Refuge trails open sunrise to sunset.

Embark on a journey through the rare and unique Florida sand pine scrub and hardwood hammock habitats.

Self-Guided Nature Trail

The Self-Guided Nature Trail begins in front of the Hobe Sound Nature Center. The unpaved trail is a 0.5-mile loop with both sand and dirt surfaces and a slight elevation gain. If you grab a brochure from the box, please make sure to leave it at the end of the trail.

Stop #1 Time for an Adventure

You are about to embark on a 0.5-mile loop through the rare and unique Florida sand pine scrub, hardwood hammock, and the shores of the Indian River Lagoon. These ecological communities date back tens of thousands of years when rising and falling sea levels created dunes full of sand from the Carolinas and Georgia. Over half of the plant and animal species found at Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge can only be found in these habitat types! Keep an eye out; you may see gopher tortoises, fiddler crabs, snakes, scrub lizards, spotted skunks, and much more!

Stop #2 Lichens

Look around, do you see the grey-green clusters on the ground? These are called lichens. Lichens are not considered plants; they are actually comprised of two organisms, fungus and algae. These two organisms function as a single unit. They obtain water from the air, unlike trees or shrubs that have roots. These lichens are often referred to as ‘reindeer lichen’ or ‘deer moss’ named for being a favorite snack among deer. Many different species of lichen can be found on the refuge, including one that is federally endangered. Lichens are slow growing and can easily be damaged if trampled on, so be careful where you step and stay on the trail. 

Stop #3 Refuge Peak

You are now standing on one of the highest points of the refuge. In the distance you can see the Indian River Lagoon and Jupiter Island. From this point you can also see how low the plants in the interior of the refuge are compared to those on the border by the highway. Species that call the scrub habitat home, like gopher tortoises and scrub jays, require low vegetation and open sandy spaces to find shelter and food. Historically this was achieved through wildfires, but due to urbanization, prescribed fires are less feasible and mechanical equipment is required to reduce overgrowth. This improves habitat for wildlife while also benefiting the communities surrounding the refuge by reducing the risk of wildfires.

Stop #4 Citizen Scientists

Did you know you can help the refuge monitor scrub habitat? By following the instructions on the chronolog station to take and submit a photo, citizen scientists like you are creating a record of how the habitat changes over time. These photographs can be used by the refuge to track the effects of scrub management over time and decide what steps to take next. They are also visible to the public in a time-lapse video on the Chronolog website.

Stop #5 Positive Natural Disasters

Did you know that the destruction hurricanes cause can actually benefit habitat? For example, hurricanes can kill mature sand pine trees, but leave them standing. These dead standing trees are called “snags” and they provide perching and nesting sites for birds including the bald eagle, osprey, great horned owl, flickers, and red-bellied woodpeckers. When snags fall to the ground, they provide food and cover for insects, snakes, lizards, and mice. Over time, decaying snags return nutrients back into the soil and store water for surrounding plants.

Stop #6 Scrub Plants

As you walk along the trail, you will pass many different plants that make up the scrub habitat. You may notice the love vine—the reddish orange, sometimes green, thread-like plant draped over other vegetation. It is a semi-parasitic native plant that has no apparent leaves or roots. Saw palmetto is also very common here. It is a shrub-like palm whose trunk usually runs along the ground. The age of these plants is determined by measuring the length of its trunk—saw palmettos grow approximately 1 cm a year. Imagine how old these plants are! Other characteristic plants of the scrub include myrtle oak, scrub oak, sand pine, rosemary, and scrub mint.

Stop #7 Hardwood Habitat

As you continue on the trail, you will notice a change in elevation as you transition into the hardwood hammock habitat. Unlike the scrub, which is mostly shorter bushes, the hammock contains taller tree species, such as live oak, gumbo limbo, cabbage palm, and cocoplum. Hammocks provide shade and cooler temperatures, making them an excellent habitat for neotropical migratory birds, land crabs, tree frogs, and other animals that need high humidity and dense cover. In addition to the taller trees, hammocks also support a variety of understory plants. Although they only occupy a small percent of the Refuge’s land, they contain about 20% of the refuge’s plant diversity.

Stop #8 Shell Mound

The Tequesta, Ais, Jaega, and Jobe native tribes were hunter-gatherers of this area. The name Hobe Sound originated from the Spanish pronunciation of Jobe as “Ho-bay.” Shell mounds, also called middens, are elevated areas that consist of shells and bones from animals eaten and discarded by the native tribes. Anthropologists, scientists who study humans, can learn a lot about the native tribes that inhabited the area from these middens, including what they ate and tools they used. The discarded shells and bones create a calcium rich soil that helps support the hardwood forest of the hammock. 

Stop #9 Indian River Lagoon

The Indian River Lagoon is the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States. In an estuary, salt water from the ocean mixes with fresh water from the inland. Three species of mangrove tree grow along the Indian Lagoon: red, black, and white mangroves. The mangrove forest is vital to the health of the Indian River Lagoon and its associated species. Mangrove roots help to decrease shoreline erosion and increase water clarity by dampening the impact of boat wakes. The roots and associated sea grasses also provide vital nursery areas for many species of fish and shellfish which provide a food source for other marine species. Mangrove tree limbs are optimal roosting and nesting platforms for birds.

Stop #10 Exotic Species

The area in front of you used to be overgrown with exotic plants. Exotic plants are plants that are not native to the ecosystem, and they can displace native plants and animals by using up the available resources (food, water, and space). The refuge staff annually treats upwards of 150 acres for exotic plants such as Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, beach naupaka, carrotwood, earleaf acacia, rosary pea, and many others. Removing these species from the refuge creates better habitat and more opportunities for native plants and animals to thrive.

Boardwalk Beach North

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Boardwalk Beach South

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Jupiter Island Trail

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Lagoon Beach Stairway

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Visitor Center Beach Access Trail

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