Frenchman's Forest Natural Area

Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach County

yellow-billed cuckoo
12201 Prosperity Farms Road
Palm Beach Gardens


Overview: At 174 acres, Frenchman's Forest Natural Area is among the smaller preserves in North Palm Beach County, but also among the most diverse. It's the kind of place where, in a single visit, you might spot a manatee or river otter playing in the tidal lagoon and a gopher tortoise basking in the scrub. Altogether Frenchman's Forest offers 10 distinct habitats, from open water to strand swamp to pine flatwoods. Frenchman's Forest's avian population is such that the natural area is a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

History: Palm Beach County's interest in Frenchman's Forest dates back to the late 1980s when a committee of experts identified the property as environmentally significant enough to include in a proposed "wilderness islands" program. The land for the most part had gone untouched by human hands, though changes in hydrology and lack of fire negatively affected the site. Palm Beach County bought the land from the MacArthur Foundation in December 1995 for $5.7 million. The natural area opened in October 2001.

So who was the Frenchman in Frenchman's Forest? Turns out nobody, but nobody with a bit of a twist. We first thought it have been John Maheu, a farmer and major landowner in the area, who inspired the name. Maheu, however, was Belgian. There was another landowner in the area, the Hoyt family, who fell in love with a novel they had read titled Frenchman's Creek. They were so taken with the book that they marked the banks of nearby Lake Worth Creek with a sign calling it Frenchman's Creek. As it happened, federal mapmakers saw the sign and extended the Frenchman Creek name to cover the immediate area. Frenchman's Creek. Frenchman's Forest.

What You'll See: As we noted above, Frenchman's Forest Natural Area is small but diverse; some 590 plant species and 265 animal species have been catalogued within its confines. It's almost automatic to follow the paved Blazing Star Trail from the parking lot to the tidal lagoon. Here, you might spot herons, egrets and other wading birds among the mangroves; if you're lucky, maybe a manatee or otter will swim by. During the cooler months, check out the hardwood hammock near the parking lot for warblers and other migratory birds. We've seen pileated, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers throughout the preserve. Gopher tortoises hang out in the scrubby habitats. For the most part, the natural-surface trails are wide, shaded and easy hikes; Archie's Trail is a little more enclosed. For more on what Frenchman's Forest has to offer, check out the gallery near the bottom of this page.

Amenities: Frenchman's Forest Natural Area offers plenty of parking, 2.9 miles of hiking trails, including the 0.6-mile paved Blazing Star Trail that leads from the parking lot to an observation platform overlooking a tidal lagoon. There is also a short boardwalk that goes through the cypress swamp. There is an informational kiosk and interpretive signs but there is no drinking water or restrooms.

Nearby: Literally a few blocks down the street is the tiny Prosperity Oaks Natural Area. To the east along Ellison Wilson Road sits Pawpaw Natural Area, and to the north Juno Dune Natural Area, both West and Oceanfront tracts. Both Jupiter Ridge Natural Area and Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area are within a 10-minute drive north along U.S. 1. Due east lies John D. MacArthur Beach State Park.

Links: The Great Florida Birding Trail's take on Frenchman's Forest. The Institute for Regional Conservation's plant inventory is here.

Of Note: Like all of Palm Beach County's natural areas, admission is free; Frenchman's Forest Natural Area is open dawn to dusk every day of the year.

Cover Photo: We spotted this yellow-billed cuckoo one evening while making a side trip to Frenchman's Forest Natural Area. They're not rare birds by any means but to date, it's the only one we've seen.
Virtual Tour

Getting There ...
DIRECTIONS: From the south, take I95 to PGA Boulevard; head east to Prosperity Farms Road. Turn left; The entrance is on the left 0.9 miles from the intersection. From the north, exit Donald Ross Road and head east to Prosperity Farms Road. Turn right. The entrance is on the right 2 miles south. Prosperity Farms Road is a short distance west of U.S. 1.

Photo Gallery for Frenchman's Forest Natural Area

Click on the photograph to see an enlarged image. Click on the name to read more about the species.

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.
Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.