Exploring West Palm Beach By Water

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If you happen to find yourself on the coast while in Florida, arguably one of the best ways to get around and see the area is by water. Whether by boat, jetski, kayak, or paddleboard, the many inlets and the intercoastal waterways make exploring the coastal areas ideal! One of my favorite things to do is hit the water and explore via kayak – it’s fun, easy, offers amazing views and experiences, and is a great workout, too!

On my most recent excursion to West Palm Beach, I visited John D. MacArthur State Park, located right on Singer Island off route 1. I love this park because the employees are always amazing and friendly, there is a wonderful beach, elevated bridge walks, lots of waterfowl and marine life to see, an education center, and kayaks to rent! The park offers single and double kayaks by the hour, half day, or full day. The key is get there as early as possible – I’ve gone in the afternoon and have found myself waiting upwards of two hours for a kayak. If you really want to do some exploring, give yourself as much time as possible. There’s lots to see!

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Kayaking out of the park from the rental launch point (if you bring your own kayak you can launch from different places throughout the area) requires following a foot-and-tram bridge and then eventually paddling beneath route A1A on Singer Island. From there, you can enter the intercoastal, though it’s always a good idea to be cautious of larger crafts and to stay clear of any high-trafficked lanes. I prefer to stick to the mangroves, as these areas are always full of gorgeous waterfowl and lots of marine life tend to stay near the calm and shallow waters.

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While paddling, I was able to catch a glimpse of fish jumping out of the water on multiple occasions – whole schools of them! It really was incredible! I was hoping to spy some spotted eagle rays as they’re normally in the area, but none surfaced as far as I could see. There were a surprising number of jelly fish in the water, though, and much larger than I normally see there. I’m always fascinated by the different things I get to see each time I paddle out!

The waters were rough on this trip, so it really took a lot to stay ahead of the tide, current, and winds. After awhile, you almost forget you’re kayaking and it feels more like just gliding across the water. It’s a fantastic feeling!

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I dragged my kayak up onto one of my favorite beach spots to go and do some exploring on foot. I’ve never in my life before seen a live horseshoe crab, but the little islands around MacArthur State Park always tend to be full of dead ones – at least, I always manage to see at least one dead one on every excursion I take there. And this time was no different. That’s why I keep my flip flops on when I walk in the shallow water around there, since I never know what might be right beneath the sand!

For the first time ever, I found sea urchins washed up on the beach. I made sure they were dead before picking them up and was amazed at how cool they looked! I decided to carefully put them into my bag and bring them back with me to be washed out (it’s absolutely incredible how they turn out once you wash them off!). I also found quite a number of hermit crabs, which I of course let be, and lots of nice, big, shells which I did take back with me. I really love searching the beaches along the little intercoastal islands for goodies like these since they tend to be much different than the things you find along a regular ocean-facing beach.

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Sometimes I bring my hammock to pitch up in the trees on the island but I didn’t on this trip. I simply enjoyed walking the beach and gliding through the waters. The water was just as rough when I finally decided to head back, but the paddling was so worth it! It was a great way to see some wildlife, explore some beaches and islands, and get a little workout done, too!

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The Pocono Mountains: Hawk Falls Trail

Welcome to the next post in my summertime Pocono Mountains series!  Today I’m exploring trails and waterfalls in Hickory Run State Park on the Hawk Falls Trail.

Getting to Hawk Falls Trail requires using some lesser-traveled roads, but it’s relatively simple to get to.  Using Interstate 80 as a starting point, use the Blakeslee exit to get onto route 115 south toward Pocono Raceway.  (If you’re familiar with entering the Split Rock area from route 940, you can also use the Lake Harmony exit.)  A little ways down on the right will be a turn for route 903 toward Jim Thorpe.  Follow 903 beyond Big Boulder Lake and the ski resorts (Split Rock, Big Boulder) until route 534 appears on the right (toward Albrightsville).  A couple miles later a large overpass will appear (this is the turnpike) with a couple stone parking areas on either side of the road – this is what you want!  You’ll see the Hawk Falls Trail sign and entrance on the left side of the road.

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At almost 16,000 acres and with over 40 miles of trails, Hickory Run State Park covers quite a bit of ground in the Poconos.  The Hawk Falls Trail is just a small portion of the park and is great for cooling off in the summer months because of the waterfalls, waterfall pools, and streams that are accessible right from the trail.

When entering the trail from route 534, you begin to walk a downward slope toward the water through tall rhododendron.  When they’re flowering, it smells incredible and is beautiful!  I walked the trail just after it had rained, so that wet, earthy smell filled my nose (that smell actually has a word – petrichor!).  The heavy rainfall also caused a lot of mud and sediment to get swept up in the stream and falls, turning it a brownish color from its usual crystal clear appearance.

