Discover all things to do at John D. McArthur Beach State Park in The Palm Beaches
By: Hannah Deadman-Arnst
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park is the only state park located solely in The Palm Beaches, Florida. Situated along 436 acres of coastal and tropical habitat in North Palm Beach (both on the mainland and Singer Island), this park is one of the last undeveloped areas of coastal Palm Beach County.
It’s no secret that Florida is home to diverse, raw beauty that you can only appreciate once you see it for yourself. John D. MacArthur Beach State Park feels like a special sliver of Old Florida—an urban oasis located just minutes from Palm Beach Gardens and about 15 minutes from downtown West Palm Beach. The park really does offer something for everyone—including nearly two miles of beaches, paddling, and other offerings such as family-friendly trails, birding, fishing, a nature center and gift store, and more.
While I’ve had my share of visits to the park over the last 10 years, it wasn’t until this year that I was reminded how special this place is. Keep reading to learn about a few activities I recently enjoyed at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, plus the many other ways to spend an unforgettable day there!
A History Rooted in Conservation
While John D. MacArthur Beach State Park was established only 35 years ago, the region was originally home to the Tequesta and Ais peoples, who settled in the area nearly 1,000 years ago. These Indigenous communities lived among and relied on the local ecosystem for tools, shelter, and food, including palmetto berries, deer, fish, and shellfish. In the early 20th century, the land was used for a variety of activities, including farming and ranching. There was even a luxury hotel on Munyon Island! In the 1950s, conservationist and philanthropist John D. MacArthur purchased the land that is now the park. In the 1970s, after a university study showed that the land was a biological treasure, he donated some of it for use as a public park. After his death, the state park was established to protect the precious coastal habitat from being developed.
Explore the Ecosystem
A large portion of the park encompasses an estuary ecosystem—a coastal body of brackish water (a mix of salt and fresh). The ecosystem provides a haven for many local marine inhabitants, including seven different types of seagrass, mangroves, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, pelicans, and osprey—giving park visitors endless opportunities to spot local wildlife. A long boardwalk crosses over the estuary, connecting the mainland to the barrier island.
When we traversed the long bridge, we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife. Once we made it over the boardwalk, we headed down the Dune Hammock Trail, a short (0.3 miles) sandy path that brings hikers through a gorgeous, canopied trail lined with gumbo limbo trees, wild coffee, strangler fig, and cabbage palm. While walking, we even heard an osprey somewhere among the trees! You can also access the beach from this trail. I promise you: the view will be worth the stairs you climb.
Get (Active) Outside
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park offers no shortage of activities! There are two main trails in the park, including Dune Hammock Trail, located just off the boardwalk on the barrier island, and Richard Weinstein Satinleaf Trail (1.3 miles), which takes hikers on a walk-through maritime hammock habitat. This trail is located at the northern end of the park, near the playground and north pavilion.
Paddlers will also love this park, as there are various kayak launch points. Kayak rentals are available, and there’s no doubt it’s one of the best ways to experience the park. You can paddle around the estuary, travel under Burnt Bridge into the Lake Worth Lagoon, or even visit Munyon Island (a small, pristine island that’s only accessible by boat) located near the southern end of the park. Kayak and stand-up paddle rentals are open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the park’s gift shop and start at $15 per hour (single), or $38 for a half day (single). Fishing is also allowed in designated areas—just be sure to follow regulations and bring your fishing license.
Snorkel, Surf, or Sun Your Heart Out
Beach bums rejoice! John D. MacArthur Beach State Park’s beach is a great place to hang out for the afternoon. Snorkel the crystal blue waters of the Atlantic and discover marine life like sea sponges, corals, sergeant major fish, and more. You can even surf as long as the conditions are right. Not into the idea of something sporty? No problem. The beach is quiet and pristine, making it an ideal locale for bookworms (like me when I’m not hiking) or those who want to catch a few rays. The park even offers a free tram ride across the estuary boardwalk (10 a.m.-4 p.m., weather permitting).
For those interested in more guidance during their visit, the park also offers paddle lessons and a variety of programs, including guided hikes, birding opportunities, beach cleanups, and more.
Keep Calm and Cool Off
After we finished our hike, we decided to check out the park’s nature center and gift store. The nature center featured beautiful educational exhibits describing the four main habitats (estuary, maritime hammock, dunes, and rock reefs) that the park protects, along with each ecosystem’s key species and information about why it’s critical to protect these habitats. The gift store is delightful also, offering a variety of apparel, locally crafted goods and art, decor, and even snacks for purchase.
Know Before You Go
Ready to visit John D. MacArthur Beach State Park? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Cost: $5/vehicle (2-8 people per vehicle)
Hours: 8 a.m. until sunset (The nature center is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
Pets: Dogs are allowed everywhere except for the beach, boardwalks, restrooms, nature center and gift shop
Accessibility: The park is mostly wheelchair accessible, with the exception of the two sandy nature trails that may be challenging for some
Gear: Bring sunscreen, a hat, comfortable shoes, insect repellant, and plenty of water
Other Details: There is no camping at this state park. The closest campground is on Peanut Island. Always remember to practice Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics, including leaving things as you found them, properly disposing of trash or recyclables, and respecting wildlife and others.
Morning: Start with a stroll across the main boardwalk and follow the Dune Hammock Trail to one of the beach access points. Then, hit the beach for some fun in the sun!
Lunchtime: Bring a lunch or grab a snack at the gift store and sit at one of the many picnic tables or pavilions in the park. After lunch, head inside the nature center to cool off and learn about The Palm Beaches’ diverse coastal ecosystems, or check out the gift store for locally inspired coastal souvenirs
Early afternoon: Rent a kayak at the nature center. Consider heading south to explore Munyon Island, or keep things low-key and enjoy the main estuary. Keep your eyes out for manatees, dolphins and birds along the way
Late afternoon/evening: Return your kayak and wrap up the day with a sunset drive to the northern end of the island, followed by a sunset hike at the 1.3-mile Richard Weinstein Satinleaf Trail.