Delving deeper into the hammocks of North Merritt Island, the 2-mile 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 surrounded by marshes.
Length: 2 miles
Lat-Lon: 28.644265, -80.716691
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: moderate to high
Expect some soggy places on this hike during many months of the year, particularly along the loop portion on the island of palms.
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 Palm Hammock Trail is for the more adventuresome hiker. Expect short stretches of muddy and wet hiking. Starting out under an dense oak canopy, the trail quickly crosses a small bridge over a ditch into a low area edged by a red maple swamp. It then rises briefly through an oak hammock. Like the Oak Hammock Trail, it crosses a bridge, the NASA railroad tracks, and an old road as it heads out deeper into the forest.
Once you get beyond the railroad tracks and road, your surroundings become more splendid with every step. A dense canopy of oaks shades an understory of tall saw palmettos, their trunks lifting up to six feet in the air. It’s a damp area, with rich dark soil and roots underfoot. The trail rises and opens up overhead as it enters a corridor edged by saw palmettos, wax myrtle, gallberry, and young sand live oaks before dropping back down into another palm hammock.
A boardwalk begins at 0.6 mile, with a bench to the left. The boardwalk carries the trail through a swamp forest mostly dominated by red maple and Virginia willow, ending at another palm hammock. Where the trail becomes indistinct due to palm fronds on the ground, veer right, following the trail markers. When you are confronted with so many cabbage palms at once, the distinct knobby patterns on their trunks stand out in sharp relief.
This is where the trail has changed since the first time we both walked it. Instead of making a big loop around the Oak Hammock Trail, it sticks to this island, making a smaller loop through the palm hammock. You return to the boardwalk, and backtrack along the extraordinarily scenic walk through the hammocks to the trailhead, not a bad way to wrap up this hike.