Diversity is the name of the game along the trail at Juno Dunes, where you’ll find not just coastal scrub atop the Atlantic Coastal Ridge but an interesting mosaic of wetlands among the swale between ancient dunes. Juno Beach is a small seaside community north of West Palm Beach, and this preserve encompasses a nice chunk of it — 576 acres – between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. There are two loop trails, Juno Dunes West and Juno Dunes East, flanking US 1. While shade is at a premium, the botanical diversity makes this a worthy destination for an early morning hike, with the bonus of a day at the beach or a tour of the sea turtle rehabilitation center at Loggerhead Park – the Marinelife Center of Juno Beach – to make it a well-rounded visit.
Location: Juno Beach
Length: 2 miles in two loops
Lat-Long: 26.887935, -80.058939 (west) 26.885651, -80.055716 (east)
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: In Loggerhead Park
Juno Dunes Natural Area is 3.5 miles south of Indiantown Road (SR 706) in Jupiter along US 1. The western entrance is clearly marked on the west side of the highway; the eastern entrance is through Loggerhead Park.
Your hike starts at Juno Dunes West. From the kiosk adjoining the parking area, the Sawgrass Nature Trail – a concrete, wheelchair-accessible path – leads you into the Lilliputian scrub forest on a distinctly downhill slope. All around you are the typical diminutive oaks of the scrub – sand live oak, Chapman oak, myrtle oak – and silvery-blue saw palmetto.
As the forest gets tall enough to block your view, the trail reaches a long boardwalk. Between the swales of scrub is a thriving basin marsh, thick with Virginia willow. Crickets kick up a persistent chorus. Royal ferns rise out of the dark water, shaded by wax myrtle.
The boardwalk ends at a sheltered observation deck. From here, you can look to the east and see a similar shelter atop the Atlantic Coastal Ridge on the far side of US 1–that’s the landmark for the east side of the natural area. Head down the steps. Beyond the shelter, the trail becomes the Scrub Oak Hiking Trail, which starts out as a trudge through soft sand. Look for delicate four-petal paw-paw, an endangered species that sports slender ivory blooms in spring.
Noticeable clumps of Florida rosemary rise from the brilliant white sand in the undulating dunes on both sides of the trail. Hog plum sprawls across open sand as well. Tall pines mark a transition into pine flatwoods as the trail drops downhill. The pines offer some relief in the form of shade. An oak toad hops away. The sweet aroma of tarflowers is in the air as you reach a lovely array of yellow blooms on a variety of plants, including yellow-eyed grass, St. John’s Wort, and coreopsis.
At 0.5 mile, you come to a four-way intersection I call “Confusion Corners,” since it isn’t obvious which way to go. The preserve has a number of old roads through it which are hikeable, with the ones to your left and straight ahead leading deeper into the wet pine flatwoods that edge the Intracoastal Waterway. Turn right, rising up into the scrub, where you’ll almost immediately see a blaze post on the right to confirm that you’re on the loop trail. Side trails lead off to little open areas. Wild bachelor’s button, with its rubbery yellow blooms, thrives in one such niche off a side trail to the right.
As the trail curves to the right, it reaches a low spot with a thin film of standing water, enough for carnivorous plants to survive. It’s a big surprise to be surrounded by sand pine scrub and yet see bladderworts and pink sundews right at your feet! Goldenrod thrives here, too, along with bog buttons. Young pine flatwoods dominate the north side of the trail through this boggy swale.
At the T intersection, keep to the right. Passing through a few more boggy spots – emphasized by the passage of a pickup truck leaving deep trails in the broad footpath – the trail goes uphill, again through an area with difficult soft sugar sand. Several open wetlands are along this section on the right, with short side trails leading down to them. By comparison, prickly pear cactus grows on the hills to the left.
After a mile of hiking, you can hear the ocean waves. Off to the right, you can see cattails waving in the ocean breeze inside a marsh between the dunes. Approaching US 1, the trail swings to the south to parallel it. At a fork in the trail, turn back and look across the sweep of landscape you’ve hiked. Keep right at the fork. Watch for birds and bunnies peeping out of the dense underbrush here–I heard towhees and saw several marsh rabbits grazing in the open trail
as the sun was just peeking over the ridge. The hike concludes with a final stretch of soft sand as you reach a gate leading into the parking area. Walk through the pass-thru to complete the 1.4 mile loop.
Juno Dunes East
You can’t easily walk between the two segments of the preserve, so get into your car and exit the east side of the natural area. Get in the left lane of US 1 and make the very first left into Loggerhead Park. Keep to the left. When you get down to the sign for Juno Dunes Natural Area, make another left to park within sight of the trailhead.
This shorter of the two loops is also the more accessible one, being connected to busy Loggerhead Park. Dogs are not permitted along this loop. This hike is great for kids because of its short length and the fun activities – playground, beach, Marinelife Center – surrounding it. Nearly 42 acres of the preserve are on the oceanfront side of the highway.
Start your hike at the trailhead kiosk, where you can pick up a guide to what you’ll encounter along the path through the tropical hammock and coastal scrub. This portion of the Atlantic Coast Ridge was home to the “Celestial Railroad,” the Jupiter & Lake Worth Railroad, which operated between 1889 and 1896. It was a narrow gauge railroad which ran 7.5 miles between Juno and the Jupiter Lighthouse, making stops at the stations of Venus and Mars. It was put out of business by Henry Flagler who railroaded right around Jupiter and Juno Beach, bypassing them with his Florida East Coast Railway.
The hike starts off on a paved wheelchair accessible path – the Seagrape Nature Trail – which leads uphill through shade cast by short tropical trees, a tunnel under young myrsine and gumbo-limbo. Silk bay grows in profusion. Sea grapes form a canopy, with their fruits draping over your head. Since you’re on the ocean side of the ridge, there’s a beautiful cool breeze and the constant sound of the surf.
Emerging from the tunnel into a bright landscape with silvery-blue saw palmetto to the left and a wall of tropical vegetation to your right, you reach a fork in the trail. Keep to the paved path, on the left. It climbs more steeply to reach the top of the ridge, one of the highest natural points of Palm Beach County at 44 feet above sea level. An observation shelter provides a 360-degree view back across the western dunes and down to the Atlantic Ocean. The nearby
scrub vegetation looks like a beautiful quilt of love vine and saw palmetto textured in orange and green.
Follow the unpaved yellow-dot-blazed Royal Tern trail downhill as it descends steeply. You’ll reach a junction where a trail continues straight ahead – leading out to the ocean – and the yellow-dot blazes lead you to the right along the tropical forest. Turn right to complete the loop. The tropical forest casts just enough shade in the morning to provide some relief from the sun. A cluster of wild coffee grows near the junction with the Seagrape Nature Trail. When you reach the concrete path, you’ve completed the loop. Turn left to continue back downhill to the trailhead, finishing the 0.6 mile walk.