Surrounded by suburbia in Palm Bay, Turkey Creek Sanctuary is a precious preserve of 117 acres, protecting the gentle bends of Turkey Creek as it carves a deep path through sandy banks on its winding course to the Indian River Lagoon.
With boardwalks carrying you over a variety of habitats, including sand pine scrub, river bluff, and oak hammock, the sanctuary is a welcome getaway for hikers of all ages and abilities. Top it off with the Margaret Hames Nature Center at the entrance, where kids (and adults) can learn about the flora and fauna in the preserve before exploring the trails inside.
Location: Palm Bay
Length: 1.6 miles
Lat-Long: 28.016912, -80.604775
Type: round-trip and loop
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to annoying
Restroom: near the trailhead
Dogs and bicycles are not permitted.
Open 7 AM to sunset daily. Margaret Hames Nature Center open 9-4 daily. Folks arriving by canoe or kayak can take out at a dock along the boardwalk. There is a jogging trail through one section of the park, a picnic area along the boardwalk, and a butterfly garden at the entrance.
From Interstate 95 south of Melbourne, take exit 176 and turn left onto CR 516 (Palm Bay Road). Follow it 2.3 miles to Babcock Street (CR 507). Turn right, driving 1 mile to Port Malabar Boulevard. Turn left. From I-95 northbound from Vero Beach, take exit 173. Turn right on Malabar Road (CR 514). Make a left onto Babcock Street. Follow it 1.4 miles to Port Malabar Boulevard. Turn right. Drive 1.1 miles down Port Malabar Boulevard to Santiago Drive, just before the park sign. Make a right. Parking is on the right, across from the park entrance and just before the library entrance.
Start your hike at the front entrance with its small butterfly garden.You quickly reach a kiosk with a map of the sanctuary, off to the right. On the left is the Margaret Hames Nature Center, with interpretive displays, research materials, and restrooms. Stop in the center to pick up a trail map and to get acquainted with the sanctuary’s habitats and inhabitants before you stroll into the woods.
Passing the library on the right, you reach a gated entrance into the sanctuary. Follow the bark-chip footpath past a side trail to a picnic pavilion. At the intersection with the jogging trail, make a left, then a right to start walking along the boardwalk. Don’t forget to sign the trail register! The boardwalk can be somewhat of a distraction, since the boards are carved with messages and names, and it’s just as easy to look down and read them and forget you’re walking through the forest! So be sure to look up, too. This is an interpretive trail, with numbers to match the guide and tags on many of the trees, shrubs, and plants. The boardwalk zigzags through the sand pine scrub; overhead, the tall sand pines are thick with ball moss.
After you pass the first bench, the boardwalk swings to the left and comes up to a gazebo. Just beyond, the boardwalk forks; keep to the right to follow the Hammock Loop Trail. At the next fork, turn left. The boardwalk drops down and you catch your first glimpse of water—Turkey Creek, bordered on the far shore by steep sand bluffs. At a bend, you enter a shady hardwood hammock, where the boardwalk provides viewing platforms for you to watch for turtles and manatees. The canoe landing, at 0.5 mile, is an excellent perch.
Passing under a power line, you reach the other end of the jogging trail, with a “Hackberry Trail” sign. Stay on the boardwalk as it winds around a sugarberry tree, wandering deeper into the dense canopy of red maples, sugarberry, laurel oak, and black tupelo. Rounding a bend, the boardwalk spans over a marshy area. As the boardwalk rises back into the sand pine scrub, it reaches the beginning of the loop at 0.7 mile. Continue straight. When you return to the junction in front of the gazebo in the sand pine forest, turn right.
This last section of the boardwalk parallels Turkey Creek downstream, providing numerous overlooks from which you can watch for manatees. Take the time to stop and savor the views. Each overlook gives you a unique view of the creek. From the first overlook, you can look back down along the creek’s route you traced along the beginning of the Hammock Loop Trail. Set on a high sand bluff, the second overlook provides a sweeping vista of a lazy bend in Turkey Creek. Looking straight down, you can see that although the water is laced with tannins from oak leaves, the tea color doesn’t spoil its clarity.
The boardwalk descends down the sand bluff, so the third overlook sits close to creek level, along a sharp bend. A short side trail leads to a platform under a spreading live oak tree. Look up. Butterfly orchids decorate the tree, showing off tall yellow-green flowers, each with a purple-striped white lip. The next section of the boardwalk is winder. Another overlook provides a vista on a floodplain channel of the creek, a oxbow lake nourished whenever Turkey Creek overflows its banks.
After 1 mile, the boardwalk ends, but the trail continues. A sign warns that this part of the trail is not wheelchair-accessible— it’s a natural footpath defined by logs on the edges. It winds through an oak hammock, drawing close to Port Malabar Boulevard. Sand live oaks arch over scattered wiregrass and rosemary. Silkgrass grows in a clearing between bluejack oaks; wasps swarm around an opening in a snag.
Emerging on an old jeep trail, the trail continues on a straight course for a short distance, making a sharp left to complete the loop at 1.5 miles. Turn left at the T intersection to retrace your steps back past the jogging path, the picnic pavilion, and through the gate. If seeing hundreds of names underfoot has you wanting to be immortalized on the boardwalk, stop by the Margaret Hames Nature Center and make a contribution to the cause. When you return to your car, you’ve completed a 1.6-mile walk.