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Jonathan Dickinson State Park

For more information and blog posts on Jonathan Dickinson State Park, visit the Categories section below, in such articles as Jonathan Dickinson State Park & Riverbend: An Awe-Inspiring Cypress Swamp, Jonathan Dickinson State Park: Strolling JD to Riverbend, The Florida Trail & a Gopher Tortoise Rescue, Barking Tree Froggie, and more.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers an ideal exploration of natural Florida, providing a vast ecosystem filled with wildlife in 13 natural communities. Sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves, and cypress swamps cover the entirety of the park, nearly 20 percent of which is comprised of coastal sand pine scrub, an environmental community so rare that it’s been designated as “globally imperiled.” The Loxahatchee River — Seminole for “River of Turtles” — was federally designated as Florida’s first “Wild and Scenic River” in 1985, and runs through Jonathan Dickinson, originating in Riverbend Parkto the south.

Wildlife thrives at the park, due to a long history of protection. Deer, raccoons, foxes, otters, bobcats, and coyote can be seen if you’re quiet enough. Alligators are common, as are turtles along the river. Threatened and endangered species include Florida scrub-jays, gopher tortoises, manatees, and Eastern indigo snakes. More than 150 species of birds have been identified within the park as well. We’ve (not surprisingly) encountered families of wild pigs, but often on the backroad “trails” within the park. The feral pigs — or wild hogs — have become a destructive and invasive force in the area for some time, and the park does its bit to control their populations.

History

Jonathan Dickinson’s namesake was a shipwrecked Quaker merchant, who, in 1696 made his way — along with his family and other survivors — up the eastern Florida coast to St. Augustine. Crucial information about early life in Florida is provided within his journals, which describe his encounters with Native Americans and Spanish settlers.

During the 1930s, Trapper Nelson (born Vincent Nostokovich or Natulkiewicz), the Tarzan [or Wildman] of the Loxahatchee, moved to the region and lived off the land as a trapper and fur trader. He eventually grew himself and his home into one of the area’s first tourist attractions after World War II — with “Trapper’s Zoo and Jungle Gardens.” Spending the majority of his profits buying land at tax sales, he amassed nearly 900 acres of the Loxahatchee riverfront, thus sparing it from development. After he died mysteriously in 1968 of a “self-inflicted” shotgun wound to the chest, the state acquired his land, and deeded it to the park. Trapper’s controversial death continues to lend a sense of mystery to the site of his restored camp.

During World War II, the U.S. Army established Camp Murphy, a top-secret radar-training school. In what is now Jonathan Dickinson State Park, there were more than 1,000 buildings, housing more than 6,000 officers and soldiers. While the camp was deactivated after only two years of operation in 1944, many of the buildings’ ghostly foundations remain visible. In 1950, the land was declared a state park.

Activities

Hiking: Jonathan Dickinson provides a wealth of activities within its 11,500 acres. We’re avid hikers, and there’s much land to hike at JD. Be sure to pick up a trail map, or download one from the Web (or from one of the sites provided below). We’ve done bits of the four main nature trails — we’ve even tackled an abandoned trail or two. But of late, we’ve been investigating the Florida Trail and the Kitching Creek portions, which can lead you to Riverbend Park and Indiantown Road. You can spend a half-hour on a trail, or an entire day (if you can hike those 12 miles — sometimes in soft sand).

Biking: The bike trails at Jonathan Dickinson are amazing — both paved and off-road bicycle trails are available. The Camp Murphy Off-road Bicycle Trail System is a nine-mile network of mountain bike trails, with loops rated for difficulty, from beginner to “black diamond, experts only.” (Bicycles are available for rental.)

Horseback Riding: Eight miles of multi-use trails are also provided for equestrians wishing to bring their horses, and a full-facility campground is available for those wishing to camp with their horses.

Camping: The park provides an abundance of camping options, from full-facility, to cabins, to primitive (something we’d like to try in this area). Three youth group sites are also present at the park.

Canoeing & Kayaking: The Loxahatchee is famous for its scenic canoeing and kayaking, leading travelers under a canopy of breathtaking centuries-old cypress, or through a gnarled mangrove-lined estuary. I’ve canoed to Trapper Nelson’s site, and it’s especially lovely when it’s not the busy (S)eason. Rentals are offered for canoes, kayaks, and motorboats. Remember to observe the “idle speed” limit on the river within the park for the sake of the wildlife. The 25-passenger Loxahatchee Queen II also takes visitors on a two-hour tour of the river, with a stop at the restored camp of Trapper Nelson.

To learn more, visit the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center, which celebrates the nature and history of the park through exhibits, displays, and other educational offerings.

Address & Directions

16450 S.E. Federal Hwy.
Hobe Sound, 33455
(772) 546-2771 / Reservation: 1-800-326-3521

Hours: 8 a.m. until sundown, year-round

Jonathan Dickinson State Park is located 12 miles south of Stuart on U.S.1. Accessible from I-95 (Exit 87A) or the Florida Turnpike (Exit 116).

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Birds from the Caribbean #

    I love this post, the landscapes show a great sense of scale, the trees are so dramatic. Trapper Nelson’s story is so ironic, isn’t it?

    January 22, 2013
    • You’re exactly right — the scale here, the trees, are massive! It’s difficult to capture, these vistas.

      Trapper Nelson’s story is just fascinating. I’ve been meaning to write on him, but alas, I’m terribly behind as it is. His death (suicide?) is interesting. The government wants his land…badly…and he appears with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.” Then the government gets the land! Really?

      January 23, 2013
  2. Don’t know what has taken me so long to discover more of your great posts but I’m happy I finally did.

    September 23, 2014
  3. duttyfoot #

    Gald that i found your site as I enjoy hiking and taking photographs at this park. I plan to head up there early in the morning to do my first hike for the year.

    January 1, 2016
    • Wonderful!! It’s such a beautiful place, true natural Florida with so many nooks and crannies to explore. Every time I go, I find a new hidden gem. I hope you get some great pics!

      January 2, 2016
  4. George Rogers #

    My favorite place to visit, well, tied with Riverbend Park. Great portrait of a park, and love that little gator.

    January 10, 2016
    • There’s just so much to see here! Every time I went, there was a new hidden (literally!) trail. Just marvelous. 🙂

      January 12, 2016
  5. George Rogers #

    Best park ever…could take an entire year to explore it thoroughly, and nice to have store near the main trailhead to get a cold drink after exploring.

    April 1, 2017
    • I TOTALLY agree! As many times as I’ve been there, I always found more places and trails I had yet to explore. It’s a true native Florida gem that we’re all lucky to enjoy. 🙂

      April 4, 2017

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