With both oceanfront and lagoonfront beaches to enjoy and explore, Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge attracts visitors who prefer their sandy strands on the natural side.
As befits a wildlife refuge, this coastal conservation is more for the sake of animals than humans, in particular the vast numbers of sea turtles that nest upon miles of unsullied, undeveloped and remote oceanfront.
Visitors, however, find ease of access to a nature center and nature trails at a prominent entrance off US 1, and at a more secluded oceanfront parking area at the north end of Jupiter Island.
Whether you come for the birding, the wildlife watching, or the sandy beaches, prepare to be surprised by some unexpectedly rugged terrain above the southern end of the Indian River Lagoon.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Hobe Sound
Length: 0.7 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.036854, -80.112030
Address: 13640 SE Federal Hwy, Hobe Sound
Restroom: At the trailhead
Land manager: US Fish & Wildlife Service
The refuge, its beaches, and its trails are open sunrise to sunset.
Leashed dogs permitted at the Mainland Tract but not on the Island Tract.
Hobe Sound Nature Center open Mon-Sat, 9-3. The center is managed by a nonprofit group that leads sea turtle walks during nesting season and holds naturalist camps and special events.
From Interstate 95 exit 96 drive east 6.2 miles along SE Bridge Rd to the traffic light for US 1. For the Visitor Center and its trails on the Mainland Tract, turn right. Continue 2.2 miles south, past a traffic light for A1A, and make the next left at a turnout to cross northbound US 1 into the uphill drive into the Visitor Center.
For access to the Island Tract, continue across US 1 and follow Bridge Rd through downtown Hobe Sound, crossing its namesake bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. At the end of a tunnel of large ficus trees, the road ends at a T at Hobe Sound Beach Park. Turn left and follow Beach Rd to its very end, which is the Island Tract Beach parking lot.
For access to Peck Lake Beach, follow Bridge Rd through downtown Hobe Sound as indicated above but make a left onto SE Gomez Avenue just past the traffic light for A1A. Follow SE Gomez Ave north for 2.8 miles. Make a right on SE Jimmy Graham Park Rd and drive to the end of the road for the boat ramp. You will need a watercraft to reach the beach, which is to the north on the east side of Peck Lake. See above map for location of beach crossover trail.
About the Refuge
Protecting extensive frontage along the Indian River Lagoon between Hobe Sound and Tequesta, Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge recognizes one of Florida’s most ardent environmentalists.
Co-author of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and a driving force behind other environmental legislation while at the Department of the Interior, Reed came from a well-to-do family who once owned Jupiter Island.
In 1968, the Reed family made the gift of five miles of oceanfront to found this National Wildlife Refuge, which has expanded to more than 1,000 acres on both sides of the lagoon.
There are two distinct tracts to the refuge. Most visitors stop at the Mainland Tract along US 1, its prominent signage not far north of the entrance gate to Jonathan Dickinson State Park across the highway.
The Island Tract Beach at the end of North Beach Rd on Jupiter Island tends to be busy with beachgoers.
Those looking for a particularly remote experience can take to the water to reach the northernmost piece of the refuge at Peck Lake Beach. It is accessible only by boat, with the nearest launch at Jimmy Graham Park.
After a visit to the nature center to acquaint yourself with the habitats of the refuge and to pick up an interpretive guide, start your hike on the Visitor Center Trails right outside the front door.
While less than a mile long, the trail system is deceptively challenging because of steep bluffs that spill down to the level of the lagoon.
Slipping behind the building, the trail passes a chickee with a picnic table under it before it turns away from the nature center to start the Scrub Trail.
Largely made up of diminutive oaks, the scrub is a desert-like habitat topping these ancient dunes that extend well inland from the lagoon.
A sign points up a short flight of stairs, introducing the first of the many ups and downs along this hike. At the kiosk, the trail makes a sharp swing left.
It’s a ribbon of bright white sand amid the greens of the tiny oaks, and passes the first of many benches along the walk.
Curving past numbered markers that correspond to the interpretive guide, the trail provides views across US 1, which is delineated by telephone wires.
On the other side of the highway this same hilly scrub habitat extends for at least two miles west inside Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
Walk past a line of tall Florida rosemary shrubs before continuing up another flight of stairs in the scrub forest, crossing a broad forest road that is the Fisherman’s Trail, a direct route to the lagoon.
Passing through a spot shaded by tall sand pines, the trail leads by an interpretive kiosk about the plants of this high, dry habitat.
As you continue the climb up the ridge, the vegetation becomes more diverse and more dense. Round a corner to reach a promontory topped by a bench.
On the far horizon behind it, the waters of the Indian River Lagoon are a blue streak above the green forest.
It’s all downhill from here, literally. As white as a ski slope, the sandy path of the Scrub Trail leads you off the ridge.
Sloping steeping towards the lagoon, it has a couple of spots with stairs before it reaches a kiosk at the bottom of the hill.
At the kiosk, the trail makes a sharp left to stay above the ecotone between the scrub forest and a mangrove forest below.
The trail then tunnels into the scrub and scrambles uphill a bit, offering glimpses into the mangroves as it does.
A line of pine trees becomes an obvious destination as the trail scrambles uphill, and you reach the junction with the Fisherman’s Trail after 0.3 mile.
Turn right and walk downhill. At the next signposted junction, continue straight ahead to walk down to the lagoon.
This short spur trail is surrounded by dense tropical hammock on both sides, which yields to mangrove forest as you continue.
At its very end you can see the lapping waters of the lagoon beyond, and a slender sandy beach along it when you step out to the water’s edge.
Jupiter Island is on the far side of the lagoon. This is brackish water. Manatees, sea turtles, and alligators may be seen swimming in the clear waters.
Turn around and follow the Fisherman’s Trail back uphill, keeping alert for wildlife and birds in the dense undergrowth.
Within a tenth of a mile you return to the signposted junction with the Hammock Trail. Turn right.
As befits a trail with this name, the footpath leads you into a tropical hammock and curves around into a palm hammock.
Look underfoot and along the edges as you walk, as there are many crab holes in the sand.
The trail empties out onto a separate sandy strand along the Indian River Lagoon beneath the shade of a sea grape tree. An interpretive sign adjoins the turn.
Turning left, walk up the beach. It’s an easy getaway for locals, so you may find some folks relaxing here.
A dock is obvious at the far end of the beach, but watch for a gap in the sea grapes where the sand is churned up.
This is the exit for the loop, leading back to the parking area at the nature center.
To get there, however, it’s a tenth of a mile climb up the Lagoon Stairs. Once you’re at the top, you’ve completed the 0.7 mile loop on the Visitor Center Nature Trails.
Walk through the Visitor Center Trails of Hobe Sound NWR
See our photos of Hobe Sound NWR
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
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
Hobe Mountain Trail
Catch a sweeping view from an observation tower atop the highest natural hill south of Lake Okeechobee on the Hobe Mountain Trail at Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area
One of only three federally designated ONAs in the United States, Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area combines a unique location with botanical beauty and history
Blowing Rocks Preserve
One of the most dramatic shorelines in Florida, the rocky shore of Blowing Rocks Preserve has sea caves and bluffs to explore on a hike through the oceanfront preserve