Between all the concrete and water, there are a few truly wild slices of Jupiter left on the map just aching to be explored. The Jupiter Ridge Natural Area, a 270 acres swath of land stretching from US 1 to the Intracoastal, incorporates five native Florida ecosystems (scrub, scrubby flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, depression marsh and mangrove swamp), giving hikers a chance to experience what coastal Florida looked like before development.
Between the natural area’s three hiking trails—Little Blue Heron Nature Trail (.2 miles), Scrub Lizard Hiking Trail (1.7 miles), and Pawpaw Hiking Trail (.6 miles)—nature enthusiasts can enjoy more than two miles of hiking fun (check the map below). These endangered ecosystems are home to some thirty-one plant species and fourteen considered threatened or endangered, including the large-flowered rosemary, a relative of mint; the Florida scrub-jay; and the gopher tortoise. For those with a keen eye, catching a glimpse of the wildlife roaming these parts is easy, especially those veggie-chomping gopher tortoises—and watch your feet, jumping spiders abound in this area. If you are truly lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the skittish gray fox family that calls the ridge home.
Florida scrub-jay spotted at the Jupiter Ridge Natural Area.
When taking to the trail, wear comfortable shoes and clothing—be forewarned, there are mosquitos in these parts, and much of the trail is sandy, so footing is not super sure. For those looking to take in all the sites, start out along the Little Blue Heron Trail, which is accessible from the parking lot (and paved with boardwalk sections) and leads to an observation platform that overlooks mangrove and scrub shoreline along the meandering tidal swamp, a popular place for passing manatees. Once you’ve taken in the sites, continue north along the Pawpaw Hiking Trail, much of which runs along the area’s depression marsh and mangrove swamp. If you’re still up for a hike after this short loop, hop on the Scrub Lizard Hiking Trail. The largest stretch of hiking trail in the natural area at 1.7 miles, the large loop takes hikers all the way to the Intracoastal Waterway and Ski Beach. A popular place for wakeboarders and boaters setting anchor for picnics, there is always a scene to catch on the weekend. Along the Scrub Lizard, keep an eye out for wildlife, especially birds, as well as the interesting array of plant life making a go of it in the scrub and scrubby flatwood ecosystems—airplants and lichens abound here, as does a colorful collection of wildflowers. The trees along the trail are truly one-of-a-kind—almost other worldly by South Florida standards, with dwarfed Chapman’s, myrtle and sand live oaks all taking root in the sandy soil, while increasingly rare sand pines stand as sentinels.
Part of Palm Beach County’s Natural Areas Program, Jupiter Ridge underwent an extensive restoration project lead by the Environmental Resources Management department in 2011. ERM constructed twenty-three limestone oyster reefs along seven zones paralleling the ridge’s Intracoastal shore to act as a breakwater to stem beach erosion, as well as enhance existing sea grass habitat and act as a recruitment base for marine life. Efforts also included planting 1.2 acres of red mangroves, bottonwoods and seashore paspalum. These efforts, along with ongoing conservation works, will help preserve this priceless tract of the Northeast Everglades Natural Area and scrubland for generations to come.
- The Jupiter Ridge Natural Area is open to the public, sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. For more information, visit pbcgov.com/erm.
Green indicates the Natural Area Boundary
The brown, double-lined stretch is the Little Blue Heron Nature Trail (.2 miles)
The dotted red line is the Pawpaw Jking Trail (.6 miles)
The yellow loop is the Scrub Lizard Hiking Trail (1.7 miles)