An oasis of tropical hammock in a sea of suburbia, Rocky Point Hammock is perched along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in Port Salerno, south of Stuart. This unique location creates an appealing mix of scrub and tropical habitats, with diminutive plants atop the higher elevations and a dense ring of tropical forest and ancient trees blotting out views of nearby houses while you’re hiking. A mile-long loop circles the 22-acre preserve, and a wheelchair-accessible linear trail connects the two trailheads, slicing the loop in two to access a picnic area and playground in the middle of this Martin County park. It’s an excellent place to take a nature walk with your kids.
Location: Port Salerno
Length: 1 mile
Lat-Long: 27.157579, -80.183076
Type: loop with options
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate to annoying
Restroom: at the picnic area
Be cautious of poison ivy along the trail. Sandals are not suggested.
From the intersection of US 1 and Cove Rd in Port Salerno, drive east on Cove Rd for 1.1 miles to the traffic circle with A1A. Take the third exit onto North A1A and make an immediate right onto SE Anchor Avenue. Make the second right onto SE Horseshoe Point Rd. After 1.1 miles, turn left on SE Kubin Avenue. Continue a half mile to the trailhead parking area on the left at 854 SE Kubin Avenue.
From the moment you step onto the accessible trail, you know you’re in a tropical hammock. The peeling bark of gumbo-limbo, the skunk smell of white stopper, the thorny limbs of acacia, a dense understory of wild coffee, paradise tree with fern-like fronds, and marlberry with its white blooms—it’s all here. Within a few moments you come to a large kiosk and a “Nature Trail” sign. It’s here the loop begins. Turn left to follow it clockwise.
The trail is a narrow tunnel through the tropical forest, with interpretive signs to point out interesting (and common) flora along the way. Showcasing sketches of the plants, they’re well-done, so it’s a pity that many of the signs are damaged. Those that aren’t are quite beautiful and informative. Jamaican satinleaf arcs over the trail as the vegetation crowds in closely—I suspect trail maintenance doesn’t happen on a regular basis, which makes the hike more adventuresome as you push past the plants down the narrowing footpath. A scrub hickory belies the transition to the ridge moreso than a feel of elevation change, with a silk bay soon after signaling transition to scrub habitat up ahead. There’s a few gatorbacks to hop over as the trail jogs to the left, passing under stands of oaks as the trail loses a little bit of elevation. Beware of poison ivy in the understory. Scrub hickory and tall stands of wild coffee co-exist in this melding of coastal habitats—although the preserve doesn’t touch on it, St. Lucie Inlet is less than a mile away.
Passing a “Native vs. Exotic Species” marker, you gain a little elevation and get firmly into the scrub atop the ridge. Here, the sand live oaks are covered in ball moss, and there are many more scrub hickories, with shield lichen firmly attached to their trunks. An explosion of white sand belies a fresh gopher tortoise burrow to the left. Patches of wild coffee grow in the scrub, an anomaly. Emerging into the sunshine, you pass under a power line. In the more open scrub, sand pines rise above the understory, and pennyroyal grows along the footpath. Sprays of Feay’s palafox in bloom look like fireworks on the end of a stem.
Once you’re in the heart of the scrub, you can feel the differential between the coolness of the tropical forest and the heat of the open, sandy landscape. Dead snags of taller trees stand above prickly pear cactus and young Chapman oaks and myrtle oaks of ideal size for Florida scrub-jays. We spotted none along this hike, but the diminutive habitat is certainly right, and not far from where a colony exists at Seabranch Preserve State Park. Emerging into a clearing, continue ahead towards a line of sand pines in the distance; you can now see houses off to the left, since there is no protective buffer of tropical hammock on this side of the preserve. Both Florida rosemary (tall shrubs) and scrub rosemary (short shrubs) are along this section of the trail. Slash pines tower overhead.
After 0.4 mile, you reach the paved trail again. Off to the left is the trailhead off SE Pompano Terrace. Turn right to continue along the nature trail. In a few moments, you see the sign on the left directing you off the pavement and back to the footpath through the scrub, where deer moss and reindeer lichen grow profusely under diminutive oaks and scrub plum. At the T intersection, turn right. This area of the preserve is full of twisting, winding trails with many intersections, and you may choose to go off in a different direction than we did to scout them out—there’s little fear of getting lost in a 22-acre preserve surrounded by suburbia.
Toppled sand pines belie hurricane damage from years ago. Vegetation crowds in from both sides in a transition from open scrub to scrubby coastal flatwoods. At the next T intersection, turn left—the right goes to the picnic area and restrooms. The trees around you are taller here. Make a left at the next trail junction, and you can smell the white stopper ahead—the tropical hammock is near. Make the next right to enter it. Pushing vegetation aside, you ascend through a tunnel of tropical hammock. When you reach the next trail junction at the back side of an interpretive sign, turn left. In front of the “Life in the Treetops” sign, turn right. Marlberry towers overhead along a tangle of tropical vegetation just before you reach the base of a very sizable live oak framed by resurrection fern.
Making a left at the junction past the ancient oak, the footpath becomes a bit moist underfoot, rimmed by sword fern, Southern woods fern, and acacia. Curve around past an interpretive sign on resurrection fern to discover taller tropical trees, including paradise trees, and dense stands of wild coffee. The sun dapples across cabbage palm fronds. Poison ivy clings to the trunk of a gumbo-limbo tree. Dragonflies flit between beautyberry and marlberry. The footpath ends at the end of the loop, in front of the kiosk at the paved trail. Turn left to exit to the trailhead, wrapping up this interesting 1 mile hike.