Seabranch Preserve State Park encompasses nearly 1,000 acres along the Intracoastal Waterway south of Stuart. The Park protects several critical habitats in an area overrun with coastal development.
In addition to supporting populations of Florida scrub-jays and gopher tortoises, Seabranch Preserve hosts one of South Florida’s rare bayhead communities.
Also known as a baygall, this swampy habitat, filled with loblolly bay and sweetbay magnolia, filters runoff from the adjacent scrubby flatwoods as water flows towards the tidal marshes of the Indian River Lagoon.
Although the park fronts the water, you can’t see it through the thicket—a fact quickly discovered by the intrepid trail-building crew!
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Location: Hobe Sound
Length: 4.8 mile double loop
Trailhead: 27.130517, -80.169517
Address: 6093 SE Dixie Hwy, Stuart, FL 34997
Restroom: vault toilet at trailhead
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed dogs permitted but you are less likely to see wildlife when walking with a dog.
A shaded picnic area is provided at the front of the park, where the East Coast Greenway passes by on a 1.3-mile paved segment. The trailhead is sometimes busy with cyclists.
The trail system was designed, built, and is maintained by the local Tropical Trekkers chapter of the Florida Trail Association.
To find Seabranch Preserve State Park, take the I-95 exit for Stuart / Indiantown (SR 76). Follow Cove Road east for 4.5 miles, crossing US 1, until you reach CR A1A. Turn right and continue 1.5 miles south. Make a left into the small parking area across from the VFW, just before the railroad tracks.
The original trail system is made up of two loops, the North Loop and the South Loop. The map at the trailhead kiosk also shows a linear trail through a bayhead that is an alternate way to connect the loops.
We haven’t had the chance to hike that yet. It is labeled as the East Loop Trail and runs almost the entire length of the preserve on its longest axis.
According to the kiosk, if you do both loops and the linear trail, you can walk 8 miles in the preserve. The map at the bottom of this page only traces this particular route we describe.
The North Loop best showcases the subtleties of the scrub ecosystem. There are patches of rosemary scrub, where rounded Florida rosemary grows to shoulder-height.
The trail weaves in and out of open patches of sand between the rosemary and scrub oaks, so it’s important to keep alert to where the next orange blaze leads you.
Keep alert, too, for the endangered wildlife that lives here. We spotted a Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoises on our hike.
Birders will also delight in the cardinals, eastern towhees, and cedar waxwings that flit between the wizened scrub oaks.
The plants are interesting, too. In the open oak scrub, the trail winds like a maze, leading you through scant patches of shade and across a forest of small Chapman and myrtle oak.
You’ll feel like Gulliver in the backcountry of the Lilliputians, able to scan the far horizon of a canopy of trees barely waist-high.
As the trail reaches makes a definitive southward turn, you parallel the Intracoastal, but you can’t see it—although you’ll glimpse the bayhead from the scrub.
At the trail junction at 3.1 miles, continue straight to walk the perimeter using the South Loop, or turn right to complete the North Loop.
Rising up from the bayhead into scrubby flatwoods, the trail passes a tangle of love vine and greenbrier atop the gallberry.
Look for gopher tortoise burrows, and for light-green bachelors button flowers in the spring. The trail gains elevation as it enters the sand pine scrub. A building in the distance marks the south edge of the preserve.
After 3.5 miles, turn right, to leave the jeep trail and go back into the first. Keep alert for a double blaze on a tree on the left so you don’t miss the turn.
After 4 miles, the trail emerges from the pines and faces the road. Under the shadow of tall sand pines, earthstars (a form of puffball mushroom) thrive on the pine duff.
One ancient oak with gnarled branches serves as a gathering place on Halloween Eve for scary stories.
Keep alert—when you can see the road sign up ahead on A1A, take the jeep trail to the left into the forest. You emerge at the parking area after a 4.8-mile hike.
See our photos from hiking at Seabranch Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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
Formerly known as Rocky Point Hammock, Maggy’s Hammock Park protects 22 acres of tropical forest and scrub on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in Port Salerno
Off Port Salerno, St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park is one of those rare state parks you can only reach by boat.