With more than 20 square miles of very soggy habitats west of Palm Beach Gardens and south of Jupiter Farms, Loxahatchee Slough is an enormous piece of public land edging the urban boundary.
Following side paths along the canals, we first explored it in 2004 as part of the first Ocean to Lake Hike, helping to determine a viable route for a 61-mile spur off the Florida Trail at Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean.
Since then, the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail route firmed up as a diagonal across two tracts of Loxahatchee Slough, the Lucky Tract and the Sandhill Crane Tract.
The canal paths are now named trails with connections to trailheads, enabling cyclists to ride significant distances across the north part of Palm Beach County.
Ditched, drained, and farmed, the landscape needed restoration. Over the past two decades, it’s amazing how the scars have healed.
As certain roads and waterways were removed, others have been permanently designated as trails through the preserve.
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Location: West Palm Beach
Trailhead: 26.85291, -80.21533
Address: 11855 Beeline Hwy, West Palm Beach
Restroom: at Sandhill Crane Access Park
Land manager: Palm Beach County ERM
Open dawn to dusk unless you have a camping permit or entering Sandhill Crane Access Park, which is open 24/7.
Dogs not permitted. Where posted as bike trails, the levee paths are open to cyclists.
Mosquitoes can be intense here, especially at dusk and dawn. Use insect repellent. Most trails have no shade. Sun protection is a must.
The northernmost access point to Loxahatchee Slough is via Riverbend Park just west of Florida’s Turnpike in Jupiter.
For central access, from Interstate 95 in Palm Beach Gardens, follow PGA Blvd west for 3.9 miles. The Sandhill Crane Access Park is on the right. It provides access for paddlers to put in for the Loxahatchee Blueway and for cyclists to tackle several trails that connect here, including the other end of the Pântano Trail and the Bluegill Trail.
For the west side of the preserve, continue along PGA Blvd for 2 miles to where it meets the Beeline (SR 710). Turn right and drive 1.3 miles to the trailhead on the right.
About the Preserve
With such an enormous landscape to roam, this isn’t a place you’ll encounter crowds, except perhaps at the trailheads on weekends.
Karen T. Marcus Sandhill Crane Access Park has less parking than Riverbend Park. Both have restrooms at their trailheads. You will find no others in the preserve.
Cyclists have access to two linear trails through the preserve, the Pântano Trail and the Bluegill Trail. The two meet at a pedestrian bridge just south of the Riverbend Park gate.
It is 1.1 miles through the park to the back gate to access the north ends of the Pântano Trail and Bluegill Trail along the C-18 canal.
The Pântano runs down the west side of the C-18 canal south of Riverbend Park, while the Bluegill runs down the east side. Each has a firm packed surface.
The Pântano Trail meets the C-18A canal after 2.6 miles. It turns west. Soon after, it crosses the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail at a bridge over the canal.
After 7.1 miles from the back gate at Riverbend Park, the Pântano Trail ends at SR 710. Eventually it will cross the highway and extend west to Corbett WMA.
It’s 8.1 miles each way along the Bluegill Trail from PGA Blvd to the bridge south of the Riverbend Park gate, or 9.2 miles between trailheads.
There is no shade other than one shelter along the route. The trail also extends south of PGA Blvd as a paved path for 2.3 miles at Northlake Blvd.
Crossing the highway to the southwest corner then connects cyclists to the extensive Owahee trail system along the eastern side of Grassy Waters Preserve.
Although it is not in Loxahatchee Slough, extending east from Sandhill Crane Access Park, the Mirasol Trail parallels PGA Blvd for more than 2 miles through a linear greenway in Mirasol.
The Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail (OTLHT ) is the primary footpath across the entire natural area, spanning 9.6 miles between access points.
At its western end, it enters the preserve off SR 710 at a walk-through, and it exits the preserve where it leaves the Lucky Tract to join the Pântano Trail north along the C-18 canal.
After 2.8 miles along the Pântano Trail, the OTLHT enters the back gate at Riverbend Park, where you can reach the park’s trailhead off Indiantown Rd or continue backpacking east.
We’ve backpacked these two segments of the trail, which revolve around Loxahatchee Slough as a midpoint for camping at Lucky Hammock.
On this 12.1 miles of the Florida Trail from Corbett WMA to the Lucky Tract campsite, immerse in the full diversity of habitats you’ll find in Palm Beach County
Sandhill Crane Tract
Our friends in the Loxahatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association built and maintain the OTLHT through Loxahatchee Slough.
Thanks to them, we documented a 4.8-mile day hike loop in the Sandhill Crane Tract starting and ending from the new trailhead along the Beeline.
It uses the footpath of the OTLHT to connect together the Echoche Trail and Wah-too-lah Trail, both of which are broad forest roads.
From the Sandhill Crane Tract trailhead, an accessible Nature Trail leads to a pretty overlook on a pond, a 0.6-mile round-trip.
It’s the only place in this vast wilderness area, other than the trails along the canals, where you can mostly guarantee your feet will stay dry, and is a nice short walk for families.
That trail is also part of a 1.6-mile loop called the Loxahatchee Loop. This red-blazed loop stays closest to the trailhead.
It loops the prairies and the ponds, providing stops at the observation deck and the fishing pier. Fishing is permitted with a valid FWC freshwater fishing license.
An extension off the north side of this loop, the Echoche Trail, leads north to a tall observation tower overlooking the vastness of this preserve.
A trek up to the tower and back from the Loxahatchee Loop adds another 1.8 miles to your hike.
Hikers can also walk the bike paths along the C-18, the Bluegill and the Pântano, but both are rather lengthy and in full sun.
Out-and-back trips from access points at Sandhill Crane Access Park and Riverbend Park are best.
Paddlers have one corner of the preserve entirely to themselves along the Loxahatchee Blueway Trail. July 2020 update: it is currently closed to accommodate nesting for Everglades snail kites.
It starts off along Cypress Run before going under a bridge on PGA Blvd, after which there is a short portage to continue along Anhinga Creek.
The trail extends two miles south from the put-in to Anhinga Island, the turn-around point for a four-mile paddle.
Paddlers must bring their own kayak or canoe. Alligators are common along this waterway and there are low-hanging branches.
See our photos of Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Protecting a sheet flow of rainfall moving steadily southward and parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, Grassy Waters Preserve bears a striking resemblance to the Everglades – because it is.
Offering a hike into the Loxahatchee Slough, the Hog Hammock Trail at Grassy Waters Preserve leads into a dark, fern-filled cabbage palm hammock with a 2.8 mile loop.
In the wet prairies and tropical hammocks of Apoxee Wilderness, an urban wilderness area, you’ll walk through the water supply of West Palm Beach on a 4.7-mile day hike through the southernmost part of Grassy Waters Preserve