Loving JDSP and Jupiter, FL
We just returned from a terrific visit to Jonathan Dickinson State Park (JDSP), just north of Tequesta and Jupiter, FL. The area is gorgeous and is filled with recreational opportunities ranging from kayaking and boating to biking and hiking. We took advantage of as many of them as possible in our short visit and look forward to returning with our boat to explore the beautiful turquoise, Jupiter waterways.
Initially we were surprised by the dry, arid feeling of the park and the campsites, but it didn't take long for us to discover their charm. I think we expected lush vegetation, but instead it's primarily scrub palmetto and pines. Once we realized the uniqueness of the area we grew to love it, and the open views of sunrises and sunsets were spectacular.
The park is over 11,000 acres of old Florida scenery. The land was transferred to the State of Florida after World War II and Jonathan Dickinson State Park was opened to the public in 1950. Prior to that it was Camp Murphy, an Army Signal Corps, radar training center. In it's heyday is had over 1000 buildings and housed over 6000 officers and soldiers. I think I read somewhere that at the time Jupiter had a population of about 300. Oh my, has that changed! Thank goodness this unique land expanse has been preserved and remains undeveloped.
The park has two campgrounds. We stayed in the Pine Grove area which is near the entrance and the bike trails, as well as "Mount Hobe" - a lookout that provides expansive views of the park and nearby waterways. The River Area campground is on the banks of the Loxahatchee River and is about four miles from the park entrance. Each area has it pros and cons. The Pine Grove campsites are larger, have full hookup, and are gravel or paved. The biking trails are nearby and if you expect to go in and out of the park often, as we did, it's much more convenient. The River Area campground has water and electric hookups only (no sewer), the campsites are slightly more primitive and are evidently subject to getting very damp in rainy weather, but they do have some shade trees and are right at the boat ramp and the park store, which has canoe and kayak rentals. So, it's all about preference. Well, mostly it's about availability! We lucked into an opening (there must have been a cancellation) at Pine Grove and grabbed it!
While there, we enjoyed meeting up with some long time, Jacksonville friends and spent one afternoon kayaking/canoeing the Loxahatchee River. It was about a six mile round trip. We rented a canoe at the park store and put in at their dock. The rate was very reasonable, and there was friendly help launching. We paddled through beautiful scenery to a early 1900's tourist site, then called Trapper Nelson's Zoo and Jungle Gardens. It was evidently quite the place for the rich and famous to visit from Palm Beach. Nelson had exotic animals and would wrestle alligators. To see it now, it's hard to imagine the appeal, but I think Disney has spoiled us for the early, Florida tourist destinations. It was the perfect distance and stopping point to have our picnic lunch before taking advantage of the gentle current and a relaxing paddle home.
Larry checked out some of the bike trails and loved them. They have approximately nine miles of mountain biking trails ranging from novice to expert. This was a very popular part of the park, and we saw all ages taking advantage of the trails. In addition there are roughly four miles of hiking trails. So there's an activity for just about everyone.
Inside JDSP you don't know that you are just at the north end of busy South Florida. By that I mean traffic congested, jam-packed, crowded, South Florida. I must say, however, Tequesta and Jupiter were nice surprises. In a small area there were numerous easy access parks, multiple boat ramps with huge parking lots, long stretches of parking along the intracoastal, and beach access. We were pleased with how many places we could take "Jessie" and easily park. The intracoastal waterway is stunning, with it's turquoise water, and multi-million dollar homes and landscaping. We are anxious to return with the boat to explore. This area is a boating mecca. We sat at the Jupiter Lighthouse and watch a seemingly constant boat parade.
I love lighthouses, so the Jupiter Lighthouse was a must do for me. The views from atop the lighthouse were fabulous. My only complaint is that unlike the St. Augustine Lighthouse, which allows you to stay at the top as long as you like, the Jupiter one sends small groups up and only allows the group to stay up top for what seemed like five or ten minutes. I would have liked to stay there and take it all in much longer.
The nice thing, however, is that you can spend as much time on the grounds around the lighthouse museum as you like without any cost. We visited three days in a row just to watch the "boat parade" and the fisherman along the bank.
Of course, restaurants abound in the area but there is one that we find extra special. It's Guanabana - an open air restaurant on the water with an Island vibe and gorgeous landscaping. Oh, and the food is good too! They have lots of dockage so it's accessible by land or sea. A couple of days our routine was lunch at Guanabana's and then hanging out at the lighthouse watching boats. Not bad. We also met my brother, Bob, and his wife, Bonnie, there to celebrate his birthday. It was a fun visit with them.
The area has so much to offer. We hope to grab a couple of weeks of availability at JDSP next spring, with boat in tow, on our way to the Keys. In the meantime, there's so much ahead. This was a great shake-down trip in preparation for our first long (three plus months), road trip this summer. The end of April we head back to Fort Wilderness to enjoy Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival, and then in June it's off to Maine and destinations westward. The excitement is building!
Oh, speaking of excitement, I almost forgot the crazy evening at the campground when one of the motorhomes caught fire. We were grilling hamburgers with our friends, Mike and Pam, and their family when we all commented on a noxious smell blowing through the campsite. At first we thought someone, in the process of grilling, had something plastic burning, but the odor continued to get worse. Larry left to find the source, and when he didn't return after awhile we all got curious. About that time we heard sirens getting closer and saw multiple emergency vehicles arriving. As we ventured over towards the commotion, we could see billowing black smoke and then realized one of the motorhomes was on fire. Thankfully the owners were not in the rig. The firefighters, however, had to break into it in order to extinguish the fire. It was a sad event, but at least no one was hurt.
So, needless to say, we crammed a lot of activity into one week. I can't imagine what stories we'll have to tell when we're on the road over three months, traveling from Maine to Montana! Come along with us!!!