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As you reach the stream, there are some great sights of the water coming down from the mountain and heading down Mud Run, which eventually turns into the Lehigh River.  There is a wooden bridge to cross the water, although sometimes large trees fall across, too, and are much more fun to use!  After crossing the bridge, the trail continues a little ways and a path on the right will appear.  This leads right to the top of the waterfall!  It offers great views and, if you’re visiting on a hot day, a chance to splash in the running water before it reaches the falls!

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There are many large rock outcroppings and boulders to climb over in order to reach the top of the falls, so it’s extremely important when traversing them to be careful (especially if they’re wet!).  In drier times, it’s easy to walk through the water across the top of the falls and reach the opposite side.  On this particular day, the heavy rains made that a little difficult, although the higher water made for some great sights from the falls!

At the bottom of the waterfall are some flat rocks that people often use as places to access the water for swimming.  In the picture above, you can see that there are several “layers” of pools.  When the water isn’t rushing, they’re safe to swim in and use to cool off with!  On nice, hot days, you can easily find groups of families and friends right around here.  Although the Poconos is home to a number of “jumpable” waterfalls, this is NOT one of them!  No diving from the tops of the falls here!

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After spending some time exploring around the top of the waterfall, I got back onto the main trail and continued downward.  This led to the river at the very bottom.  You can see the water that was muddied by the rain and sediment runoff is already getting clearer by the time it gets down here!  This area can be swam in when the current is slower (it’s amazing how much a sudden rainfall can affect things!).

There are a number of side trails that head up the hills and embankments but I kept to the main trail and enjoyed the views of the water.  It’s a great place to bring a family for a small afternoon hike and adventure, or even to “camp out” for the day and enjoy the water.  Since it’s a little hidden and located on a back road, it’s not as crowded a location as some of the other spots in Hickory Run State Park.

The Poconos is home to so many smaller hiking trails and spots like this one.  It’s what makes the Poconos such a great area to explore!

For more posts and information about places around the Poconos, click the image below!

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Tropical Paradise at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

The past month has been an exciting whirlwind of adventures and long car rides!  I drove all the way south to Key West and then road-tripped it up to New York City, with some amazing pit stops along the way to visit friends, family, and to do some sight-seeing!  Now it’s time to catch up with documenting and sharing it 🙂

About a year and a half ago, I made my first visit to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and loved it, so I was very excited to be visiting again!  The park is located on the very west side of Key West, next to the naval annex and coast guard station.  When people visit Key West, they often miss this hidden gem because it’s, well, hidden.  There are very few signs for the park at all and finding it can be difficult given that you have to enter onto gated property and maneuver by some coast guard ships before even locating the entrance to the park.  But it is well worth it!!  Unless you’re staying at a resort on Key West (which is quite expensive and, in my opinion, not entirely worth it because it removes you from the “real” Key West), you might find it difficult to locate a nice beach – the kind of beach one would normally picture when they actually think of a place like Key West.  This is where Fort Zachary Taylor State Park comes in – it’s not too crowded because it’s not well known and it offers the picture-perfect paradise beach everyone always thinks of.

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Fort Zachary Taylor State Park can actually be labeled as two things: a beach and a fort.  Yes, an actual fort.  In the early-to-mid 1800’s, forts were built along the southeast United States as defensive posts.  Ultimately, the fort ended up in the hands of the Union during the Civil War and then was used to defend the U.S. during the Spanish-American War.  It was neglected for quite some time afterward until it was “rediscovered” in the mid 1900’s.  The fort has been maintained now for historical purposes and visitors can tour the grounds and inside of the buildings.

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From the top of the fort, one can view out toward the ocean.  Inside, there are canons on display and information pertaining to the history of the fort as it was used during war times.  The fort also has a moat around it that was at one point filled in and then dug back out again.

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Past the fort is the entrance to the park’s beach access.  The beach stretches for quite a ways around the corner of the island and really has that perfect tropical paradise feel.  There are picnic tables tucked away from the beach toward the shade, a little cafe, restrooms and showers, beach lounge chairs, and an amazing view.  I was fortunate enough to grab a picnic table set up right against the trees a little ways off the shoreline in the shade.  I set up camp there under a palm tree and enjoyed the water, the view, and the gorgeous sun.  I brought a book with me but didn’t even open it because I was so engrossed with just enjoying the view.  It was absolutely beautiful.

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If you ever visit Key West, make sure you include a beach day at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park!  There’s lots to explore and a stunning beach to enjoy 🙂

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Wekiwa Springs State Park

It’s winter in Florida which means perfect 60-70 degree temperatures, little rain, and prime opportunity for outdoor excursions.  I most recently headed north of Orlando to Wekiwa Spings State Park (pronounced Wah-key-va) in Apopka where I had the chance to explore the crystal clear spring and kayak the Wekiwa River.

