Driving by along Interstate 95, millions of people pass the entrance to Halpatiokee Regional Park thinking it’s just a collection of ballfields.
We did, until the Tropical Trekkers chapter of the Florida Trail Association gave us a heads-up on a new trail they were building along the river that would connect the two trails they’d established years before.
Local mountain bikers with the Airborne Mountain Bike Club added their own separate trail system, which their volunteers maintain.
And paddlers have always had access to the South Fork of the St. Lucie River through this park, with a primitive campsite as a destination.
So despite its outward appearance, Halpatiokee Regional Park is a recreation destination for all outdoor enthusiasts.
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Trailhead: 27.104098, -80.257460
Address: 8303 SW Lost River Rd, Stuart FL
Restroom: at the trailhead and the ballfields
Land manager: Martin County
Open daily 7 AM to 11 PM. Fields are lighted. Leashed dogs permitted.
Picnic pavilions must be reserved for larger groups. For primitive camping, call the number above to make a reservation.
Cyclists must wear helmets. For safety’s sake, heed signage where “no bikes” or “no hikers” are signposted along segments of both trail systems.
No matter if you are hiking or biking, carry a map. There are lots of trail junctions and not all are signposted. Snap a photo of the map displayed at the kiosk to bring with you.
Expect a lot of mosquitoes in the river hammocks, as well as many encounters with wildlife. Gopher tortoise sightings are very common, as are manatees in the river.
From Interstate 95, take exit 101 for Kanner Highway (SR 76) / Stuart. Go east one block. Turn right at the right at Lost River Road and follow it 0.6 mile to the second park entrance on the left, past the Holiday Inn Express and other businesses.
To reach the trailheads, turn right at the circle and follow the road around the baseball fields and past the tennis courts to where the picnic pavilions are.
About the Park
While the ballfields and open space – including a disc golf area – occupy the cleared space seen from the Interstate, the park’s 65 acres are buffered by 500 acres of conservation land.
That’s why the extensive, separate trail systems are possible here, and why this park has a backcountry campsite that all trail users can reach.
The recreation facilities are front and center: ballfields, tennis and pickleball courts, disc golf, and a roller-hockey rink.
The trails take a little more effort to find. The trailheads are all the way past all the ballfields, at the very back of the park where the park road ends.
The picnic pavilions provide a clue that this is the quieter end of the park.
Walkways follow the road between the two park gates, linking with a paved trail leading to the main trailhead area and picnic pavilions.
A series of footpaths north of the kiosk for the South Fork Nature Trail are accessible from a paved path that loops around the ballfields.
The paved path and the side paths off of it make up more than a mile’s worth of gentle nature trails.
The South Fork Nature Trail connects together two prior trails that the Tropical Trekkers built along the South Fork of the St. Lucie River.
One was a popular nature trail that started by the picnic pavilions and led south out to river overlooks.
The other was a much wilder experience that could only be reached previously by paddling to the primitive campsite and hiking from there.
Joined together, these two natural-surface footpaths show off both the mild and wild sides of the Preserve at Halpatiokee Regional Park.
The 7.5 mile Halpatiokee Regional Park Mountain Bike Trail is made up of 12 different segments, some of them much more technical than others.
Each segment has a difficulty rating on its entry signpost, so you can opt to take an easier paralleling alternate route and still get the miles in.
Roots, dips, and soft sand are common obstacles along the loop. Some of the segments are marked one-way for your safety.
After the rains we experienced the day before, we were only able to ride the segments that had dried out. Those are the northernmost pieces, like Zig-Zag, Dips, and Steve’s Trail.
The River Trail is entirely along the bluffs and floodplain, which makes it most likely to close after rain. It adjoins the primitive camping area and heads south from there.
West of the River Trail, a chain of segments make a loop around the lake at the south end of the preserve.
The St. Lucie Spur Paddling Trail is 3.6 miles long, or a 7.2-mile round trip along the South Fork of the St. Lucie River, an estimated 4 hour paddle.
Put-in is just north of and outside the park at Hosford Park, 7737 SW Gaines Ave, Stuart. See our Directions map above.
The sinuous waterway is one of the finest in the county for a natural experience, once you get past the subdivision adjoining Hosford Park.
Tropical hammocks blanket both shores, often atop tall bluffs. Manatees rest in the deeper water.
On the west side, the river is protected by Halpatiokee Regional Park, and on the east side, by the little-known Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park.
The terminus of the paddling route is the take-out at the primitive campsite, which also makes a good place to take a rest break before turning around.
Since the river flows north, paddling back to the put-in is the easier part of the journey.
See our photos from Halpatiokee Regional Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Find a wonderland of white sand and small shrubs at Seabranch Preserve State Park, which protects a sand pine scrub and more along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge
At Spruce Bluff Natural Area, trails lead to the site of a pioneer settlement and the largest Ais mound in South Florida amid scrub and wetlands in Port St. Lucie.
One of South Florida’s best backpacking destinations, Jonathan Dickinson State Park encompasses a vast mosaic of ecosystems along the wild and scenic Loxahatchee River