St. Sebastian River State Park protects nearly 22,000 acres of land along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge between Melbourne and Vero Beach.
This park is divided into four parts by Interstate 95 and the Fellsmere Canal, and each quadrant has its own respective loop trail.
Located in the southwest quadrant nearest historic Fellsmere, the Red Trail is the longest loop. It is also the one along which you are most likely to spot Florida scrub-jays.
This hike can be broken up as a backpacking trip by staying overnight roughly halfway at the cozy Eagle Camp.
You can also extend your backpacking by using either the Eagle Link connector or the Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail to reach the 9.4-mile Blue Trail loop in the southeast quadrant from the Red Trail.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 14.9 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.768341, -80.565157
Address: Fellsmere Rd, Fellsmere
Fees: Free. Primitive camping costs $5 per person per night
Restrooms: No, but available at nearby Fellsmere Trailhead Preserve along CR 512
Land Manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM until sunset daily, unless camping is pre-arranged. Leashed pets welcome.
The trail is multi-use, shared with equestrians and off-road cyclists.
From Interstate 95 at Fellsmere, head west on CR 512 for 0.8 mile and the trailhead will be on the right side of the road at the high-tension power lines.
Passing through a gap in the fence at the trailhead, take a minute to glance at a large informational kiosk before heading down a wide, grassy access road.
Follow red-blazed posts northward as the sandy pathway enters a scrub habitat.
Within a quarter mile reach a junction with the east-west oriented Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail. Cross it and continue due north along the Red Trail.
Clusters of fetterbush–rusty lyonia–line the trail, sporting hundreds of small pink flowers in the early spring.
Blooming around the same time of year, Florida pennyroyal gathers closer to the ground, alongside golden grasses and palmettos.
A large swath of scrub oaks adjacent to the trail provide an ideal environment for the endangered Florida scrub jay, a rare species of endemic bird known to inhabit the park.
A lucky visitor might see one of these curious jays pop out of the bush to get a closer look at an unexpected passerby.
After 1.1 miles, turn right at a trail junction to begin the loop. Heading eastward, the landscape becomes wetter as the elevated road passes through a hydric hammock, then enters pine flatwoods.
Where the trail turns left in 0.6 mile, seas of saw palmettos border it, accented with numerous slash pines and cabbage palms.
The wide trail continues for another 1.4 miles before turning right and beginning the Cypress Loop.
Red blazes and arrows indicate the path as it winds around a man-made pond before passing between Interstate 95 and a cypress swamp.
Leaving the sound of the highway, the trail heads westward through partially shaded mesic flatwoods, opening to the wide trail again in another 0.6 mile.
This intersection is confusing, as all the blazes are red, and the trail goes in two directions. Turn left to head south and continue the loop trail.
Rounding a corner after another 1.6 miles, the trail reaches a sheet metal shelter standing within a wide clearing surrounded by live oaks.
This cabin is part of Eagle Camp, a reservable campsite which also includes a large fire ring and a well pump.
Continuing westward past the campsite, the trail enters an impressive shady palm and oak hammock teeming with wildlife.
As the trail leaves the hammock, its rises slightly to the edge of another scrubby area inhabited by scrub jays.
After following a powerline easement for a half mile, the trail follows a long canal towards the west side of the property.
The remaining 5.5 miles of this red-blazed loop traverse what seems to be a partially developed road system, with a few potential water crossings along the way.
Pine warblers dart from tree to tree, as red shouldered hawks, vultures, and swallowtail kites soar gracefully overhead.
Butterflies float across the path stopping at a multitude of small flowers lining the roadside canals.
This corner of the hike runs close to the town of Fellsmere. When incorporated in 1915, its charter granted women the right to vote–five years before the rest of the United States.
Once you return to the loop junction, turn right and follow red blazes through the scrub.
Cross the Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail (the railroad that connected Fellsmere to its markets) after three-quarters of a mile, and complete your hike at the trailhead a quarter mile later.
Learn more about St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park
Cut in two by Interstate 95 south of Melbourne, St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park spans 35 square miles across two counties, protecting a mosaic of habitats for wildlife, particularly the Florida scrub-jay.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
The Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail
If you’ve seen the prominent Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail over Interstate 95 at Fellsmere, you’ve probably wondered about it. Here’s what we found when we stopped for a ride.
St. Sebastian River Preserve Yellow Trail
Navigating a longleaf pine forest blanketed with countless wildflowers, the Yellow Trail at St. Sebastian State Preserve is a great destination for spotting rare red-cockaded woodpeckers.
Fellsmere Trailhead Preserve
Immediately west of Interstate 95 at the Sebastian/Fellsmere exit, Fellsmere Trailhead Preserve provides a nature break for travelers and a trailhead for recreation
St. Sebastian River Preserve Green Trail
Winding through 9.7 miles of panoramic pine savannas, the Green Trail at St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park offers a cozy campsite near its trailhead.