Ninety miles north of Miami, Jupiter feels secluded and exclusive; it’s where celebrities from Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods to Kid Rock have winter homes.
But everyday folks can experience the charms of Jupiter in a getaway full of exceptional recreational opportunities: spectacular beaches, snorkeling from shore, a picturesque lighthouse, one of the best kayaking rivers in Florida and several outstanding places to bicycle both on paved trails and through the woods.
This recreation-rich area occupies the north end of Palm Beach County and the southern section of St. Lucie County, from Jupiter north to Stuart.
Fortunately for us, big chunks of the beautiful area have been preserved in public parks — Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Blowing Rocks Preserve, Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge plus several outstanding county parks.
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Also, while not undeveloped, Jupiter Island, a 25-mile-long barrier island between Jupiter and Stuart, has just a two-lane road and a population of 1,000 very rich people living in mansions along the ocean. It’s beautiful and a great place to bicycle or drive through.
If you base yourself in Jupiter, you can plan several days of exploration and adventure, each stop within a half hour of your base.
Here are our favorite outings in the region:
▪ Climb a lighthouse: The historic 1860 Jupiter lighthouse is one of the few Florida lighthouses you can climb, and the view from the top is worth the effort. The waterfront museum in the newly restored World War II building offers indoor Florida history exhibits, outdoor exhibits and the Tindall Pioneer Homestead.
The area around the lighthouse is beautiful, so allow plenty of time — perhaps two hours — to enjoy this spot. A hiking trail on the north side of Beach Road meanders through Florida scrub habitat and leads to an observation tower overlooking a quiet manatee refuge surrounded by red mangroves.
Details: 500 Captain Armour’s Way, Jupiter; http://jupiterlighthouse.org/. From May to December, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Admission: $10, $5 children 6-18, free 5 and under. Children must be at least 48 inches tall to climb the lighthouse.
▪ Kayak a wild and scenic river: Florida has 26,000 miles of river, but only 49.2 miles are designated as wild and scenic, and 7.6 miles of those are found along the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter. (The rest are along the Wekiva River in Central Florida.)
To paddle the wild and scenic portions, you leave from Riverbend Park, 9060 W. Indiantown Rd. Canoe Outfitters of Florida rents kayaks and canoes (single kayaks $30/half day, $40/full day; double kayaks or canoes are $35 and $45.) The Cypress Canopy Tour takes you through the most spectacular scenery in an out-and-back paddle that takes about two or three hours. For an all-day adventure, leave from Riverbend and paddle 8.5 miles to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, where you’ll be picked up at the end of the day. www.canoeoutfittersofflorida.com.
A second excellent paddling option is to rent or put in your own boat at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, paddling upstream and into narrow, twisting Kitching Creek. www.floridastateparks.org/park/Jonathan-Dickinson.
▪ Take a boat tour into Florida history. This narrated boat tour inside Jonathan Dickinson State Park takes you to a fascinating destination you can’t reach by land, the home of Trapper Nelson, one of those quirky only-in-Florida characters. Nelson started out living off the land as a trapper and fur trader in the 1930s, but soon turned himself and his home into one of the area’s first tourist attractions, “Trapper’s Zoo and Jungle Gardens.”
Details: The 49-passenger Loxahatchee Queen III (561-746-1466) is $20 for adults, $12.25 for children 6-12 and free for children under 6. Not all tours stop at the island — it depends on the tide and can change daily. Call ahead to see which trips go there.
▪ Explore a rocky beach and snorkel: The coastline along Jupiter Island has unusual outcroppings of coquina rocks that look like they belong in Maine. During the right conditions, the craggy rocks create sensational splashes and squirts of water that earned the name Blowing Rocks. The Blowing Rocks Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy, is as wild and natural as a beach can get. The conservancy doesn’t even let you bring food or beverages. Blowing Rocks Preserve offers several short walks for exploring the site as well as a first-class nature center.
The rocky shoreline here makes for good snorkeling from shore, and that extends to the county park just south of Blowing Rocks, Coral Cove, where picnicking is allowed. Coral Cove is known for its near-shore snorkeling around submerged coquina rocks.
▪ Find solitude at a hidden beach: Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge occupies the beautiful, undeveloped northern tip of Jupiter Island. You won’t see any signs pointing to it and you reach it via a dead-end two-lane road, so the spectacular beach feels like a personal secret. There are five miles of undeveloped shoreline, so you can walk for miles with no condos, no signs and rarely another person.
▪ Bicycle in scenic, low-traffic spots. There are three great places to bicycle, including one park where you can rent bikes.
If you bring your own road bikes, head for Jupiter Island and pedal past the mansions north of Coral Cove Park. If you park toward the northern end of the island — try Hobe Sound Martin County Beach Park, at the intersection of Bridge Road and Beach Road, which has about 80 parking spaces and restrooms — you can bicycle north to the “secret” beach at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.
There are also good biking spots inside Jonathan Dickinson State Park plus nine miles of mountain-biking trails that are considered among the best in the region.
If you don’t bring bikes, head to Riverbend Park, where you can rent them, and pedal on traffic-free trails around ponds and rivers through the woods.
▪ Hiking at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. This big park is hiker heaven, and there are trails long and short here. Wildlife is often spotted, including deer and a variety of birds. You also can swim in the Loxahatchee at a sandy beach area in the park.
Bonnie Gross gives tips on visiting the natural and authentic Florida at www.FloridaRambler.com.
Going to Jupiter
Where to eat: My favorite place in the area is Guanabana’s, 960 N. Hwy A1A; 561-747-8878; www.guanabanas.com. The tropical gardens with waterfalls, chickee huts and riverfront views is like a Disney version of an outdoor Florida restaurant.
WHERE TO STAY
Jonathan Dickinson State Park: One of the best places to stay, especially for families, is in cute little cabins in the woods. The 10 “cabins” are actually new, miniature trailers with well-equipped kitchens and small bathrooms with tubs. The units come with linens plus heat and air conditioning. They are beautifully situated in a shady grove of pine trees near the Loxahatchee River with picnic tables and fire rings. Price: $80 to $95 a night. The cabins get reserved on weekends several weeks in advance so either plan ahead or stay a weekday. Book through ReserveAmerica.com.
Jupiter Beach Resort, 5 N. Atlantic Blvd. (Route A1A); 561-746-2511 or 866-943-0950; www.jupiterbeachresort.com. This hotel has a beautiful beachfront location and is central to all the recreational options. The hotel lists rooms from $220 on its website, but offers Florida residents a 35 percent discount this summer. www.mypalmbeachsummer.com/florida-resident-rates/.