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Jonathon Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound

Stuart, FL, USA


At Jonathon Dickinson State Park you venture through four different types of scenery, from barren to more and more lovely. It's a delight for the whole family- little kids and teens are equally happy here. From the US Hwy 1 entrance, you can first take a ten minute hike along a wooden boardwalk past pine scrub and strange-looking dead trees and up to the top of a high tower that sits on Hobe mountain (we called it Hobe mound and had many good laughs- it is the highest point in Florida south of Lake Okeechobee). Little kids absolutely love it up there with the wind blowing in their hair. The view shows how amazingly flat Florida is- all around you a perfectly straight line of land. You see scrub on one side and the intracoastal, Jupiter Island, and the ocean on the other side. It's pretty.
Then you can drive through pine forest- the kind the you see all over Florida. This is always pleasant.
Once at the river area, you find a playground with picnic areas. Here you can rent canoes, sea kayaks, or go on a pontoon boat tour. The canoes and kayaks are only for the adventurous- we saw a canoe tip over, and there are alligators over 12 feet long out there. Sea kayaks are a little more sturdy I think, but I still wouldn't want to go out there with the gators!! We saw a pre-teen girl in loud, hysterical tears, spooked out when a fish leapt up next to her- I'm sure she thought it was an alligator.
The pontoon boat tour is a ton of fun. You start out in the wide-open mangrove area of the river but as you go on, you reach absolutely beautiful jungle. Here, the waterway narrows. There are sabal palms curving up to the sky, looking cute! And thick jungly plants all around you. The varying shades of lime, pale, and bright green are lovely. Spanish moss hangs from barren-looking trees. Osprey nests sit high up in the sky. Blue herons stand camouflaged by the tree roots. Turtles stand in perfect rows on tree roots that jut out into the river. Baby gators sun themselves on tree roots, and big alligators hang out in the water by the shore. What a delight to see these things, and how pleasant to glide along on the water! The seats in the pontoon boat are comfortable and the engine doesn't smell much at all.
The tour lasts almost two hours, 25 minutes of which are spent on an island where a ranger, who greets you at the island, tells you the story of Trapper Nelson. Trapper Nelson was a real character and quite a businessman, making money by letting the curious people who came to the island pay to see zoo exhibits and buy things he made. It's interesting to hear his life story and to see the rustic cabins where he lived and hid his money (which was later found buried). Men will like this tour because they all dream of being free spirits themselves!
Then it's back to the park and playground. There is a store with some chips and drinks, and park bathrooms. A sunny area with chairs and tables, and a refreshment truck, is a nice place to sit while you wait for your tour.
Come an hour early for the tour to buy your tickets (first come first served) or it will be full (times below). Eat before you come because there is nowhere to eat near the docks and it's a long drive out of the park to find a restaurant.
The 11am and 1pm tours are the best for seeing animals. All seasons are nice here, even summer. In summer, you often see baby alligators! We even saw a baby manatee with its mother! In winter on cold days, you may not see any alligators at all, just a few birds, so try to come when it's warm. Our most recent visit, it was 79 degrees, but the day had started out at 72 degrees, and we didn't see any alligators because it was too cold.
Don't come during low tide because the boat can't make it all the way to Trapper Nelson's Island so you won't see as much. The tour is then a slow boat ride that lasts an hour.
For a cool book about the Everglades, for older kids, check out Gatorlands- it enriched our travels!

Photo Gallery

The gorgeous scenery on the river.

The observation tower gives you a great view in all directions!

Aren't these the strangest Dr. Seuss-like trees?

View of the intracoastal waterway and ocean from the observation tower.

Intracoastal waterway, mansions, and ocean.

Looking down at the wooden walkway from the observation tower.

People enjoying the observation tower on a Saturday morning.

The playground area has plenty of picnic tables amongst the forest.

The playground.

A group sits on the picnic table by the swings and play structure.

Small gator!

A group prepares to paddle.

A couple returning from their paddle.

Family paddling on the river.

I love this view! The cute trees, the mangroves, and the eerie black water full of crocodiles!

Taking a rest...

Boat trip through the lush vegetation.

The gorgeous bamboo forest on Trapper Nelson's island.

Trapper Nelson built this structure.

A house built by Trapper Nelson.

Alligator jaws on the wall!

Hurricane log kept by Trapper Nelson.

Wonderful bamboo.

Cages Trapper Nelson built for his "zoo" that tourists came to see.

Spanish moss on tree on banks of the river.

Can you spot the huge alligator? Still want to head out in a wobbly canoe?

Jungle along the shore, and storm clouds threatening.

Gator scaring us away!

Summertime lilies.

The dock where you begin your boat trip!

Light on the water.

Paddling past the cute trees.

Cute trees and water full of tannins.

Blue heron.

View of cute trees from the boat.

Bird sighting.


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Jonathon Dickinson State Park lies just south of Bridge Road on US Hwy 1, in Hobe Sound between Stuart and Tequesta.
Part entrance costs $6 per car. Tours to Trapper Nelson's cost $24 for adults, $14 for kids, and are free for children under three years old. Tours during low tide that cover just the river cost $20 for adults, $12 for kids, and are free for children under 3. Come an hour early or the tour will be full.
Boat tours are at 9, 11, 1, and 3.
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