One of the rare places in South Florida where you can experience five habitats in just one mile of hiking, Hawks Bluff Trail at Savannas Preserve State Park shows off the highlight of this 10-mile-long state park, the freshwater savannas that occur just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean. While clambering down the bluff to walk along the edge of the savannas, you’ll enjoy expansive scenic views and great opportunities for birding.
Location: Jensen Beach
Length: 1.1 miles
Fees / Permits: Free
Bug factor: moderate
Open 8-sunset. Accessed via a walk-in entrance off Savannah Rd. Limited roadside parking.
From US 1, follow CR707A (Jensen Beach Blvd) east 2.2 miles to CR 723 (Savannah Rd). Turn left and drive 1.1 miles to the crest of the hill at the gate on the left at the corner with NE Dorsey Terrace. There is no parking lot, so turn your car around and park along the shoulder of the road along the state park. Do not block the gate. Parking is very limited.
Walk around the gate to follow the white blazes down this very steep side of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, a series of relict sand dunes. You immediately see a double blaze on a power pole. Turn left at the power pole to follow the trail up the sandy bluff into the coastal scrub. Leading up the steep dunes into the sand pine scrub, the trail curves to the right and passes a wooden fence. Hog plums fill the hollows between the dunes. Since the scrub is rather open, keep an eye on where the footprints lead until you see the next blaze.
Curving left with the dunes, the trail comes up to a fencepost with a double blaze. Turn right, passing a spindly sand live oak with giant wild pine and ball moss entwined in its limbs. On the crest of the ridge, green fingers of spike moss poke through the open sand. You reach a telephone pole with a double blaze. A broad path takes off to the right. Continue straight, past the telephone pole, to proceed down the dunes, as the trail winds through a thick bed of gopher apple. The trail curves to the right beneath a stands of older sand pines
Winding through the sand pine forest, the needle-strewn footpath is surrounded by spike moss. Sprouting from the thick pine duff, fallen bromeliads – particularly giant wild pine – grow like plantations of pineapples beneath the pines. The trail swings downhill to the left to skirt a fence. After 0.4 mile, a double-blaze averts you from walking straight ahead into a lily-covered canal. Wander down to the end of the path anyway, which affords your first glimpse of the savannas. Returning to the main trail, turn left at the T intersection.
As the trail twists and winds through the forest, you catch occasional glimpses of the savannas through openings in the trees. At 0.5 mile, turn left and walk down a side trail to emerge along a bluff on the edge of the savannas. Back on the main trail, you continue along a wall of saw palmetto. Winding uphill, then downhill, under the sand pines, the trail makes a sharp right through a sea of marsh ferns. Flanked by two cabbage palms decorated with shoelace fern, the trail emerges into a broad open grassy area along the savannas.
At 0.7 mile, a trail leads off to the left along a high and dry spit of land stretching out into the marshes. Turn left. The wind drives constant ripples across the deep blue water. Overlooking the rapid current of the central slough through the savanna, you reach the end of the trail. In the distance, pine flatwoods line the western edge of the marshes. Follow the mowed area around the trees and return to the main trail. Turn left.
At 1 mile, you reach a trail junction. Turn left, where the white blazes lead you into a forest of cabbage palms and slash pines. On the far side of the dune, gopher tortoise burrows take advantage of the shape of the hill. The trail rises up into an oak hammock. As it curves to the left, you see residences adjoining the preserve. Deep sand makes your footing difficult as you climb up towards the telephone pole, completing the loop. Walk back up the steep slope to the gate, finishing your hike after 1.1 miles.