Ever hear of a Purple Gallinule? Taken in a vista filled with fireflag and sunbathing turtles? If you're a nature lover, then Wakhodahatchee Wetlands in west Delray Beach is a must! Birders and photographers flock to this reclaimed water (man-made) wetlands to take in all the wonderful wildlife and fauna.
We discovered it after our first son was born and the first time he ever tracked a moving object as an infant was at Wakhodahatchee watching a flock of Ibis fly overhead to roost. Nothing beats a late evening "Wacky walk" (as we've nicknamed it) when the nocturnal marsh rabbits are out and all the birds are settling in for the night. Alligators, turtles, fish, raccoons, iguana, and all sorts of amazing birds call "Wacky" home. Over the years we've watched babies hatch and grow, alligators hunt, marsh rabbits doing spy work for the Easter bunny...all sorts of things. We started off not knowing more than a handful of plants, turtles and birds. Now our children can recognize Anhinga, Heron, soft shell turtles, duckweed, fireflag, lily pads and more!
This place is like a second home so if you go and hear two screaming, running boys thundering down the sidewalk...that just may be us. Sorry. :) If you go with young children be aware that the restrooms are in the parking lot so make sure you go before you start the trail. The wood on the boardwalk just begs to give splinters to small kids and occasionally wasps hideout under the rails. That being said, we've never had a potty accident, a wasp sting, nor been eaten by an alligator (and we went back when there was no chainlink next to the concrete path). The boys do get splinters from running their hands along the wood and climbing the side rails. Bring tweezers and alcohol swabs and you're good to go! I've heard scotch tape works wonders too.
There is another really neat wetlands on Hagen Road parallel to Wakodahatchee on Jog Road called Green Cay (some pronounce that "Key"). It has an indoor (air conditioned) exhibit with restrooms and water fountains. There are always turtles, alligators, and frogs on display and it is really beautiful. BUT! I would be hesitant to take young or novice hikers there because the trails are much longer and there are fewer opportunities for shade. I also remember running with a 20+lb boy in my arms alllllllllllllllllllllllll the way back to the center to go potty...on a hot day. Ugh. There is a smaller concentration of wildlife at Green Cay. Green Cay is a cool weather/older child/good walker type place to go unless you go just for the inside exhibit (call ahead to check hours). Both parks are open from sunrise to sunset and are occasionally closed for maintenance. Both are FREE.