West of the bridges the river widens again, and you have yet another choice: the north or south fork.
You can go up the North Fork as far as White City, which is practically back to Fort Pierce. Where it narrows at the north end is Sandpiper Marina, where transient dockage is available. North of there, cruising and fishing are excellent but it’s a jungle cruise with no facilities and a goodly population of large alligators.
The South Fork is the more developed and more interesting. There's a newly revamped mooring area right off downtown Stuart at Sunset Bay Marina where they also have fuel. From there it's only a couple of blocks across U.S. 1 and the railroad tracks to the restored old downtown area with restaurants and shops.
Only a mile or so upstream the river is crossed by the Palm City Bridge. On the west shore, a little before the bridge there's dockage, but limited facilities, at the Martin County Marina. At the bridge's eastern approach you'll find dockage at Riverwatch Marina. The area has shopping and restaurants within walking distance.
The Coast Guard had announced at press time for our last edition (2011/12) that there was a possibility that a new bridge would be built across the South Fork about 2 miles south of the existing Palm City Bridge. Well, construction of the Indian Street Bridge has begun and so far (at press time) the navigation channel has not yet been affected. Watch for construction updates here on our "News" pages and elsewhere. The current work area crosses the St. Lucie Lagoon and that portion was expected to be complete in April, 2012, but is not quite finished.
Stuart is one of the many places along the ICW that, unfortunately, never quite gets its due from cruising boatmen. For one thing, the ICW passes enough east of the city that many cruisers don't see any of its charms. Even folks going up the St. Lucie River to cross Florida via the Okeechobee Waterway don't always see what's there. Stuart is one of the state's prime boating towns with facilities for vessels of all types and sizes.
West and south of Stuart, the St. Lucie connects with the landcut of the Okeechobee Waterway, which goes all the way across the state by way of Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers on the Gulf coast. The Okeechobee Waterway has its own Cruising Section elsewhere in this site. If you're deciding on a trip across, be sure to check out the status of the water depths and locks before making your final decision. Contact information abounds in the Okeechobee Cruising section with Chart 17.
Before you reach the landcut, you have yet another option of turning left and winding up the Old South Fork of the St. Lucie and back in time to Florida as it used to be, a beautiful "jungle" cruise. You'll see that Stuart Yacht is back in place, once again providing first class services with several of their alumni back on staff under the direction of Gregg Burdick.
Back at The Crossroads, your final option is to continue southward down the ICW, a course that will put you almost immediately alongside the channel to St. Lucie Inlet State Park, which is on the barrier island and accessible only by water. If you can handle the four-foot depth, you can tie up at the park docks and follow a boardwalk half a mile or so to the beach. Your reward could be having most of that magnificent beach to yourself except on weekends and holidays.
A couple of miles farther south lies one of the nicest anchorages on the entire ICW at Peck Lake. This is a wide and mostly deep stretch of waterway created when a hurricane breached the barrier island. Later shoaling closed the breach on the ocean side, leaving the lake. Shallows abound as usual, but if you turn off the ICW channel in the vicinity of Marker #19 you’ll stay in deep water.
South of Peck Lake, the waterway narrows and winds through another five miles of relative wilderness, then opens into Hobe Sound, a beautiful stretch of waterway. The mainland shore is mostly wildlife preserve, turning into marinas and homes as you continue south toward Jupiter. The eastern shoreis Jupiter Island, possibly the most exclusive village in the United States.
If you're wondering about the name, “Hobe” is a Spanish pronunciation of Jove, which is another name for Jupiter. Early cartographers translating Spanish maps translated Jobe to Jupiter. Farther south is Juno Beach. There used to be towns named Mars and Venus also. All were stops on the eight-mile narrow-gauge "Celestial Railroad" that once shuttled snowbirds down the beach from Jupiter to Juno.
Through all its length, Hobe Sound offers good off-channel anchoring between the sand bars and grass flats that extend from the shores, and the bars and little beaches on the west side offer great picnic spots. The fishing here is excellent, notably for seatrout and snook. The only problem is big sportfishermen hurrying to and from Jupiter Inlet and leaving tsunami-size wakes. Loblolly Marina handles up to 110' with 7' draft.
As you approach Jupiter, the mainland shore has a few marinas north of the bridge connecting Jupiter Island to the mainland, including Blowing Rocks and the new Jupiter Pointe. The Jib Yacht Club is at the southeast corner of the Jupiter Island bridge and Jupiter Seasport Marina is across the Loxahatchee River. A couple or restaurants with their own docks are adjacent.
At that point the Indian River Lagoon ends and the waterway enters the Loxahatchee River with Jupiter Inlet to the east. On the north shore is Jupiter Lighthouse & Museum. The classic red tower was built around 1860 by Army Engineers under George Meade, the engineer who went on to build most of the lights in the Keys and then to engineer the victory at Gettysburg. It is the oldest structure in Palm Beach County. [More}
The light presides over Jupiter Inlet, a passage that can be a pussycat or a tiger depending on wind and tide. Unless the tide is slack and the wind is calm, or you have good local knowledge, we advise bypassing the Inlet and enjoying the other pleasures of the area, which are legion.
In the other direction, the waterway follows the Loxahatchee channel west for a short distance, then turns sharply south at the 25-foot fixed bridge over the Lox. For a great jungle cruise, continue west under the bridge and up the river through Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The Loxahatchee is Florida's only Federally- and State- designated “Wild and Scenic River.” It’s a trip for the dinghy, a canoe rented at the park docks, or the shallow-draft Loxahatchee Queen II, up an ever-narrower and twistier river, but the scenery and wildlife are beautiful. The Queen II passengers get a narration on the river's history and wildlife by a Park-trained, USCG-licensed Captain. If you go by dinghy or canoe, you'll be on your own. Call 561-746-1466 for more on the tour or rentals.
By the way, the fishing here is excellent — the Loxahatchee is one of those brackish tidal rivers where one cast can catch a saltwater trout and the next a freshwater black bass. So if you take your own dinghy, you might want to take some fishing tackle as well.
Venture far enough upstream and you'll come to the picturesque and historical home of Trapper Nelson, a recluse who worked the area for fur and alligator hides back in the 1930s when it was truly wilderness. Known as ”The Wildman of the Loxahatchee,” Nelson built log cabins, a Seminole “Chickee” shelter, a wildlife zoo - and planted lush tropical gardens. The site is now part of the park and is accessible only by water. Like all Florida State Parks, Dickinson is managed to appear (as closely as possible) as it did when the first Europeans arrived.
Under the A1A bridge at the mouth of the Loxahatchee River, the concrete remains of a long-gone marina mark what was once the southern terminus of the steamboat line from Titusville.
It also marks the southern end of the Treasure Coast. Southward from there, you’re going for the Gold.
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