Erna Nixon Park provides a much-needed nature getaway in the bustle of Melbourne.
Lifting you ever so gently above the surrounding habitats, its boardwalk provides a perch from which to immerse in the forest without getting your feet wet or dirty.
The interpretive markers along this trail are some of the best we’ve seen in Florida, with images, textures, and content woven together in context.
Even the most basic of markers provide a photo to help you spot the tree amid the forest. On the basis of interpretation alone, this is a don’t-miss nature walk for the entire family.
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Length: 0.8 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.0902, -80.6554
Address: 1200 Evans Rd, West Melbourne
Restroom: at the picnic shelter
Land manager: Brevard County
Open 7-7 daily. Dogs not permitted. Regularly scheduled classes and events are held at the Nature Center.
Primarily a boardwalk, the interpretive trail is an easy stroll for any age or ability, and can handle wheelchairs as well.
From Interstate 95 exit 180, follow US 192 east to Evans Rd. Drive north 2 miles on Evans Rd to the park entrance on the left, two blocks past the Melbourne Square Mall, just beyond Hibiscus Road. Great Florida Birding Trail signs help to navigate you to this county park.
Walk from the main parking area past the entrance to the obvious trailhead kiosk. A butterfly garden is just past the kiosk.
Continue through a large picnic shelter, a gathering place for school groups and the location of the restrooms. Just beyond the shelter, the trail begins in earnest, a firmly packed natural path.
Turn right, as the trail is interpreted and marked counterclockwise. The footpath is confined by a low board fence, with a side spur trail leading to an observation deck overlook in the scrubby flatwoods.
Back on the main trail, mounted pieces “tree cookies” provide a touch-and-look lesson on counting rings to determine the age of a tree.
As the boardwalk begins, a gentle slope leads up onto a level, broad path above the forest floor. Grab rails assist those in wheelchairs to make the grade.
Meandering through an oak hammock, the boardwalk descends as you pass by dahoon holly and red maple, clear indicators of wetlands, along with royal ferns and Virginia willow.
Sawgrass grows to one side, and there is buttonbush and black tupelo. This is a dense marsh, the water low, the pickerelweed stranded amid marsh fern and cinnamon fern. Vista I provides a view.
Where the boardwalk rises into an oak hammock, wild pine bromeliads dangle from vines like chandeliers, and red blanket lichen mottles the oak trunks.
The boardwalk makes a sharp left turn, facing a stand of cabbage palm with sword fern growing beneath. Just beyond are golden polypody growing out of the “boots” of the cabbage palm trunk.
Past a tall, thick oak, shoelace fern cascades down a cabbage palm trunk covered in lumps of sphagnum moss. Birdsong fills the forest in the early morning hours.
Past another enormous oak, a skunky aroma tinges the air—simpson’s stopper, or nakedwood, with obvious bare trunks that reek like a diluted skunk’s spray.
As you come up to a junction in the boardwalk, there are strap ferns growing out of the base of a large live oak, and tropical hammock regulars like wild coffee and marlberry.
The boardwalk to the right was blocked off on our visit— perhaps a planned expansion, or a “field trip only” area of the park.
Make a sharp left and the boardwalk continues past more immense oaks swaddled in resurrection fern. Vista II – another area with benches – is at 0.4 mile.
Back in the shade, the trail is surrounded by tropical hammock, transitioning into a palm hammock with a forest floor that could get wet at times.
Pop into a patch of sunlight before the boardwalk winds its way through the palms and back into the shade of the higher oak canopy.
Ferns and wild coffee swarm through the understory. Look for massive fungi on some of the rotted logs.
A cascade of love vine beneath cabbage palms marks Vista III, where there are ferns in many different shades and shapes, and saw palmettos that stand tall, mimicking cabbage palms.
Passing Vista IV at a half mile, the boardwalk continues into an area thick with grapevines in the understory. The cicadas become nosier; the understory, thicker.
You start to hear a smattering of traffic as the trail jogs back and forth through the woods.
The boardwalk comes to an end, gently landing with more grab bars, in the pine flatwoods. Bracken fern thrives in the understory whenever saw palmetto isn’t crowding in closely.
Trail’s end is in front of the picnic shelter. Pass through it to continue back out to the short path through the butterfly garden, to the right.
This is a demonstration garden to showcase the types of plants to use in various habitats – hydric, mesic, xeric – to attract butterflies.
Pop back out at the kiosk at the small parking area. Walk across it to the main parking area to complete this 0.8 mile walk.
See our photos of Erna Nixon Park
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