For a Florida State Park, Jack Island is long on solitude. Ironically, it isn’t all that far from Fort Pierce and the hustle and bustle of the US 1 corridor through St. Lucie County.
But cross the footbridge, and you’re in another world. More than 4 miles of trails lead along mangrove-lined canals where mangrove crabs scuttle and little blue herons shriek. In summer, you’ll see manatees in the Indian River Lagoon.
A popular destination is the observation tower rising 30 feet above the lagoon, providing a sweeping panorama of bird life at work in a flurry of rookeries on surrounding islands.
Bring your binoculars to watch osprey diving for their dinner and roseate spoonbills browsing the mudflats in this birder’s paradise.
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Location: Fort Pierce
Length: Up to a 4.2 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.501283, -80.308054
Fees: $2 per person
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. There is little shade along the trails, so this is best done as an early morning hike, when the birds are most active. Mosquitoes can be vicious. Prep accordingly. The footbridge is popular with local anglers.
From Florida’s Turnpike or I-95, follow SR 70 into Fort Pierce to US 1. Turn north on US 1 and drive 3.2 miles to North A1A (North Beach Causeway), then turn right. Cross the bridge and continue 2.4 miles to the traffic light just past Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. Turn left and drive north 1.2 miles. The entrance is on the left.
Jack Island Preserve State Park is one of the lesser-visited state parks along the coast, as it isn’t on the beach – it’s on the Indian River Lagoon – and it offers no facilities on site. But the tradeoff is solitude.
Several islands make up the preserve, including Kings and Queens along with Jack. You can paddle around them, but it’s on Jack Island that you’ll find a quiet escape on foot.
It’s here that birders, photographers, artists, and writers who want to disappear off the Treasure Coast map, can do so, however briefly.
Mangroves are everywhere. You’ll see wildlife melting into the shade beneath the taller white mangroves – perhaps a marsh rabbit here, or a white ibis there – and crabs scuttling through the pneumataphores of the black mangroves.
The trail system includes a 4.2 mile perimeter hike and numerous cross-trails, making it possible to plan shorter walks, including a trip to the 30-foot-tower, the key man-made feature of the island.
Cross the long, narrow footbridge to Jack Island. There is a kiosk and map when you reach the island. Take the time to plan out a route. The following route follows the perimeter counterclockwise, but there are many other options.
A series of dikes provide footpaths. Created during the era of mosquito control, the dikes divvy up impoundments throughout the island.
The red mangroves have the distinctive “legs” anchoring them to the muck, although they look like they might pick up and walk.
At a trail junction where a “Tower 1 mi” sign points to the left, continue straight to explore the north end of the island. The trail passes a culvert where alligators sometimes hang out.
Curving past a bench, you may see the holes of giant land crabs. Turning a corner to the left, the trail has you facing a condo peeping up over the distant treeline, an intrusion on nature.
At the north end of the island, the trail turns left. Another outflow causes turbulence in the channel. A short boardwalk on the left crosses a mangrove-lined canal.
Reaching 1.1 miles at the cross trail, turn left to go through the heart of the mangrove forest. Wildlife is under the trees and in the branches – if only you look!
At 1.7 miles, meet the central trail junction for the island. Turn right to head to the observation tower. There is a high spot here where strangler figs co-exist with mangroves.
Past a bench, the trail continues along a broad canal. Strands of sea oxeye line the dike. After 2 miles, reach the next trail intersection and the observation tower.
Climb up and savor the views. If you’re like us, you’ll spend a half hour up there, taking pictures and watching the birds everywhere. The condos in the distance define the nearby oceanfront.
Come back down the tower and turn left past the bench to follow the edge of the island along the Indian River Lagoon. This is the most scenic part of the hike.
Benches invite you to stop and sit awhile to watch pelicans and osprey dive into the water. The dike continues to curve left.
At 2.9 miles, meet the cross trail coming in from the left. Continue straight to stay along the island’s edge. The dike curves sharply left to rejoin the interior waterway.
A thin screen of mangroves divides the trail from the tidal channel. At a bench at 3.2 miles, note four different kinds of crabs – blue, fiddler, hermit, and giant land crab – living in harmony under the mangrove roots.
Another bench beneath a sea grape affords a rare spot of shade. Grab it! The cabbage palms up ahead mark the end of the hike at the kiosk where the loop began.
Crossing the footbridge back to the parking area, watch for manatees in the lagoon. It’s a good place to see them in the shallows.
See our photos of Jack Island Preserve State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
With a sandy strand more than a mile long, Avalon State Park offers an escape to an uncluttered seashore along the Treasure Coast where sea turtles retreat to lay their eggs.
When the waves start crashing at Fort Pierce Inlet State Park, surfers command the beach. Offshore shoals beat the surf to froth, and the wind coming past Dynamite Point creates just the right cocktail for South Florida surfing.
Atop the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, Indrio Scrub is a place where unique scrub species thrive. A short interpretive loop trail leads you through the preserve