The lesser-known side of Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, Malabar Scrub West spans from Briar Creek Blvd in Palm Bay to Malabar Road in Malabar.
Connected to the east side of the sanctuary via Cameron Preserve, it offers a very different palette of habitats along its 3.3 miles of trails than are seen in Malabar Scrub East.
With the Fern Creek basin, a tributary of Turkey Creek, as a prominent feature, the trail system features not just scrub habitat – sand pine and oak – but palm hammocks and hardwoods along the floodplain.
Showy bridges and immersive oak scrub make for an enjoyable hike and some challenges for riders on this multi-use singletrack, built and maintained by the Brevard Mountain Bike Association.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Palm Bay
Length: 3.3 miles in three loops
Trailhead: 28.01083, -80.59679
Address: Briar Creek Blvd, Palm Bay
Land manager: Brevard County
Open daily 7 AM to sunset. Pets are not permitted. Trails are shared by off-road cyclists and hikers. Cyclist use is heavy on weekends.
Trail etiquette for multi-use applies. Step off trail to let cyclists by. To avoid collisions, please follow arrows in the direction of travel as shown.
From Interstate 95 south of Melbourne, take exit 176 and turn left onto CR 516 (Palm Bay Rd). Follow it 2.3 miles to Babcock St (CR 507). Turn right, driving 1 mile to Port Malabar Blvd. Turn left. Or, from I-95 northbound from Vero Beach, take exit 173. Turn right on Malabar Rd (CR 514). Make a left onto Babcock Street. Follow it 1.4 miles to Port Malabar Blvd. Turn right.
From Babcock St, drive east on Port Malabar Blvd for 1.7 miles to Briar Creek Blvd, the first right after the light at Clearmont St. The trail entrance and kiosk is 0.4 mi along Briar Creek Blvd on the left, across from the entrance to Turkey Creek Trails. A walk-in entrance is in Malabar along the Blue Trail South Loop, but has no parking area. Trails interconnect with adjacent Cameron Preserve for access as well.
Step through the fence gap off Briar Creek Blvd behind the Malabar Scrub West sign and take a look at the kiosk for an overview of the trail map. Snap a photo to take it along.
The trail system is made up of three segments: the Red Trail Loop leads to a short Blue Trail Loop, which connects to the long Blue Trail South Loop.
Follow the Red Trail arrow to the right of the kiosk to start the hike. The singletrack curves through sand pine scrub into pine flatwoods, palm fronds dangling into the trail corridor.
As vegetation grows denser and more tropical on the right, the trail starts grazing the edge of the Fern Creek floodplain.
The trail makes an abrupt turn around exposed saw palmetto roots as thick as anacondas. The going gets rooty for cyclists as the track drops into the floodplain.
A path on the right leads to a pretty spot along the tannic flow of Fern Creek as it works its way through ferns and palms.
Leaving the creek, the trail broadens as it rises into sand pine scrub. At a quarter mile, an unmarked trail leads left at a curve with a red post. It had a tray atop it as we passed.
That trail leads to the two-way east side of the Red Trail, with access points to Cameron Preserve. To stick with the outer loop, stay on the main trail as it swings right.
The Red Trail narrows as it tunnels into oak scrub, making long, tight curves through the dense understory. Sand pines are visible beyond the oaks on the left.
This portion of the trail is nicely shaded by sand live oaks and rusty lyonia, a delight on foot and an easy ride at a gentle pace.
The forest opens into sand pine scrub, with two trail markers in quick succession along a straight stretch a half mile into the hike.
Soon after, the trail passes through a fence gap between two red-tipped post. This is a heads-up for cyclists of the upcoming Blue Trail junction.
At a curve, Blue Trail and Red Trail marks stand across the start of the Blue Trail on the right, pointing in opposition to each other.
Turn right. Still in oak scrub, the Blue Trail descends quickly to another fence gap. The trail turns to the right soon after and enters the Fern Creek floodplain.
A lengthy boardwalk carries the Blue Trail across the floodplain, the forest dense with loblolly bay and red maple trees. Cross a clear creek channel on a bridge.
