Traveling has always been one of my passions. The world is full of fascinating places and cultures and I hope to see as much of it as I can.
If you’re planning a visit to the Delray Beach area of southeast Florida and want something to do other than spend time on the beautiful beaches, I have just the thing for you. There are several wonderful wildlife nature centers and wetlands in this corner of Florida that provide a great opportunity to see some of the amazing wildlife that calls this area home. Each of these wonderful nature centers is located just minutes from the shore, so grab your binoculars and your camera and give the beach a break for a few hours.
Wakodahatchee Wetlands Center
First up is the Wakodahatchee Wetlands Center. Located right in Delray Beach, Wakodahatchee is located on the east side of Jog Road and is open seven days a week from 7am to 7pm. Located on land that is owned by the Palm Beach County Public Water Utility the wetlands act as a natural filtration system for the two million gallons of water that the utility pumps into Wakodahatchee each day.
With fifty acres of wetlands, Wakodahatchee attracts an amazing variety of birds and wildlife. At last count over 140 different species of birds had been identified here in addition to turtles, snakes, alligators, and numerous other mammal and aquatic species. The park has a wonderful three-quarter-mile boardwalk that takes visitors around and through three of the park's ponds. There are well placed interpretive signs, benches, and gazebos along the way to provide you with an opportunity to take a shady break should you desire.
Wakodahatchee is easy to visit, will cost you nothing but your time, and you will be amazed at the abundance of wildlife that calls this park home. I’ve visited Wakodahatchee twice now and each visit has resulted in an enjoyable couple of hours spent taking photos and watching the many species of birds and aquatic life.
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
Located right on route A1A in Boca Raton is the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Founded back in 1984, Gumbo Limbo has become an important protector of the local ecosystem and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the diverse wildlife of this area. The center features a quarter-mile boardwalk through the Hardwood Hammock forest that includes a 40-foot observation tower for a bird’s eye look of the local area. The visitor center has a number of displays on hand and the staff is always more than eager to share their expertise with you.
Perhaps the most important role that Gumbo Limbo serves is as a licensed Sea Turtle Rehabilitation center for injured and sick sea turtles. Their most recent success story was the release on June 12, 2014, of Phoenix, an injured Loggerhead Turtle that came to the center in January of 2014. In addition to treating injured sea turtles, the center monitors the numerous sea turtle nesting sites on this stretch of southern Florida beaches.
Back at the Nature Center, you can walk among the numerous sea tanks and pavilions to learn about the different marine habitats of southern Florida. There are always plenty of volunteers on hand to chat with and to answer any questions you may have. Be sure to stroll through the Sea Turtle Garden out front on your way to the Butterfly Garden. It’s a perfect way to end your visit to the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.
Gumbo Limbo is open Monday to Saturday from 9am until 4pm. On Sunday they are open from Noon until 4pm. There is no set admission fee although there is a suggested $5 per person donation. All funds go toward operating the nature center and caring for the injured and sick turtles.
Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands
Located in Boynton Beach just a short ride from Delray Beach is Palm Beach County’s newest wildlife center, the Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands. With over 100 acres of wetlands and a beautiful 1.5-mile elevated boardwalk this park draws bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts from all over southeast Florida. The nature center here is one of the most complete that I have seen and includes several fascinating exhibits in addition to a small theater that plays educational videos throughout the day.
Out on the boardwalk, you will encounter an amazing variety of wildlife. You may see hawks, bald eagles, owls, storks, ibises, egrets, heron, ducks, warblers, limpkin, tanagers, woodpeckers and more. Also, there are turtles, alligators, snakes, marsh rabbits, raccoons, river otters, and even possibly the elusive bobcat. It all makes for a wonderful opportunity to observe the wide variety of wildlife that calls southern Florida home.
Green Cay is located on Hagen Ranch Road between Boynton Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue. The Nature Center is open Wednesday to Saturday from 9am until 3pm. The boardwalk is open daily from 7am until sunset. There is ample parking on-site and the center is free of charge. Visitors can become a “member” of the Friends of Green Cay Nature Center and they also have a popular “adopt an animal” program.
Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge
The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest Wildlife refuge areas in southern Florida outside of the Everglades National Park. The park, in fact, encompasses part of the northern Everglades habitat. The visitor center to Loxahatchee is located just to the west of Boynton Beach and is easily accessible from route 95 and the Florida Turnpike.
The refuge area that most visitors frequent is a series of ten water storage compartments that have levees and dikes separating them. The levees provide nice dry paths for visitors to walk through the wetlands area to observe and photograph the wildlife here. There is a nice Visitor Center at the park entrance that has a .4-mile boardwalk through a Cypress Swamp and a butterfly garden. The Visitor Center offers a number of programs to the public throughout the year including guided nature hikes and nature and wildlife presentations.
The Loxahatchee Visitor Center is open daily from November to April and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays from May through October. They are open from 9am to 4pm on weekdays and from 9am to 4:30pm on weekends. The outdoor trails and grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset. There is a $10 per vehicle daily entrance fee with annual passes available for $25.
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is another wonderful destination that is located right in Delray Beach. The six distinctive Japanese Gardens take visitors along a scenic one-mile path around the lagoon. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to sit and enjoy the wildlife and the view at several well-placed benches and sitting areas. Toward the end of the trail comes Yamato Island that is home to the original Morikami Museum and some very large and colorful iguana. There is also a wonderful world-class Bonsai collection here.
After touring the gardens make sure you spend some time in the new Morikami Museum. This tribute to Japanese art, history, and culture contains a number of unusual times from everyday Japanese life. If you’re looking for something unique and different to break up the beach time head to Morikami for an education on the Japanese influence in south Florida.
Morikami is closed on Mondays and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am until 5pm. They are closed on most major holidays. There is a $15 admission fee for adults, $13 for seniors, $11 for college students and $9 for kids age 6-17. Children age 5 and under are free.
I hope you enjoyed this brief tour of beach alternative activities in and around Delray Beach, Florida. While the beaches here are undoubtedly a huge draw for visitors to this area you can learn so much about the abundant wildlife and natural ecosystems of southeast Florida by spending a few hours at any of these wonderful nature centers and wetland parks.
Nature Center Addresses and Fees
13026 Jog Rd, Delray Beach, FL
1801 N Ocean Blvd, Boca Raton, FL
Suggested $5 per person
Green Cay Nature Center
12800 Hagen Ranch Rd, Boynton Beach, FL
10216 Lee Rd, Boynton Beach, FL
4000 Morikami Park Rd, Delray Beach, FL
Questions & Answers
Question: Can you bring dogs to any of these sites?
Answer: The only site that allows dogs is the Loxahatchee Refuge. The other sites do not allow pets.
© 2014 Bill De Giulio