Looking out over the tranquil Indian River Lagoon, a gentle breeze ripples the top of the water ever so slightly and I can’t help but dip my toes in and enjoy the silence. The only other soul I see from my spot on the small beach is a lone fisherman baiting his hook—the only sounds are the birds and their calls and answers.
I’ve started my day in Martin County at the Hobe Sound Nature Center at the Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge—and now I’m ready to grab a paddle and glide across the top, either in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard.
As it happens, rentals are available right across the street at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, the largest state park in Southeast Florida. Adventures—both water- and land-based, and suited for every interest and skill level—await throughout the park’s 10,500 acres, not to mention its waterways.
Hiking, biking, and more
Upon entering the park, I first make my way to the Hobe Mountain Trail and follow the boardwalk to the top of the “mountain,” all 86 feet of it. Though not high by any stretch of the imagination, it is in fact the highest natural point in all of South Florida—and the observation tower atop Hobe Mountain affords 360-degree views of the entire park and beyond. It’s really quite impressive to have that vantage point.
For those looking to spend even more time in the park, there’s no shortage of longer designated hiking trails, like the five-mile Florida Trail, or the nine-mile portion of the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail that passes through the park; the entire Ocean to Lake trail is 63 miles.
Multi-use trails run through the park, too, for hiking and bicycling. If you’re so inclined, rent a bicycle and see the park from the saddle, either on paved routes or going off-road. When it comes to mountain biking, there are more than nine miles of designated biking-only trails in the Camp Murphy Off-Road Bicycle Trail System, which is maintained by Club Scrub, a local mountain biking club. The club hosts monthly ladies’ clinics and group rides, as well as family and kids rides—anyone, of any ability, is welcome.
If you’d rather get out on the water in Jonathan Dickinson State Park, there are plenty of options there, too. Canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and motor boat rentals are all available by the hour to go out on your own and explore the Loxahatchee River and even into Kitching Creek, which is terrific for fishing. Guided paddle tours are available if you’re not yet ready to go it on your own, or take a guided boat tour (Trapper Nelson, River Eco, and Salt Water) so you can sit back and relax and let someone else do the navigating while soaking up the Florida sunshine.
Starting out on the water
Paddling is popular throughout Martin County, and there are plenty of calm waters to get your feet wet if you’re just starting out. Hop on The Ohana Bus and take a two- or four-hour stand-up paddle tour with professional Coast Guard trained guides; they’ll supply all of the gear. In addition to lessons, the Ohana team offers eco-tours and group outings which are especially fun if you’re traveling with your crew. Of course, if you would rather go it on your own, the Ohana Surf Shop, “built by surfers for surfers,” has daily stand-up paddleboard and surfboard rentals, too.
Those who have mastered balancing atop a stand-up paddleboard may want to try SUP yoga from Zeke’s Surf, Skate & Paddle Sports. Julie, the instructor, leads land- and SUP-based yoga classes at sunset for an unforgettable practice.
Hop behind the wheel and navigate your own two-person powered catamaran with Riding the Waves-TC for a powerful water outing. Join a guided tour where the pros point out historical highlights, wildlife habitats, and the wildlife itself you may spot along the way; be on the lookout for birds, alligators, dolphins, and even manatees.
For adrenaline junkies
If you’re looking for something even more action-packed, take your adrenaline-seeking adventures to the next level with the aptly named Next Level Watersports. Co-founder Jon Beery and his team of coaches are ready to introduce their passions to their clients through kiteboarding, wakeboarding, and hydrofoiling lessons.
“It’s about fun. Kids and adults these days are looking for engagement, they’re looking for action, they’re looking for activity. People are looking for active fun,” says Beery. He adds that he has taught an 87-year-old how to ride, as well as an 8-year-old.
“This area is a mecca for water sports,” explains Beery. “It’s the only spot on the east coast of Florida where you can kite flat water and waves in the same day, and in waist-deep water.”
When talking about Next Level’s offerings, Beery says that he and his team are pushing what people think they are capable of and taking them out of their comfort zones—all in the name of having fun on the water.
“Part of the reason we named this Next Level Watersports is because there’s always a next level; there’s always more you can learn until you’re a pro,” he says. “We offer pure, unadulterated fun for families, and confidence and skill-building you can carry for the rest of your life.”
Whichever type of adventure you seek during vacation, whether on the land or on the water, the choice is yours in Martin County.