Once part of the vast IBM complex in Boca Raton where the personal computer was born, Pondhawk Natural Area protects 79 acres of scrub habitats and wetlands, including a relict pond apple slough with some of the tallest pond apple trees in Florida. The slough sits between two sand ridges and was where the Hillsboro River began, but dried up as IBM excavated the area to create Blue Lake. Today, the lake attracts waterfowl birds and restoration of the marsh area has brought back the wading birds and nourished the pond apple trees. Two natural surface paths branch off a paved path to provide more than 2 miles of hiking within the preserve, which adjoins the Spanish River Library.
Location: Boca Raton
Length: 2.5 miles
Fees / Permits: free
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: at the Spanish River Public Library
Pets and bicycles are not permitted into the trail system beyond the Pondhawk Natural Area kiosk. Be aware that despite the fact it starts out in a scrub habitat, the South Hiking Trail has sections where you may be wading through the outflow of the marshes. As habitat restoration efforts continue, bulldozer paths in some places make following the trail markers tricky. Spanish River Public Library has a nice cafe you can enter from the side of the building facing Blue Lake.
From Interstate 95 exit 48, follow Yamato Rd west to the first light at Technology Way. Turn left and drive 0.9 mile through the complex to Communication Ave. Turn left and continue up to Spanish River Blvd. Turn right and drive 0.2 mile to the entrance for the Spanish River Library. Turn left. Parking is in the library parking lot, west of the library building.
From the Spanish River Library, follow the sidewalk west along Blue Lake to a bridge over the lake’s outflow. A bike trail, the El Rio Trail, heads south from here beneath Spanish River Boulevard and continues across the bridge, as you do, north along Blue Lake. The marshes that originally fed the Hillsboro River are on your left, busy with wading birds. Pond apple trees tower over the wetlands. After 0.2 mile you get to the trailhead for Pondhawk Natural Area at a kiosk with maps. Turn left and follow the boardwalk to start the Accessible Trail, a paved trail which forms the central loop in the preserve.
Watch for a trail marker leading you off to the right onto the natural-surface North Hiking Trail, blazed with red squares on posts. The trail twists and winds through scrub habitat, which is filled with the fragrant blossoms of tarflower in late spring. Swinging close to a condo complex and then out towards Yamato Road, the trail curves back to focus you on the return trip under the pines, crossing a sand road just before it reaches the paved Accessible Trail again. Turn left. Take the first sand road on your left for a shortcut over to an observation deck over restored marshes. Pond apple trees tower over the boardwalk out to the deck.
Leaving the deck, turn left and follow the paved path to the turnoff for the South Hiking Trail, a natural-surface trail into a more open scrub forest. Watch for gopher tortoise burrows. The markers here are yellow circles on posts, and at a couple of points where bulldozers had gone through the scrub, we lost the path and had to look for it again. Slipping into a shady spot in a copse of oaks adjoining Spanish River Blvd, the trail works its way towards the restored wetlands and then plunges into the wet stuff, meaning a wade is in order anytime the wetlands are overflowing. We had a hard time following the trail through here as it was overgrown and soggy at the same time. We did stumble into a geocache beneath a big ficus tree. Keep looking for the trail markers and you’ll eventually emerge onto the Accessible Trail again right at the entrance boardwalk for the preserve. Turn right, and you pop out at the kiosk along the El Rio Trail. Turn right to exit, crossing the bridge over to the Spanish River Library complex again. The full perimeter circuit of the preserve is 2.5 miles.