It’s been two decades since we explored Malabar Scrub Sanctuary for the first edition of 50 Hikes in Central Florida. It was new to the Brevard Environmentally Endangered Lands back then.
Roughed up by developers, sliced through by an access road by a median, it was still rough, with scars to heal. Time and energy towards restoration did just that.
The original hiking trail system has been replaced with a multi-use loop, built and maintained by the Brevard Mountain Bike Association (BMBA). A sense of quiet pervades the interior.
We spotted Florida scrub-jays and gopher tortoises along the hike, and vegetation indicative of a healthy scrub. Best of all, despite the press of subdivisions to the north, it’s serene.
The preserve has several access points now, including a paved trail to its north and east (Al Tuttle Trail) and BMBA singletrack through adjacent Cameron Preserve.
There is also a distinct tract called Malabar Scrub West, accessed from Briar Creek Rd in Palm Bay. But the joy of this original tract is its good health and its expansive landscapes, enjoyed from a 2.7-mile loop.
The old access road remains, but only for recreation enabling road cyclists to come in from the Al Tuttle Trail, and for families to allow children to ride on it.
BMBA has advised us that when hikers are sharing singletrack, we should hike in the same direction as the posted hours. Cyclists coming up behind you can see you better and let you know they’re behind you.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 2.7 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.00139, -80.58267
Address: 1501 Malabar Woods Blvd, Malabar
Restroom: At Malabar Community Park
Land manager: Brevard County EEL Program
Open daily dawn to dusk. No pets. Equestrian use permitted. See trail map at access points.
Trails are shared with cyclists, who follow a signposted one-way route on the Red Trail.
From Interstate 95 exit 173, drive east on Malabar Rd (SR 514). Cross Babcock Rd and continue 2.4 miles, looking for the fire station on the left. Turn immediately after the fire station onto Malabar Woods Blvd towards Malabar Community Park. Park on the left inside that park, near the restrooms, to access the preserve entrance.
Our route follows a counterclockwise loop on the Red Trail, marked with posts tipped in red. Sign in at the trailhead kiosk and snap of photo of the map. Brochures are sometimes in the adjoining box.
Walk straight up the road inside the preserve and make a right at the first red-tipped post.
Climb up the short hill and enter the oak hammock on the right, where the trail winds between wizened sand live oaks.
It wiggles back and forth through open pine savanna, facing power lines in the distance along Malabar Rd before swinging east.
After a quarter mile, cross a broad firebreak that also serves as an equestrian trail within the preserve. Equestrian parking and access is provided via the east end of the Al Tuttle Trail in Malabar.
The scrub corridor presses tightly through this next section with limited visibilty around curves and above the understory. A brief divide occurs in the path at a damp area.
A half mile along, cross a wooden bridge over a creek nearly hidden by the underbrush, which opens up soon after.
Crossing another firebreak / equestrian trail, enjoy the panorama of pine savanna ahead, tall pines scraping the sky before the blazes lead you to the paved Al Tuttle Trail.
Turn left to continue the walk along this paved path for a short stretch along its 2.5 mile route between Malabar and Palm Bay.
At 0.9 mile, the Red Trail turns off the Al Tuttle Trail to the left just after a curve in the trail, into a particularly pretty palm hammock.
Narrow again, the path waggles between stands of palms and young longleaf pines before making a sharp turn west down a straightaway in the pine savanna.
One mile into the hike, it crosses the White Trail a second time. The trails merge here and narrow again, turning north.
Along a brilliant white sand ridge in the preserve, this next section of trail shows off Florida scrub habitat at its best.
The path twists and winds, offering both panoramas and small tableaus of scrub plants and gopher tortoise burrows around each bend.
By 1.4 miles, the trail makes a sudden turn west onto a broad path to access a low bridge. Use the bridge to cross the swale in the landscape, which is often wet.
Stay to the left where broad and narrow paths split, and the trail leads you up to an observation deck overlooking a marshy pond in the scrub.
After taking in the view from this deck and its benches, look for the red blazed post on the opposite side of the broad path to continue along the Red Trail.
Two-tenths of a mile later, it crosses a broad white sand path, and reaches the central paved “road” with a drop downhill at 1.7 miles.
Cross the road and its median to pick up the Red Trail on the opposite side, where it climbs into a tunnel of scrub.
Continue up and over a ridge topped with sand pines. It has a cleared path leading due north, which is one of the old hiking trails. Stick with the Red Trail as it continues past it and downhill.
Below this next hill is a flatwoods pond topped with water lilies, stretching off to the right. It’s the first in a chain of picturesque ponds that the Red Trail will now parallel.
At 1.8 miles, the Red Trail meets the Yellow Trail, which leads to the loop trail system inside adjoining Cameron Preserve. Turn left to stay on the Red Trail.
Pine savanna stretches to the west as the Red Trail makes a turn south for the last leg of the loop. Where the trail makes a sharp right, the next pond is down a narrow path straight ahead.
While there is a nice view south of the chain of ponds from that high spot, the Red Trail will now work its way along the western shoreline of these watery jewels.
The path splits in two in a few places, low and high, so cyclists can avoid roughing up the trail when the water level comes up in these rain-fed ponds.
At 2.1 miles, the Red Trail swings west around a marshy cove in a pond, drawing close to the western boundary road for the preserve and a subdivision beyond it.
Staying close to the shoreline, the trail swings east again. Beaten paths lead to high points for views.
When the trail works its way away from this pond, it weaves through the dense pine savanna. Clearings cradle colorful wildflowers.
Crossing a forest road at 2.3 miles, look for the swaying purple stalks of blazing star on the near hill in fall.
The trail makes a sharp turn east soon after a ridge covered in ferns, climbing up and over a rise to the edge of a very large pond with open water.
Turning south to follow the shoreline, the trail edges right up to the water’s edge in places. Again, parallel trails exist in places to keep cyclists out of possible mud spots.
Be alert for wading birds along the shoreline, as well as alligators sunning near the trail.
Strangely curved pine trunks adjoin the trail before it reaches another small wooden bridge at an outflow from the pond.
A mud puddle may be in place as you step off the bridge. The trail hooks left around that final pond in the series.
A bright spot is visible ahead, with a red-tipped post to guide the way. After another minor climb, the trail crosses a bridge over a ditch.
You’re back at the road for the subdivision that thankfully never was. Turn right to exit and sign out at the kiosk to complete this 2.7-mile loop.
See our video of Malabar Scrub (East)
See our photos of Malabar Scrub East
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
With loop trails showing off scrub, pine flatwoods, and the floodplain of Fern Creek, Malabar Scrub West provides miles to roam southeast of Turkey Creek.
A paved backbone to a string of public lands between Malabar and Palm Bay, the 2.4-mile Al Tuttle Trail provides access to nearly 13 miles of trails.
Discover a deeply folded landscape of basins and bluffs at the edge of the scrub forest along the eastern rim of Turkey Creek, with a beautiful boardwalk across the Fern Creek floodplain at its heart.