Yamato Scrub Natural Area-Boca Raton
A vast and diverse natural area, Yamato Scrub Natural Area has it all. Perhaps vast is a bit of an exaggeration. The park covers more than 217 acres of land on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in Boca Raton area, which is by far the largest natural area in South Palm Beach County. It protects the largest chunk of native scrub habitat found this far south in Florida. This area is also home to the largest remaining tract of undeveloped land on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, which once stretched from St. Johns to Miami-Dade. Itis among the oldest natural areas in the Palm Beach County system, having been one of the original sites proposed when environmental advocates pushed the county to create what was then called “wilderness islands” to preserve natural ecosystems back in the 1980s.
From I-95 exit 50 southbound, head south on Congress Avenue for 1.1 miles to Clint Moore Rd. Drive a half mile and make a U-turn at a turnout in front of the Boca Raton Shrine Club after passing Yamato Scrub’s entrance. The trailhead parking area is just past it on the right, at 601 Clint Moore Rd, Boca Raton. Northbound on I-95, use the Yamato Road exit to drive 0.5 miles west to Yamato Rd, 1 mile north on Congress Avenue to Clint Moore Rd.
Leaving the trailhead, follow the sidewalk, the accessible portion of the trail, as it leads you north through oak scrub to a bridge over a canal that bisects the property. North of the bridge, watch for a turnoff to the left onto a natural footpath marked with yellow circles on posts. This northerly loop showcases a beautiful swath of pine Flatwoods and scrub atop the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, and is the prettiest part of the preserve. Rejoining the paved path, turn left to follow it into an open area with wetlands, a nice place for birdwatching. The paved path follows a causeway between the wetlands and enters another patch of oak scrub, terminating in a loop. Another natural surface trail, also marked with yellow circles on posts, departs from this point, heading south into open scrub with only small islands of pines casting shade.
On this southern portion of the trail system, you cross the canal again on a bridge with an opportunity to follow the canal west on a park road to make a return loop before heading deeper into the open, shadeless scrub. The trail twists and winds through the dense understory, emerging at a fence with a pass-thru to enter a tunnel under Clint Moore Road. South of the tunnel is yet another yellow-blazed loop through open scrub, which we did not explore on this visit. An osprey nest sits in a tall snag.
Returning back through the tunnel and the pass-thru to the north side of Clint Moore Road, turn left and follow the beaten path within sight of the fenceline of the preserve. Walking through more open scrub, you come to a gate in front of the Shrine Club. Slip between the fence and gate to continue up the sidewalk to the parking area, completing a 2.7-mile loop. Many other routes are possible; we cut our hike short this day due to the summer heat in the shadeless portion of the preserve.
The accessible Cicada Trail leads from the parking lot, crosses the L-40 canal, moves through some open woods, through the Yamato Marsh, into a habitat dominated by saw palmetto and then scrub oaks. The natural surface Skyblue Lupine Trail breaks off the Cicada and wanders through the north end of the property, returning to the Cicada just before the marshes. It picks up again at the end of the Cicada and makes its way to a pedestrian tunnel that connects the north side with the south. The trail meanders through some stands of sand pines and plenty of scrubs. In the spring, the namesake lupine is in bloom along a portion of the trail. Eventually, the trail loops back toward Clint Moore and connects with a maintenance road that will take you back toward the parking lot.
Furthermore, there are more than two dozen threatened and endangered species dependent upon scrub, and the entire scrub community is itself endangered. They are low-grown patches in sandy land. They look prickly. Yamato Scrub Natural Area has 63 percent of scrub and pines covering the habitat and some areas throughout Florida only have two percent of their original scrub habitat remaining. Florida scrubs have even been discovered in some parts as far as Alabama according to Environmental Analyst of Palm Beach Lee Lietzke. Some animals actually require scrubs for shelter, an example of this would be the Florida Scrub Lizard. The lizard, which is native to Florida, uses the habitat for nesting and laying eggs. The lizard species is now declining because of the loss of its habitat.
Yamato Scrub Natural Area is also home to many protected animal species. Among the species that can be found in this natural area are cottontail rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, sky blue lupine, pawpaw, staggerbush, tarflower, painted leaf, love vine, deer moss, large flower rosemary, ironweed, and lesser Florida spurge. There is also the immensely heavy and strong Gopher Tortoise one you may see while on your path on the trail. The Gopher Tortoise is the only native tortoise species in North America. In Florida, the Gopher Tortoise is listed as an endangered species. Both the tortoise and its burrows are protected under state law. Gopher Tortoises must be relocated before any land clearing or development takes place. There are also birds in the natural area including mottled ducks, American coots, moorhens, pie-billed grebes, blue jays, cardinals, and osprey. Check the L-40 canal for turtles and wading birds.
As for bicyclists, they can enjoy a view of the scrubs from the western perimeter of the site on the multi-use El Rio Trail. There’s also a bike rack, kiosk, and a portable restroom. Yamato Scrub Natural Area can be explored in the afternoon, but it can be generally split into two sessions, one for the north and one for the south, to give you plenty of time for exploring. Remember admission is free of charge.