Call it arrested development. Sitting between Fort Pierce and Vero Beach, Indrio Savannas was a gleam in a developer’s eye more than a decade ago, but thankfully this particular subdivision never came to fruition. Only a mile from the Indian River Lagoon as the heron flies, the savannas of Indrio are expansive freshwater wetlands where sea breezes wash across the landscape. These broad, shallow wetlands are an important stopping point for migratory birds and a gathering place for wading birds at dusk. A strip of scrub forest above the wetlands provides perfect habitat for the Florida scrub-jay, which flourishes here, and a unique environment for certain rare plants that require both the ancient scrub soil and the humidity generated by the savannas. It’s certainly a unique place. The loop trails are actually rectangular because the entire property was platted – and roads built – for development that never happened.
Length: 3.5 miles
Lat-Long: 27.529283, -80.361817
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
The beginning of the trail is accessible with assistance, up to the observation deck. Much of the trail is unshaded – use sunscreen and wear a hat.
From I-95 exit 138, follow Indrio Road 6 miles east to US 1. Turn north and drive 0.6 miles to Tozour Road, on the left. After you turn on to Tozour Road, make an immediate right to follow the access road down to the trailhead by the lake. The address is 5275 Tozour Rd, Fort Pierce.
Pick up a map at the trailhead kiosk. The sparkling blue body of water in front of you is not one of the savannas – although it probably was a wetland thirty years ago – but instead is a deep borrow pit from which the developer pulled limerock fill to create the roads that are now used as the hiking trail system through this intended subdivision.
Because it’s a quarry, the water is particularly deep, making it of minimal use to alligators and other aquatic life that prefers the natural shallows that occur here. The trail starts out along the southern edge of this man-made lake. Although a natural surface, it is hard-packed enough up to the observation deck on the left that wheelchairs can traverse the landscape. Follow the ramp up to the deck to observe the sweep of the first savanna. It sits very close to US 1 and yet still attracts herons, ibis, ducks, coots, and many other wading birds. This is an excellent place to come before dusk to watch the birds fly in for the night.
Just past the observation deck, a bridge leads off to the left. Turn left and follow the narrow dike between the savanna, on your left, and the canal on your right. American lotus spreads open its blooms to the sun. Listen carefully for a splash; it might be a Florida cooter, an otter, or an alligator. In fact, this is a place to be especially alert for alligators. Since the dike isn’t very high above the waterways, you’ll note obvious paths between the two, well-packed by alligator tails. These alligator slides are virtual highways between waterways. If you see a gator on the trail, back off and wait for it to move.
The trees along the dike provide puddles of shade along the way, but the awe-inspiring part is the sweeping view, especially when birds are active. Frogs add their touch of chorus. Watch for a bridge on the left at 0.6 mile. The trail turns right here and continues following orange blazes through a narrow corridor across a small scrub-topped island in the savannas. A boardwalk connects the island with a mature slash pine forest. After crossing a damp area between two canals on a bog bridge, the trail rises up onto a higher dike at a T intersection. Turn right to parallel the canal, where there is a large culvert: a perfect hiding spot for alligators.
The blazes guide you left at an intersection at 0.8 mile. It’s now a long, straight stretch through the forest. The loops of Indrio Savannah aren’t round, they’re square and rectangular thanks to the developer who laid out a grid system of roads (with intersections, it seems, every tenth of a mile) and dug canals to drain the flatwoods and provide road fill. So this is not a pristine pine forest, alas. But the slash pines are tall enough to support a busy population of warblers and woodpeckers. Don’t be surprised to see pilated woodpeckers soaring from tree to tree.
The understory is currently undergoing a manual restoration in lieu of a controlled burn, perhaps due to the proximity to the actual subdivisions that did get built, and a nearby airport that would be affected by smoke. Yes, this is what the typical South Florida subdivision (north of the tropical hammock zone) looked like before it was built. Every tenth of a mile, you reach another intersection. Keep heading straight, following the orange blazes. In spring, paw-paw is in bloom, and low-bush blueberries are dense with blooms. The trail finally turns right at 1.1 miles: be alert to the orange blazes making the turn. A narrow canal leads off to the left, with a narrower path paralleling it. Pass by and continue down the broad
path. When you reach the intersection of the orange trail and the blue trail at 1.5 miles, continue straight.
In April, there are many paw-paw in bloom in the pine duff along the sides of this section of the trail, their draping ivory blooms calling for attention. Reaching an intersection where the trail straight ahead looks narrow and overgrown, the blue trail turns right. The footpath narrows and heads down another straightaway beneath the pines. At the next intersection, turn left down the narrow path. This dike between two canals is decorated with drifts of wildflowers and leads to a tall observation deck. Climb up it for another sweeping view of a different set of savannas, this one with a small windswept island off to the left and obvious diggings from the subdivision making squares in the water straight ahead. A pair of blue-winged teals drift quietly across the water’s surface.
Turn around and walk back to the intersection and make a left. You’re now paralleling a narrow, deep canal with an obvious tall slide down into the lily-dotted water – too much of an angle for an alligator, so perhaps an otter slide. The trail makes a sharp right and continues to be along a canal, but to your right, the landscape transitions to a scrub habitat. It’s tough to say whether this was a sand pine scrub since the manual restoration of the area has removed the large trees and only a handful of snags are left. You can’t get there from here, however, until you come to the intersection of the orange trail and the blue trail again, which comes in from the right at 2.5 miles.
Turn right and take a walk up the blue trail through this strip of scrub up to the edge of the tall pine forest. A family of Florida scrub-jays lives here, and we were greeted by one during our walk, curious enough to draw close but cautious enough to be skittish. In the bright sand, paw-paw (different from the ones in the pine flatwoods) and various scrub mints have established nice colonies along the sides of this trail. When you get to the tall pines, turn around and come back to the orange/blue intersection. Just past it, make the first left across a bridge. The view opens up across the lake. For a meander along the west shore of the lake, continue straight. What a surprise to see a scrub-jay poking around beneath the wax myrtle on the edge of the water! The constant breeze across the lake makes for a cool walk. This spur trail gives you a good view of the lake and the opportunity for birdwatching along the edges. Walk down as far as you like — it ends where the water does – and return along the same path.
When you get back to the corner at the bridge, turn left to follow the shoreline back to the trailhead. Take a moment to enjoy the observation deck again in case a new flock of birds has arrived in the savanna. The trail ends back at the kiosk, and you’ve completed a 3.5 mile walk.