Home to a gentle 1-mile loop hike through coastal habitats on the Barrier Island Trail, Barrier Island Sanctuary is a gateway to Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, with an informative oceanfront coastal biology center, the Barrier Island Center, as its centerpiece.
Location: Melbourne Beach
Length: 1 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.9030, -80.4714
Address: 8385 S Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach
Fees: Free. Donations appreciated at the Barrier Island Center.
Restroom: Inside the Barrier Island Center and at Bonsteel Beach
Land manager: Brevard County EEL Program
No dogs, smoking, or bicycles permitted. The trail is open daily at 7 AM to dusk. The Barrier Island Center is open Tue-Sun 9-5, closed on county holidays. The gate may be locked when the center is not open. The gate is also locked promptly at 5.
You may alternatively park at Bonsteel Beach, which closes at dusk. The gate to the boardwalk to the Barrier Island Center will be closed after hours. Use the bike path on the west side of A1A as an alternate route for the loop.
From Melbourne, cross the Intracoastal Waterway on US 192 to Indialantic and follow A1A south, passing through Melbourne Beach and Floridana Beach. The Barrier Island Center sits 4.5 miles south of Maritime Hammock Sanctuary, on the ocean side of A1A.
While the Barrier Island Center makes a compelling stop for anyone wanting to learn about our coast, the hiking loop also shines. It leads you through a gradient of coastal habitats, starting with forested dunes along the Atlantic Ocean to a mangrove forest along the Indian River Lagoon.
Similiar in nature to nearby Maritime Hammock Sanctuary, it is both an easier walk for families and more immersive in restored natural habitats. In fact, we think it’s Brevard’s best showcase of what natural habitats should look like on its barrier islands.
Before you start the hike – which begins at a kiosk at the ocean edge of the parking area, facing the ocean – take the time to walk through the Barrier Island Center if it’s open. It serves as a hub for local natural lands and for the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which is made up of many small parcels of land along the Atlantic Ocean between Melbourne and Vero Beach, oceanfront crucial to nesting sea turtles. Along with interactive displays, interpretive displays with colorful, detailed art walk you through the habitats you’ll see along the trail.
There is also a film, sea turtle exhibits, and a gift shop, with oceanfront access and picnic tables out back. Your hike starts at the gate off the back porch, leading towards the edge of the parking lot. Walk over to the kiosk by the sea grapes, facing the ocean, and look for the arrows to guide you into the sea grape tunnel.
The footpath turns away from the ocean and follows the northern property boundary of the preserve, winding beneath the tree canopy. When it emerges at A1A, you can see a kiosk across the road. Cross the road carefully to continue the hike. The kiosk has a trail map and a sliding scale showing how buggy and soggy the loop might be. Entering the woods, the trail quickly turns into a boardwalk through the sometimes-soggy palm hammock.
After crossing a bridge, the trail meets a berm that parallels the mangrove shoreline along the Indian River Lagoon. Benches provide a view of the lagoon. Watch for alligators along this stretch.
The trail turns back towards the east at Pepper Point, which was once a nasty tangle of Brazilian pepper and Australian pines but is now a restored coastal plain with native grasses and wildflowers under scattered cabbage palms. We wish all of the places where Brevard is overrun with Brazilian pepper could be restored back to nature like this. A kiosk explains the effort taken to make this happen.
Rounding a corner, the trail provides views of a mangrove-lined waterway. Around the next corner, an outdoor classroom is set up in the shade of a palm hammock.
Gaining a little elevation, the trail re-enters the tropical hammock, twisting and winding beneath the gumbo-limbo (which has peeling red bark) and the draping limbs of the red bay trees.
Emerging from the forest, you pass by another trail kiosk as the trail reaches A1A at a different crossing point, this one at the entrance to Bonsteel Beach. Cross the highway and head up the entrance road into the parking area. Continue past the restroom up to the boardwalk. Up ahead is a great view of the Atlantic Ocean. The boardwalk to the north leads back to the Barrier Island Center. You can follow it, or walk up the beach. When you reach the center, you’ve completed the loop.
Other nearby trails and parks along this stretch of oceanfront near Melbourne.
- Coconut Point Sanctuary- Call it the Ocean-to-Lagoon Hike: this 1 mile loop through one of Brevard County's most diverse natural lands connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon in Melbourne Beach
- Maritime Hammock Sanctuary- On a 2.8-mile loop trail, Maritime Hammock Sanctuary showcases maritime, or coastal hammock, marshlands, and mangroves along the Indian River Lagoon
For paddlers and boaters and those looking for tours on the Indian River Lagoon, Honest John’s Fish Camp is right up the road. It’s in its fourth generation of family ownership.