At the Shell Mound Unit of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, the Dennis Creek Trail immerses you in the classic habitats of the Gulf Coast near the where the Suwannee River meets the Gulf: windswept thickets of sand live oak, islands topped with slash pines, and sweeping views of the salt marshes. An excellent birding location, it’s an easy one mile walk.
Location: Shell Mound
Length: 1 mile
Lat-Lon: 29.208192, -83.062787
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate to high
Restroom: at Shell Mound County Park campground across the road
From SR 24 en route to Cedar Key, turn right on CR 347. Drive 2.3 miles to the turnoff for CR 326. Turn left and continue another mile, passing the campground at Shell Mound County Park. The pavement ends. Continue on the dirt road for a short distance longer to the trailhead parking, on the left under the large oak trees. This trailhead is shared with the Shell Mound Trail.
Follow the footpath from the “Dennis Creek Loop Trail” sign into a coastal hammock between a corridor of saw palmetto under the tightly- knit canopy of windswept oaks. Through the trees, you can see the sweep of the tidal marsh, the open coastal savanna that characterizes the Gulf Coast up through the Big Bend. Black needlerush sticks its spiky points out through the footpath.
At the trail junction, turn right to cross a boardwalk over the salt flats. Channel markers in the distance indicate how close you are to the Gulf of Mexico. The surrounding prairie is made up of needlerush broken up with clumps of sea purslane. Cedar trees rise from the dark earth. The marsh flows inland between isles of pines. Fiddler crabs scurry about, earth balls indicating the locations of their holes. Once the boardwalk ends, you’re on an island of pine flatwoods. Just ahead is a tidal pond, which wading birds frequent. Beneath the slash pines, the trail follows the edge of the island.
Crossing another boardwalk over the salt flats, you reach a second island. Gnarled sand live oaks form a canopy overhead near another tidal pond. A slightly overgrown trail leads to the right towards the tidal flow of Dennis Creek, branching out into a network of narrow paths along the marsh that lead to scenic spots worth exploring at low tide.
Back on the main trail, you reach a bench in an oak hammock after half a mile, and it has an excellent view of Dennis Creek. Here, the water moves swiftly between the old dock pilings and oyster beds. The trail turns away from the creek to start ascending through an oak scrub and tall slash pines. Underfoot, you follow the remnants of an old limestone road, hard-packed with chunks of rock. Perhaps it once led to the abandoned landing at the dock pilings.
Crossing a small shell mound, you continue along another boardwalk over the salt flats to a trail junction at 0.6 mile. The narrow trail straight ahead of you heads to the campground at Shell Mound County Park. Turn left to finish your loop back around to the parking lot. When you pass the beginning of the Dennis Creek Loop, continue straight ahead to emerge at the parking lot.