KAYAKING THE RIVER OF TURTLES
I’m lucky to have visited a lot of spectacular places—I’ve camped the deserts of Namibia, explored Bavarian castles and forests, and have seen the Colosseum up close. And I always feel that it’s expected of me to reach for these more conventional bucket-list destinations when answering the question, “So, what’s your favorite place?” This is one of the inevitable questions that you’ll be asked (and be asking) as a traveler in hostels around the globe. But you know what? I don’t think of far-away lands when this question comes up—I think of a special place right in my home town, the Loxahatchee River.
The Loxahatchee River is one of only two wild and protected rivers in Florida and runs through the city of Jupiter in South Florida. My favorite thing to do is kayak down the river, and of course this is my go-to activity to show people when they visit the area. I’ll even paddle down on my own sometimes to destress on a weekend off.
I always go to Canoe Outfitters at Riverbend Park to rent canoes or kayaks; a single kayak costs $35, and a canoe or double kayak costs $45 for the day.
There’s a good chance that you’ll rent your boat from Eric; you wont meet many people that know this river better than he does. He’s been helping people explore the Loxahatchee for over 30 years and will make sure to tell you that if you get struck by lightning or eaten while on the river, it’s your fault, but he’ll promptly send out a rescue team if you do get caught up. You shouldn’t. 🙂
My affinity for this little river most likely has to do with the fact that I would look forward renting a canoe from Eric on the weekends as a kid. Some of my best childhood memories were made at Riverbend Park. I remember feeling like Pocahontas canoeing “just around the riverbend” while trying to find all of the forest creatures hidden in the jungle. There were many!
Raccoons, otters, birds, deer, turtles, snakes, fish of all kinds, and yes, you bet…
The Loxahatchee will not disappoint when it comes to delivering the ultimate Florida experience; there will be alligators! (and mosquitoes) Last week when I visited the water was low—which means increased chances of alligator sightings—and I saw so many that I lost count of exactly how many I passed. I like to believe that my Native Floridian gator huntin’ eyes are primed for spotting these beasts in the wild, but I actually mistook one for a log that day and got quite an adrenaline rush when it quickly dipped as I paddled by! The water was so low and clear that I even watched as he swam under the water for a while until he disappeared into the tea-colored abyss.
The thought of canoeing or kayaking through gator territory can feel a bit unsettling, but it is safe if you use common sense and don’t feed any wildlife or deliberately disturb a mother gator and her hatchlings.
The river also holds a lot of history and was the site of the 1838 Battle of the Loxahatchee River. This battle was one of the last of the Second Seminole Wars between the Seminole Indians who inhabited the area, and the U.S., who eventually forced the Seminoles out of Florida.
The tribe appropriately named the river “Loxahatchee”, which loosely means “river of turtles” in the Seminole language. The name holds true, as you’ll find turtles sunbathing almost everywhere you look… and that’s not an exaggeration. These guys are everywhere. Finding a baby alligator hanging out with them is special though, and I had to keep paddling upstream to finally get close and fast enough to take a picture!
The roots and logs that the turtles like to rest on are mostly from the cypress trees that line the river. The further down the river you explore, the more narrow, twisted and wild the it becomes. Eventually you’ll find yourself under a dense canopy of cypress dotted with exotic climbing ferns and orchids. Letting the current float you down the river while taking in these sights and listening to the birds, insects and flowing water is truly an enchanting experience. My kid self liked to dream that she had found a slice of Jurassic Park, because that’s exactly what it looks like!
The Loxahatchee River may be tucked in between Jupiter’s modern roads and infrastructure, but it will give you a taste of untouched old Florida that the Seminole Native Americans found sacred. I’m proud that the Loxahatchee flows through my hometown and no matter where I venture to, I’ll always come back to visit the alligators and get lost in the sights and sounds of this wild river. If I ever find a place I like more, I’ll let you know.
Things to do after:
I can’t write about paddling down a river without telling you that going downstream is easy, but coming back upstream is tough and takes twice as long! Keep that in mind when deciding how far to go down. (I don’t go much further than the second dam.) Your arms will hurt and you’ll be pretty exhausted afterward—but if you’re up for more adventure, or have a few days to explore, here are some suggestions.
- Riverbend Park The park surrounding the area has dozens of intertwined scenic hiking and equestrian trails. You can rent a bike at Canoe Outfitters, walk the trails or, you know, bring your horse. When I get lost on the trails I often spot wild turkeys, deer, raccoons and hawks.
- Jonathan Dickinson State Park Enter the park for a fee of $6 per vehicle, or $2 per pedestrian. Jonathan Dickinson is about 15 minutes away from Riverbend and is another beautiful Florida location where you can camp, rent cabins, swim, hike and fish. The park also gives access to the the site of Trapper Nelson, the man known as the “Wildman of the Loxahatchee” who lived off of the land in the 1930’s and built a wildlife zoo.