Learn about the "Wildman of the Loxahatchee" at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Posted 1/25/23

Are you a fan of quirky Florida history? Jonathan Dickinson State Park has you covered!

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Learn about the "Wildman of the Loxahatchee" at Jonathan Dickinson State Park


HOBE SOUND — Are you a fan of quirky Florida history? Visit Jonathan Dickinson State Park, 16450 S.E. Federal Highway in Hobe Sound for a tour of Trapper Nelson’s compound.

Trapper Nelson came to the area in the 1930s and lived off the land by trapping and selling furs. He was a loner for the most part, who found security in this area and a way of life that was suited to his skills and temperament.

He quickly became famous as the “Wildman of the Loxahatchee”. Yet, with his limited education, he managed to make a living, built a much-visited wildlife zoo and acquired large land interests. After his death in 1968, the state acquired his land, preserving his home and grounds for future generations to enjoy.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers the unique historical site of Trapper Nelson’s. Over the years, he built log cabins, a Seminole Indian “Chickee” shelter, a wildlife zoo and planted lush tropical gardens for visitors to enjoy.

The Loxahatchee Queen II docks at the Trapper Nelson site where passengers are met by a Park Ranger who guides them through the cabins and grounds once belonging to the “Wildman of the Loxahatchee.” Or you can canoe to the site and picnic under the “Chickee” shelter and then leisurely stroll the area on a self-guided tour. This site is accessible only by the water.

The recreation-rich park of Jonathan Dickinson rests several miles inland off the southeastern shores of Florida. Close to 11,500 acres of land and river a mosaic of thirteen ecological communities including sand scrub and pine Flatwoods to bald cypress swamps and red mangrove estuaries exist in the park. About 20 percent of the park is covered in coastal sand pine scrub, a biological community so rare it is designated “globally imperiled.”

The large picnic area is on the banks of the Loxahatchee River. Four pavilions are available for group or family picnics. Single picnic tables with barbecue grills are scattered under large shade trees. Don’t be surprised if you see a Deer pass by as you enjoy your meal. Two of the nature trails start right in the picnic area.

The Loxahatchee River was named a National Wild and Scenic River in 1985. Named by the Seminole Indians, “Loxahatchee” means River of Turtles. It winds its way through the park, passing under a canopy of centuries-old cypress trees. The river has a timeless beauty all its own, possessing remarkable ecological and recreational values which are unique in the United States. Living at the water’s edge, you’ll find a variety of wading birds including Herons, Egrets, Ibis, and Anhingas. Be sure to keep an eye out overhead for soaring Osprey and the American Bald Eagle. Many nest within the park. As you approach the water, look for signs of River Otter. They are rarely seen but do enjoy the fresh tea-colored water of the Loxahatchee River. Glimpses of Florida Sandhill Crane, Scrub Jay, and Gopher Tortoise are frequently recorded. The best time to see wildlife at Jonathan Dickinson State Park is in the early morning. This high-usage park oftentimes sends wildlife scurrying for cover. Another way to explore the wildlife is by canoe.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park has the last Atlantic coast state campground before the Florida Keys. This park has nearly something for every outdoor taste. There is hiking, paddling, biking, horseback riding, picnicking, boat tours, environmental education programs, campgrounds with 135 campsites and more.

The park is open seven days a week to day visitors from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as to overnight campers. The park is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

For more information, call 772-546-2771.