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 is a delight.
It provides an easy introduction to one of the most pleasant habitats at the north end of the island, the hammock.
An interpretive trail, much of it is a boardwalk above the sometimes-soggy forest floor.
Watch the understory carefully, as we’ve spotted dozens of armadillos roaming around these woods.
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Length: 0.7 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.644268, -80.716569
Restroom: None here, but the Visitor Center is nearby
Land manager: Merritt Island NWR
Open dawn to dusk. Expect mosquitoes: use bug spray.
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.
From Interstate 95 exit 220, Titusville, follow SR 406 east for 8 miles to cross the Max Brewer Bridge and the causeway to Merritt Island. Stay right at the divide in the road to continue on CR 402. Around 3 miles, 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 Oak Hammock 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 in America 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 in fall, distinctive reddish-brown coffee beans.
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 0.7-mile walk.
Learn more about Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
More to explore in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Delving deep into the hammocks of North Merritt Island, the Palm Hammock Trail treats you to a lush forest of mature saw palmettos under a dense canopy of live oaks on the way to an island of cabbage palms
The only fully-accessible trail at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Visitor Center Boardwalk offers many overlooks for wildlife watching and birding
An easy walk for birding along Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Wild Birds Unlimited Trail is a short trail with observation platforms
See our photos of the Oak Hammock Trail