Length: 1.2 miles
Lat-Long: 26.941239, -80.135387
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Open sunrise to sunset daily.
From Florida’s Turnpike or I-95, Jupiter / Indiantown Road exit, follow Indiantown Road east a half mile past I-95 to the traffic light at Central Boulevard. Turn left. After you cross the bridge, turn left on Church Street. The trailhead parking area is immediately on your left.
Start your hike at the kiosk for Limestone Creek Natural Area by checking for a map and signing the trail register. As you’ll find at most Palm Beach County Natural Areas, the entrance trail – blue blazed and called the Bracken Fern Nature Trail is pretty much a sidewalk, suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. Nicely shaded by a dense stand of South Florida slash pine, which is known for its resistance to disease and insects, the trail is within sight of houses on the far right, but they don’t intrude into the natural surroundings, as the understory is dense with saw palmetto.
After a slight jog to the left and a gentle rise, the trail enters an even denser forest, transitioning into scrubby flatwoods. Sand live oaks cast pools of shade. The dense understory attracts many birds, and you’ll hear them warbling and rustling in the underbrush. Despite the dryness of the habitat, delicate bromeliads and clumps of ball moss cling to tree branches.
Dropping slightly, the trail enters a moist zone, a hydric hammock thick with cabbage palms, some of which have draping, grass-like shoelace fern growing from their trunks. The earth is wet underfoot, and the trail crosses a bridge in the hammock. A sluggish trickle of water moves through the remains of an old streambed, a creek that once fed the Loxahatchee River until modern-day water management replaced the natural flow of water through the region with long, straight canals to drain the landscape for development. Netted chain and cinnamon ferns grow out of the muck in this lush oasis, as does wild coffee. Laurel oaks provide a dense canopy overhead.
Rising up again, the trail enters another stretch of scrubby flatwoods, where the pines above are not as dense, but the understory is still thick with saw palmetto. Bracken fern grows in shady spots, and fragrant tarflower draws your attention to its blooms. You emerge from the forest after a quarter mile, facing the C-18 Canal and a covered observation deck over the water where the sidewalk ends. Active restoration efforts – replanting vegetation, removing dumped items – means it’s a pretty spot despite its very urban character, with the back side of a strip mall rising behind the vegetation on the far shore. A pair of white ibis pick through the shallows of the tidal swamp along the shore.
While the Bracken Fern Nature Trail ends here, continue down the rough track paralleling the canal upstream to follow the Gallberry Hiking Trail. It’s blazed with yellow circle markers. Next stop is the fishing pier on your left. It’s another place to hang out over the water and watch the wading birds. Mangroves grow right along the boardwalk, reminding you that you’re not very far from Jupiter Inlet.
Past the fishing pier, the trail ducks into the woods off to your right, up and over a small berm. Sword ferns grow in profusion. At the next trail junction, make a left, or you’ll end up at a back gate into the adjoining residential area. The corridor is narrow, edged by ferns and saw palmetto, with oaks providing patches of shade. As the elevation increases slightly, the trail becomes more open, still surrounded by trees but not as shady. An osprey glides overhead, perhaps spying a fish in the canal, which is now out of sight.
Reaching a dense hammock, the footpath narrows more and scrambles over and down a slight berm – perhaps the edge of the original waterway, since several concrete slabs here help prevent you from getting your feet wet in the damp area at the bottom, where sword fern and swamp fern grow in a riot of green. The landscape opens up, with a hammock of palms forming an island amid a sea of rough vegetation. Look for gopher tortoise burrows in this area. You can turn around here, or make your way across – not easy to follow the footpath when I tried it – to trail’s end at the west end of the property, where a gate leads out to Island Way Road after 0.6 mile. There is no parking at this end of the trail.
Turn around and retrace your journey back through the woods. At the T intersection, turn right to hop back over the berm and out to the walk along the C-18 Canal. You reach the paved trail after 0.9 mile. Follow it back through the forest to the parking area for a total hike of 1.2 miles.
0.3 observation deck
0.3 fishing pier
0.4 side trail to neighborhood
0.6 gate at Island Way Road
0.8 T, turn right
0.9 fishing pier