Enticing visitors into a walk in the woods through a thicket of ferns under the shade of live oaks, the Oak Hammock Trail at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge provides an easy 3/4-mile introduction to one of the most pleasant habitats at the north end of the island, the hammock. It’s an interpretive trail, and most of it is along a boardwalk above the sometimes-soggy forest floor.
Length: 3/4 mile
Lat-Lon: 28.644268, -80.716569
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: low to moderate
While much of the trail is on boardwalks, it is not wheelchair accessible due to the need to cross a railroad track en route to the boardwalk.
Drive east on CR 402 from Titusville over the Max Brewer Bridge into Merritt Island NWR. Stay right at the divide in the road. Watch for the “Hammock Trails” sign after you pass the Visitor Center entrance eastbound. An ample parking lot is along the north side of CR 402.
The trail starts to the right of the kiosk for the Hammock Trails. Beneath the tall oaks, sword ferns crowd densely along the trail. Citrus trees grow wild here, a remnant of a homestead from the 1940s. Captain Douglas Dummitt established the very first citrus grove along the Indian River Lagoon not far north of here in 1807. The homestead here belonged to the Danenburg family between 1947 and 1964, and they grew gladiolias and oranges until the Space Center came along. Then they ran a mobile home park on this site until they were bought out during the formation of this refuge.
After crossing a bridge over a marshy ditch, you cross the NASA railroad line, followed by another bridge and a jeep trail. Continue on to the shade of a giant old water oak, where the trail splits in two directions. Follow the left fork through tall saw palmettos and up to a boardwalk. Turn left at the first intersection for a walk through a laurel oak forest. You’ll start to see some unusual trees. Their trunks are bare and smooth, with an orange hue. These nakedwood trees, also known as white stopper, grow profusely along all of the trails in the hammock.
The Oak Hammock Trail continues on a boardwalk through a hydric hammock. Islands of ferns break up the dark tannic swamp, which does dry out in the summertime. At 0.4 mile, you meet the inner boardwalk. Turn left, passing a short dead-end trail. The boardwalk ends, and the trail continues as a natural footpath. Wild coffee grows along both sides of the trail; some of the plants are more than four feet tall! Watch for its glossy leaves and distinctive reddish-brown coffee beans. A short boardwalk to the left leads to a swamp overlook with a bench looking over the wild persimmon trees.
The trail veers to the right, continuing back to the main junction under the old water oak. Turn left to return to the trailhead, completing a 3/4-mile walk.