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The trip itself was rather random and spur-of-the-moment, so I was unfortunately a bit unprepared for the opportunity to go swimming and diving in the springs.  I have to confess that I’ve never been to a spring like this before (Pennsylvania has sand springs but I’ve never been to a swim-able spring!), so I was impressed! The water stays around a constant 72 degrees F all year, making the spring quite a popular destination in the hot Florida summers.  When I visited, there were just a few people there. The water was amazingly clear, though! There is a ledge that goes around the spring where people can sit and dip their feet in the water, which is what I ended up doing.  It was nice!

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The park has 13 miles of trails and offers kayaking, canoeing, and paddle-boarding. After seeing some boaters in the water, I decided to take out a kayak and head down the river to do some exploring.  The park is home to the headwaters of the Wekiwa River and it offers some fantastic views and scenery!

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Paddling down the river, I was able to see a number of waterfowl and turtles (which are my favorite).  Apparently the river is also home to numerous gators, but I didn’t see any during this visit (which, since I was in a kayak, was totally fine with me.  Although… it would have been pretty cool to be so close to one!).

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After awhile, the park boundary ends and you enter the “open river” essentially, where other boaters and paddlers make use of the river, too. The river has a number of smaller branches that you can paddle down (if they’re not blocked by trees and greenery – I had to turn around a few times and head back to the main waterway!) and explore.  I absolutely love the scenery Florida offers in places like this.  Spanish moss, vines, lily pads, huge birds and turtles… I am always so in awe at the beauty of it! After paddling for quite some time, I had to turn around and head back to return the kayak (one of these days I’ll just get my own!).  After beaching the kayak, I spent some more time hanging around the spring before leaving.  I would absolutely love to go back and explore the hiking trails and go swimming!  I would definitely recommend it as a place for tourists visiting Orlando to go in order to have a day away from the bustling theme parks. Apopka is a cute little area and visiting Wekiwa Springs is a great way to get a break from the overwhelmingness of such a busy city like Orlando without having to travel too far!

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Steep Climb at Glen Onoko Falls

While back in Pennsylvania this summer, I went on my first trip up to Glen Onoko Falls.  Honestly, I don’t know how I’ve never been there before, considering I lived most my life practically just down the road.  Glen Onoko Falls is part of the Lehigh Gorge State Park and can be found right near the picturesque town Jim Thorpe.   The Falls trail offers some incredible views, but it is a rigorous, steep hike and heeding caution is very necessary!

IMG_1476A large and rather ominous sign greets you as you approach the trailhead near the gorge.  A hiker died just this past April while climbing, so it really does well to take all precautions when heading up to the falls.  It’s a steep climb and the rocks that comprise most of the trail are often wet from the falls, so it’s imperative to be careful. That said, I do feel that anyone could do the hike so long as they take their time and are smart about foot placement and weight distribution while climbing up and down.  Just be prepared to sweat! It’s quite rigorous!

The bottom of the trail begins where the Lehigh River cuts through an impressive gorge.  You can see where the old railroad used to go through the rock.  A lot of people set up camp near the water and it’s a great place to cool off during the summers.  The new railroad tracks are right nearby and you can walk beneath the overhead passes.

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The trail itself, once you make it past the river and beneath the railroad tracks, heads up the side of the mountain and gets pretty steep pretty quick.  Another sign greets hikers before the trail veers off toward the Falls.

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The ascent up toward the main falls is gorgeous and breathtaking – figuratively and literally.  Be prepared for a workout and bring lots of water! There’s a lot of bouldering and steep steps to take as you go up, which makes the descent down even more tricky, too.  There are a lot of places to stop along the way up, though, and admire the view.  The trail is basically just the rocks and area immediately to the side of the cutout where the water from the falls comes down.

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There are many sets of “smaller falls” through the glen on the way up toward the main Onoko Falls. On the day I hiked up, we didn’t go all the way up to the top, but the views we did get were fantastic!  Like many waterfalls in the Pocono Mountains, you can shimmy your way out “into” the water on the flat rock.  If you’re prepared, you could even spend some time under the water and in the shallow pools – just be careful not to slip on the rocks, or else you might find yourself sailing 900 feet to the bottom of the gorge!

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Old local lore says that the Native American princess Onoko leapt to her death from the 900-ft falls when she was denied marriage to the one she loved.  It’s a reminder of the wondrous history of the area, the nostalgic beauty and mystery of it, and also of the power nature has here, too.

If you’re up for a challenging but absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking hike, I highly recommend Glen Onoko Falls.  It’s a beautiful place with sweeping views of the gorge and it really puts you into the heart of that unique, outdoorsy Pocono charm.

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