In the highly urbanized Interstate 95 corridor through Palm Beach County, Sugar Sand Park is a local getaway that hits the spot for families with young children.
A portion of the park is given over to ballfields, but most of it remains forested. Two easy interpretive trails give you a place to walk in the woods.
The centerpiece of the park is its hands-on Science Explorium along with a unique Science Playground and an old-fashioned carousel.
Location: Boca Raton
Length: 1.5 miles in two round-trips
Trailhead: 26.345724, -80.125017
Land Manager: City of Boca Raton
Dogs are not permitted. Restroom are at the Science Explorium and ballfields.
Don’t wander off the marked trails, or you may end up in poison ivy!
Check in at the Science Explorium for interpretive guides to the nature trails. Interpretive spots are marked with green stakes.
From Interstate 95, exit at Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton and head west for half a mile to Military Trail. Turn left and drive half a mile. The entrance to Sugar Sand Park is on your left. Bear right inside the park to drive around to the parking area near the playground, your easiest access point to both nature trails.
Two trails radiate from the complex near the Science Playground: the Sand Pine Nature Trail and the Slash Pine Nature Trail. This narrative follows them out and back.
You can also use the park’s paved bicycle trail (which is lit after dark); this longer path creates a loop around the park to connect the unpaved trails.
Slash Pine Nature Trail
This broad path, with comfortable pine duff underfoot, starts behind the science center. Pass a cabbage palm with no fronds but an interesting array of ferns blooming out of its trunk here in the scrubby flatwoods.
Sensitive brier and grapevine swarm across the understory. This trail is near the edge of the park along Camino Real, so you may hear some traffic, but the pines do a good job of dampening sound.
Look for shoelace fern hanging from cabbage palm trunks, and also goldfoot fern and spagnum moss on the palm trunks. Near the picnic pavilion is a shady spot with a bench. H
Notice a strangler fig wrapped around a cabbage palm, looking like a python with a hold around the tree. Marsh ferns and sword ferns grown in a moist area as you pass a pond apple. Dahoon holly drips red berries on the ground.
At 0.3 mile is a bench what was once a wetland area, with cypress looming overhead. Interpretive marker #9 is in the thick of the sword ferns.
Basketball courts and a small stadium are obvious off to the right, with cabbage palms and coreopsis off to the left. In spring, beautyberry and woodlands phlox lend a splash of color.
Trail’s end is at the bicycle loop at the basketball court. You can use the loop to return, but the walk through the woods is more pleasant, featuring wild coffee, saw palmettos, and more.
After 0.7 mile, the footpath deposits you near the back door of the Science Explorium.
Sand Pine Nature Trail
The trail begins at the “Nature Trail” sign at the far end of the parking lot, past the Science Playground and the carousel.
At first this narrow but well-cleared path is edged by short scrubby oaks, rusty lyonia, grapevine, and tarflower.
Taking a jog to the left, the trail comes to what seems like a junction; continue straight. The habitat transitions into sand pines, soft and fluffy.
While the understory isn’t very open, it has little debris. Look for love vine, saw palmetto, and orange sulfur butterflies along the trail.
Passing marker #8 after an old trail to the left, the trail curves right. The forest opens up and the trail widens like a driveway, with slash pines dominating above.
At the four-way junction at a bench, a quarter mile from the trailhead, keep going straight ahead. This next section is surprisingly hilly; you’re on a portion of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge.
The trail pops out onto the bicycle path at a “Nature Trail” sign. Turn left walk past a bench and a patch of silver-tinged saw palmetto.
The trail meanders towards the ballfield that flanks the parking area, but a natural surface path on the left guides you back onto the nature trail system.
Following this footpath, stay to the left at the fork through an open scrubby area with white sand underfoot, ancient sands where prickly pear find a home.
The trail comes back to the four-way junction. Turn right to follow the main trail back to the parking area near the Science Playground to complete this easy 1.5 mile nature walk.
See our photos of Sugar Sand Park