The longest hiking trail at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the 4.8-mile Allan Cruickshank Memorial Trail honors a local ornithologist and National Audubon Society staff member who advocated for protection of these sweeping wet landscapes when NASA began plans for Kennedy Space Center in 1962. Most visitors only take a short walk out to the observation platform over the salt marsh and the observation tower above the impoundments, but walking the full loop will let you enjoy birding along a breezy shore of the Indian River Lagoon.
Length: 4.8 miles
Lat-Long: 28.678159, -80.771798
Fees / Permits: $10 per vehicle (paid when you start the Black Point Wildlife Drive)
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: highly variable depending on the breeze
Restroom: vault toilets
Wear sunscreen and a hat, as there is little shade on the trail. Brisk salt breezes make up for the open environment. You’ll have few problems with mosquitoes as long as the wind is blowing. Bicycles are not permitted.
Take I-95 exit 220, Titusville, and follow SR 406 east for 8 miles over the causeway to Merritt Island. Take CR 402 east for 3 miles and turn left on CR 406. Continue 1.4 miles to Black Point Wildlife Drive. Follow this scenic one-lane, one-way road around the impoundments for 3.4 miles to the parking area on the left.
Start your hike with a stop at the interpretive kiosk, then continue counterclockwise towards the salt marsh observation deck, a low platform not far from the parking area. Beyond it, the trail follows a levee around several impoundment areas, and is the on-foot equivalent of Wildlife Drive—narrow, surrounded by water, a perfect place for quiet bird watching.
Listen for the sounds around you. An alligator splashes into the water from its lazy spot beneath a mangrove, causing peeps and squawks in the bushes. A mullet propels its entire body into the air, landing back into the water with a great plop. A cabbage palm rustles in the wind. An osprey calls out with its distinctive cry.
At 0.8 mile, it’s your first chance to sit and relax on a shaded bench. There are several along the trail. Once you pass the instrumentation station, the trail grows rough. No longer a jeep track, it becomes uneven and hummocky, although the park staff keeps the grass trimmed. Expect to walk more slowly for the next four miles.
White mangroves edge the trail on the right, providing a windbreak against the open waters of the lagoon. Sea rocket shows off its tiny purple blooms. The mangroves part briefly at 1.4 miles for a sweeping view of the lagoon. Tall clumps of big cordgrass grow along the levee’s edge. When the wind picks up, the waters of the impoundment area whip to waves. On right, a long, narrow mangrove island creates a canal between the levee and the lagoon. Swamp hibiscus towers up to ten feet tall, waving its massive pink flowers in the breeze.
When you reach marker 3, you’ve walked slightly more than two miles. After the trail curves around a small lagoon, another covered bench appears at 2.2 miles. On the right, an opening in the mangroves provides a sweeping view of the north end of Titusville. On the left, NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building comes into view in the distance. One of the world’s largest buildings, it covers 8 acres and encloses 129 million cubic feet of space.
In the impoundment, grassy islands give way to more substantial islands anchored by mangroves. Passing marker 2, expect less than two more miles of hiking. The levee veers in an arc towards Wildlife Drive. Take a moment to look into the water as you veer left around the far corner, where tiny fish and seashells are visible against the white sand bottom. The lagoon itself is dark, stained with tannic acid.
Just before the next covered bench at 3.6 miles, a juniper grows along the water’s edge. The levee zigzags for the next quarter mile as it returns to the beginning of the arc. Across the water, you can clearly see where you’ve been. As the levee veers right, the marsh on the left resembles an open prairie, with tall cordgrass swaying on each island. Young mangroves struggle to take root. Pass marker 1, and you soon see the observation platform far to the left. On the right, a telephone pole provides a preferred perch for cormorants drying their wings.
Heading up to the observation tower, the last stretch of the levee has open water on both sides. At 4.6 miles, you reach the broad, tall observation deck. Climb up and survey the marsh. You’ve skirted the impoundment area, and the natural salt marsh lies off to the east, beyond the levee. Return to the kiosk and turn right, ending your walk after 4.8 miles.