At Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the Marsh Trail provides a marked trail to follow on the extensive dike system that buffers the open waters of the Everglades from the crush of suburbia in Boynton Beach. It is one of the region’s best birding sites, where you’ll see dozens of species and sometimes even thousands of birds on a single short stroll. Wander off-trail on this route to spend more time birding along the dikes.
Location: Boynton Beach
Length: 2.9 miles
Lat-Lon: 26.496750, -80.213333
Fees / Permits: NWR admission fee
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: at the Visitor Center
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is open from sunrise to sunset daily. You’ll enjoy great birding along the entire dike system, including spotting Everglades snail kites. The dike trails are shared with bikes. They are out in the open and have no shade. Use adequate sun protection and carry plenty of water, especially if you plan to expand on this loop by roaming farther along the extensive dike system. A canoe launch is available for exploring the refuge by water.
From Florida’s Turnpike, follow Boynton Beach Blvd west for 1.9 miles until it ends at US 441. Turn left and drive 2 miles south to the park entrance on the right. Watch for the “Marsh Trail” sign, just before the bus parking area. Make a left and drive down to the parking area in front of the large chickee.
Start at the trailhead by the chickee and pick up an interpretive guide. Take in the broad view to the left, looking off to a distant observation tower. Walking down the levee, you arrive at a bench in the shade of a sea grape and a mahogany tree. Continue up to a T intersection with another levee. Turn left to continue along the edge of the C-7 impoundment. A canal parallels on the right, where swamp lilies show off their delicate white blooms.
At a half mile, you reach the observation tower. Climb up and enjoy the panorama across the entire Compartment C complex. With binoculars, you may be able to see an Everglades snail kite searching for snails in the open waters of Impoundment C-8. Watch the willows, too. Snail kites roost in willows on tree islands and on the edges of marshes, making their nests close to the ground.
The Marsh Trail continues to the left – and you can follow it to keep this walk to 0.8 mile – but you’ll enjoy better birding with this 2.9-mile route around Compartment C.
Although Compartment C is chopped up by the levees, it still contains something truly special—a relict portion of the Everglades. Before the days of canals and levees, a sheet of water used to seep southward from Lake Okeechobee into this region during the rainy season, with the deepest water flowing through the cypress sloughs.
Turn right and cross the bridge over the canal to the open area fringed by pond cypresses. Continue straight up the levee between the C-3 and C-2 impoundments. Listen to the constant chatter of red-winged blackbirds in the cattails and spikerush. Passing a levee coming in from the left, you see scattered tree islands – primarily willows and giant leather ferns – that provide shelter and nesting spots for waterfowl. At the T intersection, turn left.
Sawgrass lines the impoundment on your right as you parallel a taller levee, the C-40. Hikers and bikers can use the C-40 to access the Hillsboro Area of the refuge, located 12 miles south. It’s a long, shadeless walk, however—better suited to mountain biking, since there are no camping facilities for hikers.
You come up to a T intersection at 1 mile. Turn right, passing the left-hand turnoff as you climb up the limestone embankment to the C-40 levee. From the top of this levee, you get a sweeping view of all of the impoundments and of the paralleling canal. Turn left to head south along the C-40, following it to the end of Compartment C. At 1.4 miles, turn left to drop down onto the levee following the C-30 canal.
As you reach the level of the surrounding marsh, cattails tower over your head. Watch for alligators as they cruise through the broad, sluggish flow of the canal. Coming to a junction with the central canal and its levees at 1.7 miles, turn left and stay on the west side of the canal, paralleling stretches of open water. Passing a levee coming in from the left, you continue along the canal.
By 2.1 miles, you pass another levee to the left. The impoundment now hides behind a screen of wax myrtle. Continue up to the cypress-lined clearing and turn right to cross the bridge. As you pass the observation tower, you once again join the interpretive Marsh Trail.
After you pass the shaded bench, watch for snail kites and anhinga in the pond cypresses on the islands in the impoundment to your right. Snail kites prefer to roost in willows, but can be seen in tall cypresses when willows are scarce. Anhingas sit in the trees to dry their wings.
At the T intersection, turn left. You’ve hiked 2.6 miles. Flanked by cocoplums, a bench overlooks a broad view across Impoundment C-7. Cabbage palms close in as you reach the end of the trail, passing a bench at Marker 9 before you reach the “Marsh Trail” sign and the parking lot, completing a 2.9-mile hike.