left. The trail continues through pine flatwoods, where many of the slash pines have crowns that are very twisted and sculptured by the ages. Wildflowers permeate the understory – tickseed, goldenrod, and St. Peter’s Wort. Rounding the next big wet prairie on the right at 6.8 miles, note the concentric rings of vegetation around it, with corkwood closest to you, rising to a crescendo in height at the middle with tall grasses and alligator flag. Unfortunately, this scene is marred by deep swamp buggy tracks in the shallows. Since the buggies can go anywhere, they do.
Rising up into scrubby pine flatwoods for the first time on this journey, the trail is elevated and in the sun for more than a half mile, the longest stretch of the hike with no obvious wet prairies nearby. Palmettos, tinged with a silvery hue, peep up between the tall grasses. Of course, I ran out of water here, since I didn’t want to skim water from swamp buggy tracks (worried that the oil slicks were oil and not oils from cypress trees) and the water around Bowman’s Island was too shallow. The next wet prairie, an oasis after the scrub, appeared at 7.5 miles – just as pretty as the last one, with a center of willow marsh, but without any swamp buggy damage. We waded in, cooled down, and scooped plenty of cool, clear water to treat and drink. Instant lemonade never tasted so good!
By 8 miles, the trail is caroming between many of these wet prairies, sticking to the high ground of pine forest between them and sometimes skimming the edge of a shoreline. A broad savanna stretches off into the distance on your right at 8.4 miles. Coming up to Road 7 again – you can see a sign hanging in a tree – you enter a very old slash pine forest, with trees of incredible girth and height. The saw palmettos beneath them are not just shades of green but silvery as well, sometimes on the same plant. Wildflowers bring bursts of color to the understory, and plants that prefer scrub habitats with well-drained sand appear here, like bracken fern, gallberry, and pennyroyal. You cross a junction of swamp buggy tracks where you can look to your left and see a large wet prairie with water in the foreground. At 8.9 miles, the trail crosses Road 7 and continues to wind its way through scenic pine flatwoods. Cross the next road and a double-blaze ushers you deeper into the realm of the pines.
At 9.1 miles, the trail begins to round a very large and beautiful prairie on the right. You catch a quick glimpse of it before being swallowed up by the shade of the forest. The trail will be working its way around it for some time. One breathtaking tree stops you in your tracks – a fire-scarred slash pine at 9.6 miles that rises up, up, and up, reaching for the sky. Turning away from it and to the left, the trail traverses a small cypress dome. Reaching the far shore of the large prairie, the trail works its way along the edge of it and heads up into the woods.
By 9.8 miles you reach the “Eyeglass Ponds,” so named for their shape. They tend to retain water all year. Up and over the next little berm, a rocky peninsula juts out into the expanse of wet prairie in front of you. It tapers off into nothing, so a wade is necessary. No matter what time of year I’ve visited, there’s always water here. Islands of sand in the prairie contain tiny bladderworts, tall yellow and small purple varieties, with bladders at the ends of their root systems to suck up microscopic creatures from the damp sand.
Scrambling up into the pine woods on the other side, the trail heads down a well-defined corridor lined with saw palmetto, atop a ridge between prairies. Sawgrass invades the footpath as you come up along the edge of another wet prairie. Keep watching for the next blaze. Following the rim of the next prairie, you reach an outflow where marsh plants grow in the footpath and the trail may be very mucky. Winding past dahoon holly and ferns, the trail emerges to an open spot overlooking the massive power lines. It may be very wet here depending on the depth of swamp buggy tracks. Crossing under the power line at 10.3 miles, the trail enters a corridor defined by saw palmetto. Look for the pink blossoms of sabatia in spring.
When you reach the white-blazed bypass route at 10.6 miles, you have a decision to make. After my experience – where I ended my hike three days early with an injury when wrenching my foot trying to climb out of knee-deep mud – I’d seriously suggest you use the white blazed trail instead of taking the pond plunge on the main trail. However, the orange blazes lead into a thicket of loblolly bay and wax myrtle, with a tall pine canopy above. Roots make for tricky going, but the trail works its way down to the shoreline of this large pond at 10.8 miles. There is a blaze on a post in the middle. Look carefully for a tall pine off to the right and you can see where the trail is headed. Be very cautious where you step – probe with your hiking stick first. The mud is soft and treacherous to the left side of the entrance into the pond. During a drought, the water was knee-deep. Did I mention it’s smarter to take the bypass trail?
When you drip up onto shore on the other side and climb up under the big pine, you reach the bypass trail coming in from the right. Turn left. The remainder of the trail is a comfortable walk. Mostly hemmed in by saw palmetto, it’s well shaded by the tall pines. Watch for one tricky spot where it seems the trail might go left or right to follow a ditch, but in fact climbs up the berm ahead of you to plop back down into the saw palmettos. In moist spots, giant star rush draws your eyes to the footpath. Off to your left is the pond you traversed, which goes on and on, a part of Hungryland Slough.
By 11.5 miles you reach the junction with the blue-blazed trail to the Hungryland Slough trailhead. It’s here you bid goodbye to the Ocean-to-Lake and turn left to walk beneath the pines and emerge, after 11.7 miles, at the Hungryland Slough trailhead. It’s a parking area behind the Everglades Youth Camp – where potable water is available – and also affords access to a short hike on the Hungryland Slough Trail.