Jonathan Dickinson State Park is the largest state park in Southeast Florida.
Rare environments such as coastal sand hills, upland lakes, and scrub forests as well as the pristine Loxahatchee River make this park a unique spot to explore by foot or water. Historical interests include a secret WWII training camp, story of the shipwrecked Quaker merchant who is the park’s namesake, and Trapper Nelson, the legendary Wild Man of the Loxahatchee.
Ranger-guided tours of Trapper Nelson’s 1930s pioneer homestead are available year-round. Visitors can enjoy paved and off-road biking, equestrian and hiking trails. Boating, canoeing and kayaking along the river are also great ways to see the park. Anglers can fish along the riverbank or from a boat. The nature and history of the park comes to life through exhibits and displays in the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center. Programs for kids or the whole family are also offered here.
The 10,500-acre park is named for Jonathan Dickinson, a Quaker merchant whose vessel shipwrecked nearby in 1696. During World War II, the land the park now occupies was home to Camp Murphy, a top-secret radar training school with over 6,600 men. The land became a state park in 1950. Far upriver is the Trapper Nelson Interpretive Site, the restored homestead of a man who came to this area in the 1930s and lived off the land, trapping and selling furs. He became famous as the ‘Wildman of the Loxahatchee,’ opening his ‘Trapper’s Jungle Gardens and Wildlife Zoo’ to the public.
The 60 passenger Loxahatchee Queen III takes visitors on a one-and-a-half-hour tour of the river, with a stop at the restored 1930s camp of Trapper Nelson, the “Wildman of the Loxahatchee.” At the site, park staff lead visitors around the grounds and buildings of a true Florida original, who made his living off the land as a trapper and fur trader. Once fame caught up with Trapper, however, he evolved himself and his home into one of the area’s first tourist attractions, “Trapper’s Zoo and Jungle Gardens.” Trapper’s unsolved death in 1968 gives a fitting sense of mystery to the site. A visual interpretation of Trapper’s is available at the Visitor’s Center, on the Loxahatchee Queen, or on site by request. A gently sloped and wheelchair friendly sidewalk leads to a small pier to the boat dock; passengers must be able to get onto the pontoon boat without a wheelchair. A beach wheelchair is also available for use on site with advanced noticed. Please contact the Ranger Station, 772-546-2771, or the Kimbell Center, 561-745-5551 for more information.
Trapper’s is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week (schedule may vary throughout the year), and is accessible only by canoe, boat or by the tour boat.
The Loxahatchee River is famous throughout the state for canoeing and kayaking. The upper river winds its way under a canopy of centuries-old cypress trees, giving a real ‘back-in-time’ experience. On the lower section, the river becomes a mangrove-lined estuary, with ample bird life along its shores. In 1985, the Loxahatchee became Florida’s first federally designated “Wild & Scenic River.” The park concession offers rental canoes, kayaks, and motorboats. Please observe the “idle speed” limit on the river within the park.
Two family campgrounds are located at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Pine Grove Campground, with 90 sites, is located near the Ranger Station on the east side of the park. The River Campground, with 52 sites, is about four miles from the park entrance, near the Loxahatchee River. Both campgrounds have large, tiled restrooms with hot showers and are each set up with a washer and dryer. All sites include water, electricity, table and grill; sewer hookup is included on all Pine Grove campsites, as well. A dump station is located at Pine Grove Campground which is approximately 4 miles from the River Campground. Well behaved pets are welcome in both campgrounds. Maximum RV length for Pine Grove Campground is 40ft and 36ft for the River Campground.
The Kimbell Center offers fun, family programs every Saturday at 10 a.m. and in the evenings for campers (location varies).
Reservations: Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through Reserve America. Book Online or call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) or TDD (888) 433-0287.
A five-site, campground is available for those wishing to camp with their horses. Horses must be tethered overnight to the tie out posts provided or confined in sturdy portable pens. Portable electric fencing or hobbling is not permitted.
Eight miles of multi-use trails start at the EaglesView area, available for horseback riding, hiking and off-road bicycling. Trail maps are available at the Ranger Station and the Kimbell Center.
Reservations: To reserve an equestrian campsite, please call the Ranger Station at 772-546-2771.
Two backpack camps are available on segments of the Florida Trail. Maps of the Trail are available at the Ranger Station. One camp is five miles out along the trail, and the other is nine miles out. A pitcher pump is located near each camp. Water must be treated. Pets are not permitted on this trail and/or at these camps. Collection of firewood is not permitted in Florida State Parks; be sure to pack a stove for cooking. Overnight trips to these camps must begin by specified times of the day; reservations are not required but are suggested. Call the Ranger Station at 772-546-2771 for information and reservations.
Camping, Primitive Group
Three group campsites accommodate 30 campers each. Youth groups (for those who are 18 or younger) may reserve a campsite. Youths must be chaperoned by at least one adult, 21 years of age or older, for each 10 youths. Pets are welcome and must be kept on a 6ft leash. Sites are equipped with tables, a fire circle and a composting toilet. There is no water in this area; the closest potable water is about a mile away at the picnic area. Call the Ranger Station for reservations at 772-546-2771.
Canoe, kayak and motorboat rentals are available daily from the concession. Boats can be rented starting at 9:00 a.m. with the last rental available at 3:00 p.m. All boats must be returned to the concession by 5 p.m.
Fishing in the Loxahatchee River varies from freshwater fishing in the upper river to saltwater angling as you approach the picnic area and boat ramp. There can be some overlap of species; it is possible to catch snook and snapper far upriver near Trapper’s, and largemouth bass as far down as the mouth of Kitching Creek. Be sure you have the appropriate license (or licenses) for the area and species you are fishing. Freshwater fishing is also available in several of the ponds and lakes, mainly in the eastern and southeastern areas of the park.
