Flowing 36 miles from swamps southeast of Tallahassee towards the Gulf of Mexico, the St. Marks River was one of the earliest water routes followed by explorers along the Big Bend. It is notable for both its springs and historic sites, including the natural bridge that occurs upriver from Newport and the St. Marks Lighthouse, where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
The quiet village of St. Marks sits along the riverbank not far from the river’s confluence with the Wakulla River. It is at the meeting of the two rivers that centuries of fortifications protected river access, dating back to 1679. Learn about the deep history of this site and access this scenic spot at San Marcos de Apalache Historic Site State Park.
The river is notable for hikers as a barrier along the Florida Trail, which crosses the waterway where one of Florida’s earliest rail lines extended to Port Leon, an early Florida town washed away by hurricanes more than two centuries ago. As the railroad bridge no longer exists, hikers must flag down a passing boater or call ahead to a marina to get a ferry across this deep tidal portion of the river to connect the trail between St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the St. Marks Railroad State Trail.
Trails and Parks along the St. Marks River
- Exploring San Marcos de Apalache - Where the Wakulla and St Marks Rivers meet, explore San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park, a small piece of ground with a deep history under five flags.
- Lighthouse Levee Trail - A windswept walk along the Gulf of Mexico, the Lighthouse Levee Trail provides scenic panoramas of both the Gulf and marsh impoundments near the St. Marks Lighthouse.
- Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park - At Natural Bridge Battlefield near Tallahassee, memorials and reenactments keep alive the spirits of the soldiers who perished on this spot during one of the last and largest battles of the Civil War in Florida.
- San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park - The site of the first coastal fortress along Florida's Panhandle, San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park protects several generations of battlements.
- San Marcos de Apalache Trails - The site of the first coastal fortress in Northwest Florida, San Marcos de Apalache has a 0.6-mile historical trail at the confluence of two major rivers.
- St. Marks Lighthouse - Built in 1842, the St. Marks Lighthouse played a pivotal role during the Civil War. Despite its light being quenched during the war, it remains a working lighthouse marking the location of the St. Marks River.
- St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Stretching across 70,000 acres in Florida's Big Bend, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge protects one of Florida's longest wild shorelines, more than 43 miles in three counties.
- St. Marks River Preserve State Park - Explore river bottom forest around the St. Marks River on a network of old forest roads that traverse St. Marks River State Park, between Tallahassee and Wacissa.