One of the Gold Coast’s most exotic natural areas isn’t natural at all. Just behind the Palm Beach County Water Utilities building in Delray Beach, you’ll find the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a man-made sanctuary (actually a reservoir of treated wastewater) that’s been retaken by alligators, turtles, frogs, and more than 140 species of birdsógreat blue herons, egrets, anhingas, sandpipers, ospreys, wood storks, you name it. Bring binoculars for critter-spotting and stroll the free, three-quarter-mile boardwalk.
A short drive west in Boynton Beach, you’ll find similar creatures in a more dramatic setting at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, a northern extension of the Everglades. Circle the tranquil Cypress Swamp path, then go gator-spotting along the grassy Marsh Trail. Needless to say, hikers should keep their distance.
For a change of landscape, paddle the lush, tea-colored Loxahatchee River (the best access point is within Jonathan Dickinson State Park). Rent a kayak or canoe ($14 to $20 for two hours) from the park’s concession store, or if you’re feeling lazy, hire a motor boat ($50 for two hours; high tide only). The brackish upper river travels beneath centuries-old cypress trees, while the saltier lower section is lined with mangroves. Venture out in the early morning to increase your odds of seeing wildlife.