All fishing within the park must conform to regulations concerning size, number, method of capture and season. A fishing license is recommended may be required. More information is available at the Florida Wildlife Commission’s Fishing in Florida.
Geocaching is an outdoor game using hand-held global positioning systems (GPS) devices. It’s effectively an inexpensive, interactive, high-tech treasure hunt that’s a great way to learn geography. Participants use location coordinates to find caches. Some caches are easy to find; others are more difficult. The biggest reward is the thrill of the search and the discovery of a place where you have never been. Geocaching should have minimal impact to the environment and conscientious land use ethics should be followed.
Jonathan Dickinson has an extensive trail system encompassed within the park’s 16 natural communities. These trails are perfect for those who are new to hiking as well as visitors looking to trek a few miles.
The Kitching Creek, Wilson Creek, Multi-use and River trails located near the Kimbell Center and the Hobe Mountain Tower trail located near the front of the park are great for visitors that may be looking for a shorter walk. The Kitching Creek, Wilson Creek and River trails are all self-guided with brochures available. The Multi-use trail is an accessible paved path that runs adjacent to park drive winding through pine flatwoods and cypress sloughs and the Hobe Mountain Trail is a short, beautiful boardwalk that climbs up through the sand pine scrub to the observation tower, from which commanding views of the entire park and surrounding area may be had.
For the avid hiker, the park offers multiple trail systems that range from 1 to 9 miles in length. These include a 9-mile portion of The Florida Trail’s Ocean to Lake trail, the Eagle’s View trail system located north of the park’s equestrian area as well as the 5-mile white trail and 7.5-mile green trail. All trails are blazed with designated colors and maps are available at the Kimbell Center.
There are also Ranger-guided nature hikes available on Fridays at 2 p.m. Call 561-745-5551 for more information.
The Camp Murphy Off-road Bicycle Trail System is a nine-mile network of mountain bike trails, with loops rated for beginners all the way to “black diamond, experts only.” Each trail is marked by difficulty level and distance. Wearing an approved helmet is recommended while riding the trails. Maps of trail system are available at the Ranger Station and Kimbell Center.
The Camp Murphy Off-road Bike Trail System is maintained and sponsored by Club Scrub and the Friends of Jonathan Dickinson State Park. For more information on Club Scrub and the Friends of Jonathan Dickinson State Park or about becoming a member please visit www.friendsofjdsp.org or www.clubscrub.org.
A large picnic area is found on the shores of the Loxahatchee River, with dozens of picnic tables and grills. Four picnic pavilions are found here, three of which can be reserved for a fee. The “Loxahatchee” and “Wilson Creek” pavilions are $60 plus tax (10 tables – 60 persons) and the larger “Kitching Creek” pavilion is $100 plus tax (20 tables – 150 persons).
Call the Ranger Station at 772-546-2771 for reservations. One pavilion is left for first-come, first-served, and the other three may be similarly used if they have not been reserved. The concession store is located here, with drinks, snacks, tour boat tickets, and canoe rentals. Two nature trails start here, and a children’s playground is centrally located.
A beautiful grassy swimming beach is available on the shores of the Loxahatchee River. No lifeguards are present, so please exercise caution. It is adjacent to the reservable Loxahatchee picnic pavilion, and a modern restroom with outdoor shower. Please call for current swimming conditions.
Guided horseback rides are available seasonally at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, starting at the EaglesView Equestrian Area and meandering along scenic backcountry routes. Trail rides take place 7 days a week from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Guided Horseback Rides depart at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. each lasting approximately 1 hour in length for adults and children 6 and over. Hand-led 15-minute pony rides are available for children under 6. For those who would prefer to take in the scenery what could be nicer than a trip along the back roads of the park in our big farm wagon, pulled by a team of two beautiful Percheron draft horses? The wagon will carry up to 14 folks for a 45-minute trail ride (check with concession for availability). For more information contact the concession at 561-746-1466.
Many species of wildlife may be observed at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, including deer, raccoons, foxes, otters, bobcats, and more. Alligators are commonly seen, as are turtles along the river. Threatened and endangered species include Florida scrub-jays, gopher tortoises, manatees, and Eastern indigo snakes. Over 150 species of birds have been identified here, making Jonathan Dickinson a premier birding destination.
Trapper Nelson, born Vincent Natulkiewicz, came to the upper Loxahatchee River in the early 1930s.
Trapper Nelson spent many years making his living as an animal trapper and fur trader, living a self-sufficient life with no electricity or city water. Trapper Nelson, the famous ‘Wildman of the Loxahatchee,’ slowly converted his homestead into a tourist attraction after World War II. Visitors from around the world came to see the legendary Trapper, clad only in his customary shorts and pith helmet, as he handled poisonous snakes and wrestled alligators. Folks could buy souvenirs, rent rowboats or stay overnight in one of Trapper’s cabins. He spent the majority of his profits buying land at tax sales, amassing roughly 1,000 acres of the Loxahatchee riverfront and sparing much of it from development. Before his mysterious death, he had begun negotiations with the Florida Park Service trying to see his beloved camp preserved once he was gone. In his later years, Trapper became paranoid and reclusive, convinced that he was very sick and that people were out to get him. In 1968, he was found by one of his few remaining friends lying under one of his open shelters, killed by a blast from his own shotgun. He was 59 years old.
(Information from Florida State Parks Website)