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A number of people were canoeing on the Loxahatchee River.
Photo Credit: guyonthego

Jonathan Dickinson State Park

16450 Southeast Federal Highway Hobe Sound, FL 33455
Park is open 8:00am to dusk. Visitor Center & boat tour hours generally 9-5.
772-546-2771 Half day
February 2012 All year
$0-9 Hobe Sound Florida
Website Nature State Parks
First review
 
Located about 30 minutes north of Palm Beach, Jonathan Dickinson State Park is a 10,000 acre park with 13 habitat types, including extensive pine flatwoods, rare pine scrub habitat, and grasslands. The 7 mile wild and scenic Loxahatchee River flows through the park as well. As for facilities, there is an education center, playground, picnic shelters and rental cabins. There are also a range of recreational activities such as kayaking/canoeing, swimming, camping, hiking, horseback riding, biking and birdwatching. An interesting historic home site belonging to a man named Trapper Nelson, also known as the "Wildman of the Loxahatchee," can be visited either via a park boat tour or on your own.

Most of the current park area was acquired by the federal government in 1942 for use as a radar training facility during World War II. As many as 1,000 buildings were constructed almost overnight, and the camp was in operation training personnel in radar maintenance for about two years. The base closed in 1944 and was then transferred to Florida. It opened as a state park in 1950. Trapper Nelson arrived here in 1936. He made a living trapping animals and then later through a wildlife zoo and by hosting overnight guests. Although he lived a rustic life and had limited education, Nelson shrewdly purchased around 1,000 acres over the years from tax sales. Toward the end of his life, Nelson became even more of a recluse. He died in mysterious and controversial circumstances in 1968 from what was officially determined to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Most of his lands eventually became part of the park. Had Nelson not acquired these areas, almost assuredly they would have been developed.

Jonathan Dickinson is the type of place this website was made for, a relatively obscure park, even to Floridians, but one that provides great value for your recreation dollars and time. The park is large enough to provide varied activities but still obscure enough so that it's not overrun with tourists, especially in winter. It's also a good choice for an overnight stay in one of the modern and fully equipped cabins or in a more rustic campground. Since time was somewhat limited, this was just a daytrip visit. The first stop was to the education center. The staff there were helpful and provided a good park overview. Museum exhibits focused mainly on natural themes, like animals and park habitats. A 20 minute overview film had information about the park's natural history. For a hike, the one mile Kitching Creek Nature Trail near the visitor center is a good option. It had an informative trail guide with multiple stops describing various natural features. The trail itself was broad, flat and easy. More hiking is available at the horse stable area but it was less interesting. A short walk to the Hobe Mountain observation tower near the park entrance was worthwhile and offered great views.

The main and most popular recreational activities here are boating on the Loxahatchee. It's a quiet, beautiful river and ideally suited for enjoying nature. Canoeing out to Trapper Nelson's site is about a 5 hour roundtrip. The boat tour takes approximately 2 hours. While the boat tour is quicker, the canoe option is more conducive to experiencing nature. The boat tour was really more of transportation, and there were few if any comments about nature or wildlife. A few animals were seen though including manatee, alligators, osprey and wading birds. When the boat arrived to Trapper Nelson's a park guide was waiting and led the group around the place for about 30 minutes. It was an enjoyable excursion and learning more about Trapper Nelson's life really enhanced the visit. Since it was February, there were no bugs, but they are likely more of an issue in summer. Jonathan Dickson was good enough for a return visit when in the area, and is definitely good enough for a first visit if you have not been before. It also works well for a family outing as the fees are low and the attractions diverse.
Author:
guyonthego
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