Get Out and Explore: Best Parks in and around Palm Beach County

By Kristopher Neild, Travel Expert

Florida is known for its sunshine and long sandy beaches, but sometimes you could use a little shade. The perfect shade/sun equilibrium is best enjoyed at one of the many parks in the Palm Beach/West Palm Beach area. The following list is a mixture of the parks with walking trails and playscapes as well as the top environmental parks with nature centers in the area. Most of the parks on this list have a community calendar and regularly schedule family events that are both fun and educational.

The facilities at Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton allow guests to learn and explore. The giant playscape is great for creative games that release energy and are a great follow up to viewing the exhibits in the Children’s Science Explorium. The beautiful carousel is great for photo opportunities.

Another beautiful park is the John D. MacArthur Beach State Park situated along the Atlantic Ocean. This park and nature center has taken special preservation measures to keep the natural fauna and wildlife robust. With fishing opportunities and winding trails, this park is a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With this many well-kept parks in the county, the hardest decision will be deciding which one to go to first. 

10. Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society

From its early beginnings, when a few farm animals were the only attraction, this zoo has grown to include hundreds of specimens and 23 acres of habitat. Among the residents you'll see are black bears, jaguars, macaws, emus, wild turkeys, tigers, monkeys, panthers, kangaroos, sloths, pythons, alligators and tortoises. The Florida exhibit showcases the state's native creatures and plants, and a special habitat for North American river otters allows visitors to peek in on their antics and activities. If you get a chance, be sure to check out the monkeys. They have a maze of ropes looped across multiple trees that they seem to quite enjoy.

9. Royal Palm Beach Commons Park
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

When it comes to parks, Royal Palm Beach Commons Park is one of the top in the Palm Beach/West Palm Beach area. Its high ranking comes from the sheer number of organized community events throughout the year as well as the numerous activities to enjoy. The park is home to four annual festivals, including a large July 4th celebration. In addition to the festivals, there is a food truck invasion with a family movie night the last Friday of each month and a green market on Sundays. With over three miles of paved walking trails, two sand volleyball courts, and a golf training center, there is always a reason to enjoy the outdoors here. The 19-acre lake with kayak launches and six fishing piers is not to be missed when the Florida sun is shining.

8. Spanish River Park
Photo courtesy of 10Best

One of the area's largest parks, Spanish River guarantees plenty of room to spread out and enough diversions to please any visitor, old or young. Swimming in the ocean and sunbathing on the beach satisfy plenty of folks, and picnic tables and grills make outdoor dining a no-brainer. If you're the more active type, biking paths and nature trails offer the opportunity for exertion, and pick-up volleyball games are frequent occurrences. Other Spanish River perks include an observation tower and restrooms. Boca Raton usually forces you to always look your best. Escaping to Spanish River allows you to let loose and be yourself.

7. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
Photo courtesy of Friends of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

A mission to spread awareness of the natural world and of Florida's environmental concerns defines this center. Named for a local tree, the facility occupies 20 acres along the coast and preserves the landscape for visitors and native wildlife. An elevated boardwalk and a viewing tower provide vistas of the terrain, and the museum boasts educational displays and live creatures. Sea turtle rehabilitation, as well as conservation, is a key part of the nature center thanks to an expansion in 2010. There is also a butterfly garden on site, best enjoyed when it's in full bloom during May and June.

6. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Photo courtesy of vladeb

Although many people are familiar with the southern Everglades (the wildlife and nature preserve southwest of Miami), not many realize that there's also a northern aspect to the preserve. This refuge represents the much-diminished northern Everglades, complete with wet prairies, sawgrass marshes, and swamps. Part of the refuge's function is to shelter wildlife, particularly birds, but it also works to maintain water levels for irrigation and emergency needs. In addition, it helps to prevent seawater from encroaching into freshwater reserves. A visitors' center, walking trails, observation platform, and canoe trails are available for education and recreation.

5. Grassy Waters Preserve
Photo courtesy of Grassy Waters Preserve

The Grassy Waters Preserve is a 23 square mile wetlands ecosystem that is home to a variety of native wildlife and is loved by nature enthusiasts all over the area. This protected area is popular because it is home to several trails that are open to the public seven days a week free of charge and because of the guided canoe and hiking programs. Keep an eye out for white tailed deer, otter, bobcat, several bird migrating birds, and alligator. In order to protect the natural wildlife as well as your pets, please leave your furry creatures at home. If you're interested in fishing then you'll enjoy the catch and release fishing allowed on the north side of the reserve at Gator Lake. The water reserve is also where the freshwater supply for the City of West Palm Beach comes from so it's very important to pack out any trash that you may bring in with you.

4. Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Photo courtesy of bob in swamp

If outdoor activities get your blood pumping, this expansive park provides more than enough diversions to occupy your time. Over 11,000 acres of land guarantee plenty of space for the multitude of visitors who come to hike, camp, bike, and picnic in the rugged surroundings. Since the Loxahatchee River flows through the park, there's also ample opportunity for water sports, namely canoeing along the river banks and fishing in both fresh and salt water venues. Nature trails, boat rentals, and tours of the Loxahatchee are also available. Sometimes you don't want to spend your entire vacation being pampered and waited on. Florida's parks make a great respite for nature lovers on break.

3. Okeeheelee Park
Photo courtesy of Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority

Located on 1700 acres to the west of West Palm Beach, Okeeheelee Park has something for the whole family to enjoy. Open from sunrise to sundown, with lighted tennis courts open until 9 PM, there is plenty of time to fit some outdoor activity into your schedule. Bring the bike and ride on more than 8 miles of bike trails or check out the full BMX track if you're feeling adventurous. If golf is more your thing, enjoy the driving range or one of the 3 9-hole public courses or skip the admission and play the 18-hole disc golf course (map online). This park if for animal lovers as well with a 111 acre Equestrian Center, a dog park, and an indoor nature center with an exhibit hall with live animals. Don't have the funds for a gym membership? Come enjoy the 1 mile loop that has 20 exercise stations along the way. The scenic views of ponds and greenery will only add to your motivation and enjoyment and are a free perk of exercising. Planning an outing for the whole family or celebrating a birthday? Consider calling ahead to rent out a picnic area by one of the many playgrounds in the park. If you are looking for some water fun, come rent a kayak or paddle-boat and explore at your own pace, or sign up for a water ski permit and enjoy one of five courses.

2. Sugar Sand Park
Photo courtesy of Boca Raton Sugar Sands Park

Sugar Sand Park, operated by the City of Boca Raton, features a Community Center, an indoor gym at the Field House, and large play area surrounded by nature trails. The Community Center isn't your typical park recreation facility thanks to its Children's Science Explorium and the Willow Theatre. With so many activities going on each day, it's no wonder that an extensive newsletter is published every month full of events in the Willow Theatre, Science Explorium and Community Center. The Sugar Sand Park is also home to lots of summer camp day options and fun educational programs geared towards kids of any age.

1. John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

Given Florida's rapid growth and tendency towards commercialization, it's unusual to catch glimpses of its undeveloped splendor. Thankfully, this park preserves a slice of the original, pristine beauty that first drew people to its shores. MacArthur Park features both upland and underwater acreage whose characteristics are detailed in the nature center's exhibits and videos. Trails through the landscape provide vistas of local flora and fauna, and beach frontage offers opportunities for swimming (no lifeguards on duty). Fishing is also available, and the area is ideal for quiet strolls along the water. The park is great for kids, so bring the whole family along.