One of Florida’s more remote National Wildlife Refuges, the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge spans two counties, protecting a sweep of more than 53,000 acres of coastline along the Big Bend, an important haven for migratory birds and wildlife. Most of the refuge is a watery maze of floodplain forests and estuary where the Suwannee River finishes its 246-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.
Location: Lower Suwannee River basin in Dixie and Levy Counties
Lat-Lon: 29.372680, -83.044669 (Refuge headquarters)
Open: sunrise to sunset
Spanning from south of Cross City to the edge of Cedar Key, the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge protects 30 miles of Florida’s coastline, and is most easily accessed from the water. A lengthy and lonely section of the Florida Saltwater Circumnavigational Trail follows the ragged fringe of estuary, with a camping spot at Shired Island. Put-ins at Shired Island, Suwannee, Weeks Landing, McCormick Creek, and Shell Mound provide a variety of opportunities for day paddles both in estuarine and floodplain forest habitats. There are several well-marked paddling trails.
On land, short nature trails let visitors enjoy the upland habitats – and in the case of the River Trail near park headquarters, the floodplain forest as well. Two scenic drives, the Dixie Mainline Trail (unpaved and narrow, great for bicycling) and the Lower Suwannee Nature Drive (paved) offer panoramic vistas across marshy landscapes as well as intimate details framed by ancient cypress trees.
While camping is not permitted at the refuge, primitive camping is permitted at Shired Island County Park in Dixie County. Shell Mound County Park north of Cedar Key has a campground overlooking the estuary as well. In between these two far-flung points, you’ll find at least a half-dozen commercial campgrounds along the Suwannee River as well as two state parks (Manatee Springs and Fanning Springs) with campgrounds and cabins. The towns of Chiefland, Fanning Springs, and Suwannee have motels as well.
Explore the park
- Dennis Creek Trail - At the Shell Mound Unit of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, the Dennis Creek Trail immerses you in classic habitats of the Gulf Coast along a 1-mile loop
- Dixie Mainline Trail - Constructed in the 1920s for a narrow-gauge railroad, the Dixie Mainline Trail is one of the most remote scenic trails in Florida, showcasing the swampy Big Bend.
- Hurricane damage to Florida parks - A comprehensive list of closures of and damage to parks, trails, and public campgrounds throughout Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma in September 2017.
- River Trail - Immerse in the massive floodplain forest surrounding the Suwannee River as it nears the Gulf of Mexico, on the the River Trail at Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, a boardwalk to the river's edge