Running in West Palm Beach, Florida

My wife’s family lives in West Palm Beach, so I frequently find myself going for a run in south Florida. Over the years, I’ve become well acquainted with some routes in the area.

This month, we spent a week down there. The weather was atrocious … because Florida in July. But it is what it is. We had a great time visiting family, so I just sucked it up and went for my pre-dawn run through the heat and humidity each morning.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you go running in Florida in the summer, as well as some places to run in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Island.

What To Expect From Florida Weather in July

If you’ve never been to south Florida in the dead of summer, you probably don’t have a reference point for how awful the weather is. It’s hot and humid, without fail.

The entire week that I was here, the daily highs were in the 90’s and the overnight lows were in the high 70’s or low 80’s. The relative humidity was high, and the dew point was consistently at or above 75 Fahrenheit.

I wrote about my experience running in the summer weather here, in case you’re not familiar with what that feels like. And here are some tips for handling training during the summer.

There’s typically a thunderstorm every day, some time in the afternoon. Your two basic options are to run first thing in the morning, before the sun comes up, or late in the evening, as the sun is going down.

I opted for the pre-dawn option. It was warm and humid when I left the house at 5:45, but it was manageable. Throw any preconceived notions of pace out the window, and take it as easy as possible. Hydrate well, and take walking breaks if necessary. It’s going to be a hard slog.

If you go out later in the evening, it will likely be a bit warmer – but you may benefit from somewhat lower humidity. Some people swear by this tactic in the summer. Personally, it doesn’t work for me. I run every day, and I just can’t commit to an evening run seven days a week. Especially on vacation. But if it works in your schedule, you might want to try this option.

Where to Run in West Palm Beach, Florida

Despite the weather, Palm Beach is a beautiful place to be and to run through. Here are a few highlights and the building blocks for any good running route through West Palm.

Running Along Flagler Drive

We stayed with my in-laws about two miles north of downtown. My typical route involved running south along Flagler Drive, crossing over one of the bridges to Palm Beach Island, crossing over to the ocean side, and then returning home.

Flagler Drive is a great place to run. Starting at the north end, around 23rd street – where Currie Park is – it’s exposed to the intracoastal waterway. Heading south from Currie Park, you’ll reach the north end of downtown in about a mile. You can continue along the marina for another mile until you reach Lakeview Ave and the Royal Park Bridge.

Flagler drive continues on for several miles if you go further south. Two more miles will bring you to Southern Boulevard and the bridge across Bingham Island – your last chance to cross to Palm Beach Island and loop back towards downtown. However, the last time I tried to cross here the bridge was closed to pedestrian traffic for construction. I’m not sure if it has re-opened.

Note that there are some public restrooms available downtown. The Meyer Amphitheater advertises restrooms, but I’m not sure if they’re open in the morning. Likewise, there are some restrooms in the pavilion between north and south Clematis. But I didn’t stop in to see if they were actually open at 6am.

Looping Across the Bridges to Palm Beach Island

There are two main bridges that connect West Palm Beach to Palm Beach Island, and both are open to pedestrian traffic.

The first bridge – the Flagler Memorial Bridge – is on the north end of downtown. The second bridge – the Royal Park Bridge – is near the core of downtown, further south. It’s about a mile from one bridge to the other, and the bridges themselves are about a half mile across. If you just looped around the two bridges, you’d run about three miles.

It’s a nice view to run across the bridge and look up and down the intracoastal waterway. There’s also a nice breeze up there, which can help a bit with the weather. Depending on how far you’re trying to run, this can be a good core loop to include in your route.

There’s also a public restroom available at Bradley Park. This park is located on Palm Beach Island at the east end of the Flagler Memorial Bridge. You’ll see the little bathroom building in the northeast corner of the park. I did stop here, and I can confirm that the bathroom is open and available in the early morning. I was there around 7:00am, and it was clean.

Note that these are both active drawbridges. So you may have to take a break and wait for a boat to pass. But in the week that I was there, I was never caught at a crossing with the bridge up.

Running Along the Intracoastal on Palm Beach Island

If you cross over to Palm Beach Island and want to add some distance, there’s a nice trail that runs along the intracoastal waterway along the west side of the island.

From east end of the Royal Park Bridge, you can run south a couple blocks. But then the road cuts inland, and you can’t run along the waterway anymore. Instead, go north from the Royal Park Bridge. You’ll see the trail in the back of a parking lot on the north of Royal Palm Way.

