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
Lat-Long: 26.345724, -80.125017
Fees / Permits: None
Bug factor: low
Restroom: At science center and ballfields
Dogs are not permitted.
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 before you take your walk. Interpretive spots are marked with green stakes.
From I-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 nature trails radiate from the complex near the Science Playground: the Sand Pine Nature Trail, which meanders through the woods between the playground and the ballfields, and the Slash Pine Nature Trail, which starts just behind the Science Explorium building. I’m presenting these as I walked them, out and back, but it is also possible to use the park’s paved bicycle trail – which is lit after dark – to up your walking mileage significantly, creating a big loop around the park to connect the unpaved trails.
Slash Pine Nature Trail
Starting behind the science center, this is a broad path with comfortable pine duff underfoot. You pass a cabbage palm with no fronds but an interesting array of ferns blooming out of its trunk here in the scrubby flatwoods, which as a counterpoint to the scrub is slightly damper. Sensitive brier and grapevine swarm across the understory of this pine forest. This trail is near the edge of the park along Camino Real, so you may hear the rumble of some traffic, but the pines do a good job of dampening sound. Passing a bench, you see an orange sulfur alight on woodlands phlox. Birdsong is in the air.
Delicate shoelace fern hangs in stringers from cabbage palm trunks, while goldfoot fern and spagnum moss cling to the palm trunks. Off to the right, there’s a picnic pavilion. A cardinal flashes past a old gumbo-limbo tree. A nice shady spot in the palm hammock invites a moment’s pause at a bench. Another building peeps through the brush. One strangler fig, wrapped around a cabbage palm, looks like a python with a hold around the tree. Marsh ferns and sword ferns in the understory belie a moist area in the woods as you pass a pond apple. Dahoon holly drips red berries on the ground.
At 0.3 mile, a bench sits near 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. Beautyberry and woodlands phlox lend a splash of color in the understory. Trail’s end is at the bicycle loop at the basketball court. You can use the bicycle loop to return, but the walk through the woods is more pleasant. Wild coffee grows tall on the left near a mild fork in the trail past a path that goes to a picnic pavilion. A bench is on the right in the open scrubby area. The saw palmettos have a silvery hue. After 0.7 mile, the footpath deposits you near the back door of the Science Explorium.
Sand Pine Nature Trail
Walk back around the Science Explorium, the Science Playground, and the carousel. Follow the edge of the parking lot past the carousel until you find the “Nature Trail” sign at the far end of the parking lot. This marks the beginning of the Sand Pine Nature Trail. Climbing up and over a small ridge, the trail enters the slash pine forest. It’s a narrow but well-cleared path, 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. A fence is off to the right. While the understory isn’t very open, it has little debris. The trail was rerouted past a bench near a slight rise, which the trail ascends through love vine. Saw palmetto lifts its trunks off the sand. Orange sulfur butterflies flitter above the greenery.
Passing marker #8 after an old trail to the left, the trail curves to the right. The forest opens up and the trail widens like a driveway, with slash pines donminating above. At the four-way junction at a bench, a quarter mile from the trailhead, keep going straight ahead. It’s surprisingly hilly along this walk, which is upon a portion of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge. Up a big rise, a field of grapevine awaits. Coming off the rise, you can see a light tower from one of the ballfields up ahead.
The trail pops out onto the bicycle path at a “Nature Trail” sign within sight of the ballfields. Turn left and follow it past a bench and a patch of silver-tinged saw palmetto. It’s meandering towards the ballfield that flanks the parking area. However, a natural surface trail 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. Once you’re back, you’ve completed this easy 1.5 mile nature walk.