Stretching across 70,000 acres in Florida’s Big Bend, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge protects one of Florida’s longest wild shorelines, more than 43 miles in three counties. This is a rich estuary environment with scattered small beaches, tidal creeks, and islands, fed by major rivers and fringed by coastal pine forests and palm hammocks.
Location: St. Marks
Lat-Lon: 30.163435, -84.155153
Fees: $5 cars and motorcycles, $1 bicycles and pedestrians. $15 annual pass.
Open: sunrise to sunset
The park office and Visitor Center is along Lighthouse Rd
Birders find St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge a compelling destination, as it’s easy to take fabulous photographs of wading birds from the trails on the refuge levees. You’ll also see a large number of alligators. In October, the refuge celebrates the annual monarch butterfly migration. Thousands of butterflies cover blooming shrubs as they stop for a meal before winging their way across the Gulf of Mexico to their final destination in Mexico.
The refuge encompasses three separate units – Otter Lake (Panacea), St. Marks, and Aucilla River (Wakulla) – each with its own separate access points and trailheads. Of these, the St. Marks Unit is the most-visited, thanks to its historic lighthouse and access to a broad array of hiking and multi-use trails. It is also the only unit to charge an entrance fee. Boat ramp fees also apply at the Aucilla River.
The Florida Trail crosses the entirety of St. Marks NWR, providing the only backpacking experience in America within an National Wildlife Refuge. Backpacking requires a special permit and fees. Other wishing to camp near the refuge have a variety of private campgrounds to choose from as well as a small public campground along US 98 in Newport.
Explore the park
- Cedar Point Trail - Tunneling through the shade of coastal cedars between open marshes and the boat channel from the saltwater boat ramp to the Gulf of Mexico, the Cedar Point Trail is a short walk to the Gulf 's shores.
- Florida Trail, Apalachee Bay - Slipping out of the jungle-like floodplain forest that surrounds the tributaries of the Aucilla River into the coastal salt marshes along Apalachee Bay, this 13.4 mile hike offers some of the most breathtaking panoramas you'll find along the Florida Trail - and a profusion of wildlife.
- Florida Trail, Big Bend - 117.1 miles. From the Suwannee River, the trail is now a 56-mile roadwalk before rejoining public lands along the mysterious Aucilla River. In St. Marks NWR, there is a river crossing where you must hail a boat.
- Florida Trail, Shepherd Spring - Hugging coastal swamps and marshes before plunging into them at the Cathedral of Palms, this popular 5.3 mile hike along the Florida Trail centers on Shepherd Spring, a natural treasure within St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
- Hiking to Marsh Point - At St. Marks NWR, Marsh Point captures the essence of Florida's Gulf coastline. But hikers are missing it because the bridges are out. Vote for a $25K grant to restore this piece of the Florida Trail.
- Lighthouse Levee Trail - A windswept walk along the Gulf of Mexico, the Lighthouse Levee Trail provides scenic panoramas of both the Gulf and marsh impoundments near the St. Marks Lighthouse.
- Plum Orchard Pond Trail - Starting adjacent to the Visitor Center at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Plum Orchard Pond Trail is an easy loop that takes you out along Plum Orchard Pond, a great birding stop.
- St. Marks Lighthouse - Built in 1842, the St. Marks Lighthouse played a pivotal role during the Civil War. Despite its light being quenched during the war, it remains a working lighthouse marking the location of the St. Marks River.
- Tower Pond Trail - At St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Tower Pond Trail loops a mile through vast impoundments and marshes along the Gulf of Mexico, providing scenic panoramas and great birding.