Cut in two by Interstate 95 south of Melbourne, St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park spans 35 square miles across two counties. It is a preserve for wildlife habitat, protecting a mosaic of pine flatwoods, cypress domes, palmetto prairies, and strand swamp surrounding the St. Sebastian River and its tributaries.
Lat-Lon: 27.8251, -80.6066
Fees: Free. Primitive camping costs $5 per person per night
Open: 8 AM until sunset daily
Leashed pets welcome
This massive preserve spans from Micco to Sebastian to Fellsmere. Millions of people pass through on Interstate 95 without even realizing they are in a state park. There are two drive-in access points. The Visitor Center and park office are located off Babcock Rd at the south end of Brevard County. Popular day use and camping areas are just north of North County Regional Park in Fellsmere. There is also a trailhead along Fellsmere Road, which accesses the Red Trail. Cyclists can enter the preserve via the Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail.
With more than 40 miles of trails, this is a place to lose yourself in the wilderness, metaphorically, of course. The east-west barrier of the Fellsmere Canal and the north-south barrier of Interstate 95 divide the preserve into quadrants, each with its own trail system.
Where there are cypress swamps and pine flatwoods, scrub and scrubby flatwoods are predominant habitats on the preserve. This is good news for the Florida scrub-jay. The preserve is one of the top locations in Florida where they thrive.
However, hikers and cyclists will find the soft sand and open, sunny spaces challenging. We’ll be exploring the preserve soon to share some optimum routes and tips. The long loop trails are ideal for equestrian use, and most of the campsites are set up for that purpose.
Most visitors show up at the Visitor Center (open Friday-Sunday, 10-4:30), walk the interpretive trail that starts by the park office, stop at the Scrub Jay Viewing Area right near the nature trail, and drive down to the Manatee Overlook along the Fellsmere Canal. Dolphins are sometimes seen in the canal as well as manatees.
There are 19 miles of trails in this portion of the preserve, which once was a part of the Corrigan Family Ranch. Trails start off Buffer Preserve Drive near the Manatee Overlook. This part of the preserve is home to the Herndon Swamp, a cypress strand laced with tramways left behind during the days of logging. The Yellow Trail is the main loop here and is 9.7 miles around its perimeter, with two campsites.
The Green Trail, a 9 mile loop, begins and ends right at the Visitor Center, making it the easiest hike to access in the preserve. This portion of the preserve was mainly used for cattle ranching so there are wide open spaces as well as pine flatwoods where pines were tapped for turpentine.
Access to the 14-mile Red Trail in this part of the preserve is easiest off the Fellsmere Rd trailhead, which has ample space for horse trailers. Vast, open scrubby spaces are where the Florida scrub-jay families can be seen. Biking through the soft sand can be challenging. The Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail will eventually cross this entire portion of the preserve en route to its future terminus in Fellsmere. Right now, it essentially ends at the Red Trail.
North County Regional Park in Fellsmere sits on land within the preserve, as does the Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail, which can be accessed at the park. If you follow WW Ranch Road north from Fellsmere Rd, it leads into the preserve, with several parking areas providing access to the Blue Trail, a 10-mile loop with three primitive campsites.
On the east side of the Blue Trail are several shorter stacked loops along the river floodplain, enabling a 4-mile day hike from the picnic area just north of Duck Pond Rd.