Looking for a place to extend the summer, spread out and explore without the crowds? From biking to hiking, sportfishing to coral reef diving to cowboy country horseback riding, outdoor lovers head to Martin County, Florida. Conveniently located on Florida’s Treasure Coast, accessible from I-95 and A1A and stretching from Jensen Beach to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Martin County may be best known for its uncrowded beaches, 100,000 acres of pristine preserves and parks as well as a multitude of outdoor opportunities. It’s just 45 minutes from Palm Beach International Airport, an hour from Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, 90 minutes from Miami International Airport and two hours from Orlando International Airport. Here are top picks for every type of outdoor and nature lover.
Including the communities of Port Salerno, Stuart, Palm City, Jensen Beach, Indiantown, Jupiter Island, Hobe Sound and Hutchinson Island, Martin County offers numerous Atlantic beaches spanning nearly 22 miles along the coast. Included are access to more private spots to enjoy the surf and sand and larger, lifeguard-protected areas like Stuart Beach, Hobe Sound Beach and Sea Turtle/Jensen Beach. Numerous beaches can be found along the Indian River Lagoon, including the beach at Indian RiverSide Park.
Just inland, between Hobe Sound and Tequesta, Jonathan Dickinson State Park is the largest state park in Southeast Florida and offers a diverse array of natural habitats, including sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves and river swamps. Florida’s first federally designated Wild and Scenic River, the Loxahatchee (Seminole for river of turtles), runs through the park. Freshwater fishing, boating, hiking, biking and camping—even equestrian camping—are some of the amenities.
At the northern end of Jupiter Island is St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park. The classic Florida barrier island is accessible only by watercraft, so bring or rent a kayak, canoe or paddleboard. A boardwalk spans mangrove forests and live oak hammocks, paradise trees and cabbage palms to a quiet beach where nesting turtles reside in the summer and the hatchlings make their way to the shore during the fall. Visitors come to surf fish, swim, sunbathe or picnic. Others favor it for snorkeling and scuba diving. A kayak trail winds through a mangrove estuary where wading birds can be seen.
Nearby, for over 50 years, Blowing Rocks Preserve, which has the largest Anastasia limestone shoreline along the Atlantic Coast, has provided a rare look into Florida’s natural history. Swim, snorkel and begin scuba adventures all from the shoreline. Hike the three trails here, each up to a third of a mile long, and see an intact Florida dune habitat with Beach Sunflower, Bay Cedar, Sea Grape and Sea Oats, along with possible glances of endangered species like the Leatherback Sea Turtle, that call this special place home. Stop by The Hawley Education Center which provides tourists and the local community an opportunity to learn about efforts to protect native habitats, plants and animals in Florida and around the world.
More kayaking can be found all over Martin County. The Martin County section of the Scenic Blueway Trail spans 37.7 miles over two river systems: the Indian River Lagoon (16.2 miles, between Jensen Beach and Hobe Sound) and the St. Lucie River (21.5 miles).
Fishing and Diving
Martin County offers an abundance of boating and fishing excursions and the opportunity to pursue 800 species of fish within a 10-mile radius of the St. Lucie Inlet, which connects the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, one could fish in a different spot for a different species every day without running out of new experiences for quite some time.
Stuart is known as the Sailfish Capital of the World and FishingBooker.com, the world’s largest platform for booking fishing trips, has named Stuart as one of the “Seven Best Winter Fishing Destinations” (November to February); but, the fish don’t confine themselves to one season or the waters off one town. Since the Gulf Stream can be reached within just 10 miles from shore, gamefish can be caught on an exciting four- or five-hour deep-sea fishing trip, including Sailfish, Blackfin Tuna, Wahoo, Kingfish and Barracuda. January is also a good time for targeting inshore species like Speckled Trout and Redfish.
The South Florida coastline from Martin County through Monroe County is home to the only live coral barrier reef in the continental United States. Martin County’s ever-growing Artificial Reef Program offers over 100 outstanding sites for fishing and dive exploration. The Florida Reef Tract is the other reason why Florida is known as the “Fishing Capital of the World.” After traveling the Gulf Stream, majestic migratory species patrol the reefs in search of their prey. Delicious, hard-fighting bottom dwellers, including a tremendous variety of snappers, groupers and grunts, lurk among the colorful coral. Fishing guides and charters are available to assist.
In shallow water just 100 yards offshore from Stuart find the wreck of Georges Saint Valentine, an underwater site on the National Register of historic places and Martin County’s only underwater archaeological preserve. Divers can see sections of the hull, masts and debris field along with a variety of sea creatures that change with the seasons. On a single dive, large schools of curious Goliath Groupers can be seen, along with five species of sea turtles, up to 45 species of coral and hundreds of other species of fish.
Back on land, Martin County is Southeast Florida’s authentic cowboy country, and for visitors and locals alike, a horse rider’s paradise, full of winding, state-protected nature trails that are often shaded by tree canopy. Palm City offers several riding experiences for beginners and expert equestrians.
More to explore on shore: unique shops, dining, golf courses, arts and culture make Martin County a solid choice for families and small groups with diverse interests. At the end the day, find a great place to stay, from RV parks and platform tent camping to hotels and unique Old Florida finds.
Be a thoughtful tourist: read on for more information about protecting the Martin County ecosystem.
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