Nearly two decades since its inception, Green Cay Wetlands is a vibrant oasis of grassy marshes, cypress strands, and tree islands.
It looks like it’s always been here. And that was the idea, in part, to bring a natural piece of the Everglades back to a region that had turned to farmland.
Today, the farms are mostly gone too, now crowded subdivisions in a crowded corner of Florida. Which makes this county park all the more important.
It’s a legacy of a local family, longtime Florida Trail Association members and friends Ted and Trudy Winsburg, who grew prize peppers at Green Cay Farms.
As they saw neighboring farmers sell to developers, they wanted to do something different, knowing their land already supported wildlife habitat.
From architectural drawings to reality, we watched this outstanding park come to life. Nearly 100 acres of their farm is now under these wetlands.
They serve as a natural filtration and water reclamation area, which of course, attracted birds. The birds stayed, and began raising families.
Generations later, the birds are used to humans peering down at them from the boardwalks. Photographers have easy subjects to train their lenses on.
This is not a place to rush through. You’ll want to take a couple hours as both birds and wildlife make their homes in and along these wetlands, which are now an oasis in a sea of subdivisions.
Visit the nature center before your hike for an orientation to the wildlife and the landscape you’ll encounter here. It’s an excellent destination to teach kids about natural Florida.
The nature center also has a nice gift shop with nature toys and books plus arts and crafts from local artists.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Boynton Beach
Length: 1.3 mile loop
Trailhead: 26.485797, -80.161733
Address: 12800 Hagen Ranch Rd, Boynton Beach, FL 33437
Restroom: At the Nature Center
Land manager: Palm Beach County
Open sunrise to sunset. Restrooms open 7 AM to 7 PM. All pathways and boardwalks are accessible.
No pets or bicycles are permitted. No smoking. Please do not bring food onto the boardwalks.
From Florida’s Turnpike, exit on Boynton Beach Blvd. Drive east one block and turn right on Hagen Ranch Road. Drive south several miles until you see the entrance for Green Cay Wetlands on the left.
The trail system is made up of two boardwalk loops: a half-mile loop if you start counterclockwise from the nature center, or a mile loop if you start counterclockwise.
A walk along the perimeter of the two loops, which is what we usually do, is 1.3 miles. We’ve found it best to start counterclockwise.
This straightaway is close to the edge of the marsh but overlooks open water, so you have the best of both habitats.
With the vegetation nicely filled in along the marsh edge, it’s a spot where bobcats have been sighted, as well as raccoons.
The boardwalk crosses a levee that bisects the wetlands before it tunnels into a stand of cypress trees atop an island in a corner of cypress swamp.
Once it emerges from the island, it climbs a little to a shelter where we’ve taken refuge during rainstorms.
The surrounding flag marsh is always busy with birds. It’s here we’ve seen the greatest number of gallinules along the loop.
Rounding the next corner, the boardwalk crosses another island, this one crowned by a dense hardwood hammock.
Under the tree canopy is another rain shelter, which overlooks a bird feeding station. Leaving the island, the boardwalk crosses a stream.
The marsh turns into a hydric hammock, dense with cabbage palms. A side boardwalk leads to a roofed sitting area under the palms.
Reaching the junction of the big and short boardwalk loops at an island topped with royal palms, this is the decision point if you want to cut a quarter mile off the walk.
Continue straight ahead for the outer loop. Once it emerges from the island, this arc leads around some of the deepest water in the wetlands.
This is where we’ve seen the most alligators, and they get rather feisty at times. The larger wading birds tend to congregate at this end of the preserve.
One final rain shelter provides a spot to sit and look out over open water. Soon after, the boardwalks soon merge again at a T intersection. Turn left to return to the Nature Center.
See our photos of Green Cay Wetlands
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Wading birds everywhere: that’s the delight of a walk along the boardwalks of Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Following the boardwalk behind the Visitor Center at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll enter a jungle-like wonderland along the Cypress Trail into a habitat lush with ferns and bromeliads
Protecting a sheet flow of rainfall moving steadily southward and parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, Grassy Waters Preserve bears a striking resemblance to the Everglades – because it is.