The Loxahatchee River has the distinction of being Florida’s first “Wild and Scenic River.” Designated in 1985, the Loxahatchee, a Seminole name meaning “turtle river,” is part of Florida’s Greenways and Trails System and is a favorite of local paddlers due to its wild beauty.
This trip began at Riverbend Park on Indiantown Road in Jupiter, Fla. Riverbend Park is the home of the Loxahatchee River Battlefield, site of the Second Seminole Indian War which includes Powell’s Battle of January 15, 1838 and Jesup’s Battle of January 24, 1838. The canoe launch is a sand area alongside of what appears to be a canal. From this point the river flows as a narrow and twisting ribbon nearly 8.5 miles through a centuries-old cypress forest to a take out location at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
Along the way are two low dams and a lunch stop at Trapper Nelson’s. These dams have pull-overs for travelers not wishing to attempt the short drop. Running the second dam is completely dependent on water levels so be prepared to portage across the ramp if the river is low. It should be noted, due to the dams and tight turns on the river, boats under 12.5 feet are preferable over longer boats.
Once underway, paddlers will travel under a couple of small bridges before settling in to enjoy the peaceful flow of the river as it seemingly twists back in time and delivers visitors to a primeval place. Giant ferns dot the riverbank as curtains of vines hang from 500 year old cypress trees. Here and there turtles watch on as kayakers navigate past cypress knees. A glance upward reveals Bromeliads and Tillandsia clinging to nearly every branch among the Spanish moss. It doesn’t take much to envision a prehistoric dinosaur moving through the landscape, although realistically an alert eye may be able to spot an alligator moving through the dark waters.
In the upper section the peace is briefly interrupted as paddlers travel beneath the busy I-95 bridge and then reenter the wilderness. The river here narrows and becomes more technical but is still manageable for most intermediate paddlers. Eventually paddlers will round a turn and arrive at Trapper Nelson’s. This is a great lunch stop where visitors can stretch their legs and explore the rustic, hand-built log homes at this historic setting. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy and be prepared to pack out your trash due to the limited amenities available.
After leaving Trapper Nelson’s the river widens and meanders toward Jonathan Dickinson State Park where paddlers can explore Kitching Creek, take out at the park boat ramp or continue on to another downstream destination. Tides and wind can make this final leg of the trip on the Loxahatchee challenging so be sure to check conditions before setting out.
The put-in at Riverbend Park is located at 9060 Indiantown Road, Jupiter, Florida 33478 and take-outs are available at Jonathan Dickinson State Park ,16450 SE Federal Hwy, Hobe Sound, FL 33455 and beyond. Paddlers can also make arrangements with a local outfitter to rent kayaks and arrange for shuttles.