After about a half mile, you’ll run past a giant tree – the historic Kapok tree – and you’ll have to cut east a bit around the Flagler Museum and some other buildings. But once you get to Royal Poinciana Way, you can cut back west and run through Bradley Park to continue north on the Lake Trail. The trail continues three miles north, almost to the northern terminus of the island.

When I was there, part of it was closed for construction so I had to cut east and run along North Lake Way for a bit.

But the Lake Trail was a popular running route. I passed a lot of people out there early on a Sunday morning. Early morning, you’ll also benefit from the shade thrown by the buildings on Palm Beach Island. It’ll take a while for the sun to rise enough to shine on the path, allowing you to sleep in a bit if you don’t want to wake up pre-dawn to go running.

This is a great out-and-back option to add distance to a loop across the bridges.

Running Along the Atlantic Coast on Palm Beach Island

A final option is to cut across Palm Beach Island and run along the beach on the Atlantic Coast. The benefit here is that the ocean is beautiful. The downside is that there’s no shade, so once the sun comes up you’ll feel its full force.

If you cross the bridge at Bingham Island, you can continue along South Ocean Boulevard north along the island. There are a few “houses” – aka mansions – there at first blocking your view, but pretty quickly the ocean will open up on the east side. You can continue along South Ocean Boulevard for about 2.25 miles before you have to turn inland at Barton Avenue.

If you’re doing the shorter bridge loop from downtown West Palm Beach, you can cut east across Worth Avenue until you hit the ocean and then turn north. That’ll leave you with around 3/4 of a mile of ocean before you have to turn back inland.

A full loop, from the west end of the Flagler Memorial Bridge, to the corner of South Ocean and Worth Ave, and back through the Breakers Golf Course is about 4.5 miles. That’s a decent loop, and you could always add a little extra along Flagler Drive or along the Lake Trail to pad out your run.

Note that there is a public restroom at the beach near the intersection of Chilean Ave and South Ocean Boulevard. I’ve used it before, long ago. But the last two times I’ve tried to stop there it’s been locked. I don’t know if that’s because it opens later in the day or what, but I wouldn’t count on it being open. Luckily, there is a reliable bathroom along the loop at Bradley Park.

My Time Spent Running in West Palm Beach

I survived an entire week of running in West Palm Beach summer weather.

I’m in the middle of marathon training, and that week happened to be the end of a peak, 85 mile week. That meant I had to put in a lot of miles, even if I’d rather cut it short.

I started each run a couple miles north of downtown. I ran along Flagler Drive until I hit the Royal Park Bridge. From there, I ran east to Palm Beach Island, cut south along the intracoastal to Chilean Ave, and then ran east to the ocean. I looped back north, along the ocean, through the Breakers Golf Course, across the Flagler Memorial Bridge, and back north along Flagler Drive.

The standard route was about 10 miles. The screenshot above is from the latter half of the week – after I’d acclimated to the heat a bit. 9:28/mi is considerably slower than I’d run at home, but I had to slow it down to finish the run.

On Sunday, my training schedule called for 18 miles. That was not going to happen. I originally thought I’d try for 14 miles, but after my initial suffering I revised that down to 12 miles. Instead of crossing over to the ocean, I added in an out and back section along the North Lake Trail and run up to the Palm Beach Country Club and back.

The last two days I was there, I cut it down to 8 miles. I eliminated the extra distance to the ocean, simply looping across the bridges and back along the Lake Trail.

It was hot and humid, and I was up at 5:30 every morning. But I made it back home by 7:15 to 7:30, and my after run naps were amazing.

What Are Your Palm Beach Running Tips?

If you live or have visited Palm Beach County, feel free to drop your own running tips in the comments.

I did notice while I was there that there was an active running group – the Palm Beach Roadrunners. On Sunday, when I ran up the North Lake Trail, I saw a lawn sign marking the beginning of their group run. If I’d known earlier, I might have tried to meet up with them.

But if you’re going to be in town, you may want to connect with them. They do a weekly run on Palm Beach Island, as well as some other group runs throughout Palm Beach County.

And if you can travel to south Florida at any other time besides July (and August), you should probably do that. I’ve been down to visit in the winter and the fall, and the weather isn’t near as bad. It is a shock going from the New Jersey winter to Florida’s warm weather in February. But at least the dew point isn’t 75 degrees.

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