A ribbon of coastal scrub and tropical hardwood hammock, 120 acres in all, remains along the bluffs of the Indian River Lagoon in this largely built-up area thanks to the Jupiter Lighthouse.
When the lighthouse was built in 1860, a buffer of land was secured around it at Jupiter Inlet, but little of it was ever developed.
Congressionally designated as an Outstanding Natural Area in 2009, Jupiter Inlet ONA is significant from several standpoints.
As the place where the Loxahatchee River and Indian River Lagoon come together, it has yielded signs of early cultures living along these significant waters.
It is also historically significant not just for the lighthouse, but also for its German U-boat tracking station during World War II.
It is botanically important because of a cluster of rare species that grow along these windswept dunes, and one of Florida’s largest council trees (Ficus altissima).
One of the unusual aspects of this natural area is that it is the only such preserve managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) east of the Mississippi River.
Part of the Department of the Interior, which manages National Parks, BLM also oversees portions of four National Scenic and Historic Trails in Maryland and Virginia.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.5 in two trails
Trailhead: 26.9527, -80.0825
Address: 601 SR 707, Jupiter
Restroom: At adjacent Jupiter Lighthouse Park
Land manager: Bureau of Land Management
Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs and bicycles are not permitted. The North Trail is accessible.
For social distancing, the natural surface trail South Trail is presently marked one way around the loop. Please follow the markers through the scrub.
Lighthouse Park provides access for paddlers who want to explore up into the Indian River Lagoon along the edges of the natural area.
From Interstate 95 or Florida’s Turnpike in Jupiter, drive east along Indiantown Road. Turn off onto US 1 north. Cross over Jupiter Inlet on the drawbridge. Drive in front of the lighthouse and turn right at the light for Beach Rd.
The trailhead is on the north side of Beach Rd before the bridge to Jupiter Island. The overflow parking area is just inside the entrance to the lighthouse complex at the northeast corner of US 1 and Beach Rd at Jupiter Lighthouse Park. Just follow the sidewalk along Beach Rd towards the lagoon to reach the trailhead.
The trail begins atop ancient dunes that are part of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge. Clusters of diminutive oaks dot the landscape.
When we visited soon after this trail opened, you could see houses bordering the preserve to the north. Now, the vegetation has grown back in nicely.
The sand between the clumps of saw palmetto, Chapman oaks, and scrub oaks is a bright white. The accessible path, a broad sidewalk, wiggles back and forth through the scrub as it heads downhill.
As the trail points towards the Intracoastal Waterway, you can see a line of vegetation where the habitat changes.
At a quarter mile, the boardwalk begins. It leads across a mound that looks quite like a midden atop the bluffs, where sea grapes and cabbage palms emerge from crushed shells.
Winding into a tropical hammock along the boardwalk, you can smell the strong scent of salt.
It’s a surprise to pop out into a roofed pavilion that sits atop the bluff, offering a view into the dense mangrove forest below.
Looking straight out, you can see a glimmer of the Indian River Lagoon, and a cluster of condos on Jupiter Island. The sound of the Atlantic surf carries here.
Some enormous sea grapes flank the observation platform, most obvious as you turn to leave.
The return trip rewinds the habitats, but this time the uphill trend of the trail is obvious. You return to the parking area after a half mile.
Our visit was cut short by a thunderstorm, but our friends speak highly of the hike on the south side of the preserve, which we plan to explore in the future.
This mile loop starts just inside the gate across Beach Rd from the trailhead. It has an improved surface of wood chip mulch to minimize erosion in the scrub habitat.
The pathway leads out of the scrub and into a tropical hardwood hammock to a high bluff above where the Loxahatchee River and Indian River Lagoon meet.
Once you’re in the hammock, a shady spot is set aside as the Hammock Hangout, where you can string up a hammock and relax.
Benches have been installed at scenic overlooks on the bluffs above the Indian River Lagoon.
Beach fencing marks off spots where erosion is tugging at the bluffs. Avoid walking up to the edge to prevent further erosion.
As the trail loops around near the Loxahatchee River and the lighthouse, the trail climbs into the parabolic dunes where the lighthouse was built.
Climbing up atop the ancient dunes, you reach the highest natural point in all of the Palm Beach County, around 50 feet above sea level.
See our photos from the North Trail at Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse ONA
Learn more about the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum and lighthouse tours provided by the Loxahatchee River Historical Society.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
A spectacular example of a rare type of Florida coastline, Coral Cove features a dramatic rocky shoreline carved into unusual shapes by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean
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
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