The second bridge is a more substantial wooden bridge over Fern Creek, a giant leather fern a showy accompaniment to the tannic water.
After a short stretch of natural surface, the trail crosses a series of boards before ascending out of the floodplain into the sunny scrub forest beyond.
It’s almost a shock, emerging into the blue skies and light greens of diminutive oaks and young sand pines, ideal habitat for the Florida scrub-jay.
The trail winds through the scrub, the corridor tight but showy, with soft sand pines on either side.
At 0.8 mile, there is a trail map posted where the path crosses a firebreak. Homes in an adjacent subdivision are visible to the right. Continue straight.
Beyond the firebreak, it’s easy for cyclists to miss the connection to the Blue Loop South. The first trail on the left is the return side of the one-way loop.
The next junction is more obvious, with a signage indicating the Red Trail connection to the left. If you take the right on this Y, it’s the start of a 1.6 mile one-way clockwise loop.
It’s a narrow singletrack through a dense understory of scrub oaks, short enough they cast no shade but tall enough to limit visibility.
We biked this loop, so it went by quickly. To limit trail damage, a marked bypass circles a wetland area. The trail is hardened through seasonally damp spots.
A walk-through trailhead with kiosk and trail register leads to a community access point in Malabar. North of that point, there is a skills feature along the path.
The singletrack runs you across some rough saw palmetto roots soon after. Enter a sand pine scrub and re-enter the diminutive oak scrub before wrapping up this loop.
If you take on the optional southern loop, most of which is out in the open, you end up back at the same Y junction again after 2.4 miles. This time, stay left.
The trail arcs around a prairie with tall waving grasses and passes through a portal of tree trunks pressing close to the path.
The path narrows through dense scrub as you reach and cross the firebreak again, and continues to stay narrow up until the habitat changes.
The transition into a palm hammock is a surprise, the trail atop a bluff along the edge of the Fern Creek floodplain.
After an overlook above a horseshoe curve in the tannic creek below, the trail reaches the start of a boardwalk across the creek basin.
At 2.7 miles, start the traverse on the boardwalk. It passes over Fern Creek before making a sharp left and winding its way across marshes and rivulets.
At the far end of the boardwalk is a steep uphill with trail visible to the left. That’s the Red Trail coming in from the left, from where you left it behind when you joined the Blue Trail.
Continue uphill to the right. After a curve, it’s a surprise to see a house and a subdivision beyond the trees on the right.
This portion of the corridor is a straightaway in a tunnel of forest above the houses to the right. The straightaway ends facing a marsh.
The trail curves sharply left into the sand pine scrub, reaching an unmarked 4-way junction. Continue straight across it.
Follow the arrows on the red-tipped posts through the sand pine scrub. The corridor is again wide. Pass by an incoming crossover trail on the left.
At 3 miles, the trail splits at signage indicating Cameron Preserve is accessible via the trail to the right. Peek down that corridor and you’ll see a trail map on a post with details.
That one-way side trail provides access to the Yellow Trail, a loop across Cameron Preserve that, in turn, connects to the Red Trail at Malabar Scrub East.
If you extend your exploration east along those one way loops, you can extend this hike or ride to 5.2 miles (for Cameron Preserve) or 8.2 miles (for both preserves).
See those trails for specific details on their loops. Here, follow the Red Loop & Exit sign. The Red Trail becomes two-way from this point to the trailhead to accommodate cyclists using this junction.
Beneath taller sand pines, the trail is wide and the understory more open, making the last part of the hike a breeze.
There are a couple minor jogs around tall trees before the Yellow Trail West merges in from Cameron Preserve.
Soon after the merge you see the trailhead kiosk and Briar Creek Blvd ahead, the completion point for this 3.3 mile trip. Add more miles with the Turkey Creek Trails, across the street.
A virtual walk in the woods at Malabar Scrub West
See our photos of Malabar Scrub West
More worth exploring in this area
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.
Protecting more than 117 acres along Turkey Creek in Palm Bay, Turkey Creek Sanctuary has both boardwalks and footpaths to explore natural habitats along the creek basin.
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.