By Robin Draper
Martin County is a sparkling jewel along Florida’s Treasure Coast, bordered by Lake Okeechobee to the west, and by the deep blue Atlantic Ocean to the east. It is distinguished by diverse natural beauty and a public commitment to environmental protection. Numerous parks, preserves and refuges make this area an ideal destination for outdoor lovers, and it is especially family-friendly. Here you can stroll along uninterrupted stretches of beaches, hike through pine flatwood forests and gaze at a sky full of stars far away from city lights. You can explore “globally imperiled” sand pine scrubs, take a river cruise down a wild and scenic river or witness a sea turtle laying her eggs. You can even learn to surf or sail.
North of the park is the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge where you will have miles of unspoiled beach mostly to yourself.
Drive up the coast to another Martin County treasure, Johnathan Dickinson State Park, with more than 11,000 acres of wilderness for hiking, biking and trail riding. The park contains the upper Loxahatchee River, Florida’s first federally-designated Wild and Scenic River. Board the Loxahatchee Queen for a two-hour river cruise and hear about the “Wildman of Loxahatchee” Trapper Nelson, who homesteaded the area in the 1930’s. The tour stops at Nelson’s outpost after winding through a canopy of centuries-old cypress trees.
North of the park is the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge where you will find miles of unspoiled beach mostly to yourself. Stop in at the Hobe Sound Nature Center to deepen your experience, and learn about Florida’s nature and the wildlife inhabiting the area through naturalist-guided tours. If you visit during the summer sea turtle nesting season, consider booking a guided turtle walk to witness live sea turtles nesting on the beach—a not-to-be-missed opportunity.
Further north is the welcoming small town of Hobe Sound. Head over toward Hobe Sound Beach on the scenic Bridge Road under an enchanting canopy of Florida banyan trees. At the beach, walk south to reach Blowing Rocks, where coastal waves are forced through limestone rock crevices creating a geyser effect, often erupting 40-50 feet in the air. The area is loaded with activities like hiking, snorkeling and SCUBA diving and family-friendly events including turtle walks, where you can see the protected animals take the journey from land to the safety of the sea.
Continue north and stop at the Seabranch Preserve State Park. Traipse along sandy pathways shaded by pines under sapphire blue skies. Watch for rare and wonderful Florida birds flitting from tree to tree.
Even farther north is the charming town of Stuart and Hutchinson Island. The 1875 House of Refuge—Martin County’s oldest building—overlooks the glistening Atlantic as waves crash onto the limestone rocks below. Originally the building was both a home and sanctuary inhabited by a keeper who walked along the shore to rescue shipwreck victims.
Stuart’s public beach on Hutchinson Island is the ideal place for surfing lessons or renting a paddleboard.
While on Hutchinson Island, visit the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, a marine life nature center that offers a touch pond of local sea life, but feeding the stingrays is the highlight, especially for kids. Across the street, is the Elliott Museum, named after inventor Sterling Elliott, with a dynamic collection of antique automobiles, vintage boats and baseball memorabilia.
Sails and trails
At the north end of Martin County is Jensen Beach where you can learn to sail at the US Sailing Center. If you are looking for a kid’s summer camp experience, the USSC provides a 10-week camp beginning in June for sailors ages 5-17.
Now head inland to the Allapattah Flats near Palm City. This open preserve features pine flatwoods, marshes, Sabal Palms and pastures where cowboys roam, cattle graze and bird watching is the highlight. Hike or bike a five-mile trail to a marsh to observe rare birds such as the Woodstork, Roseate Spoonbill and a variety of hawks.
Even further inland is Indiantown, a small, rural town where cattle and citrus farming is the way of life. The historic Seminole Inn is the town anchor and is base for an outdoor tour of the Barley Barber Swamp known as “tromp the swamp.” This free, guided expedition along a boardwalk through thousand-year-old cypress trees gives visitors special insight into the rare ecosystem that was once a Native American hunting ground.
Stargazers will love DuPuis Nature Center, where stars twinkle so brightly that it seems you can almost touch the constellations. Gaze on your own or during the featured Astronomy Nights. Equine aficionados should check out Timer Powers Park on the St. Lucie River. It is Martin County’s only public equestrian park with picnic areas, a rodeo arena and boat ramp.
From coastal to cattle, Martin County has a wealth of activities for the family to enjoy while being in Florida’s fantastic outdoors.
Find your outdoor bliss in Martin County!