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.
Boardwalks lead through various habitats, including sand pine scrub, river bluff, and oak hammock. The sanctuary is a welcome getaway for hikers of all ages and abilities. At the Margaret Hames Nature Center at the entrance, kids (and adults) can learn about the flora and fauna in the preserve before exploring the trails.
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.
The hike begins at the front entrance, with a kiosk off to the right. Passing the library on the right, reach a gated entrance to the sanctuary, and follow the bark-chip footpath past a side trail to a picnic pavilion.
When it intersects with the jogging trail, make a left, then a right to take the boardwalk. 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.
Just beyond a gazebo is a fork in the boardwalk; keep right to follow the Hammock Loop Trail. At the next fork, turn left. The boardwalk drops down and you catch your first glimpse of Turkey Creek. At a bend, 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.
The trail reaches the other end of the jogging trail at a “Hackberry Trail” sign. Stay on the boardwalk as it winds around a sugarberry tree, wandering deeper into the canopy of red maples, sugarberry, laurel oak, and black tupelo. Rounding a bend, the trail crosses a marshy area, and then rises back into the sand pine scrub. Reach the beginning of the loop at 0.7 mile and continue straight. Turn right when you reach the junction at the gazebo.
This last section of the boardwalk parallels Turkey Creek, providing numerous overlooks for manatee-watching. From the first overlook, you can see 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 view of a bend in Turkey Creek. Looking straight down, note that, although the water is laced with tannins from oak leaves, the tea color doesn’t spoil its clarity.
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 to see butterfly orchids: tall, yellow-green flowers, each with a purple-striped white lip. A fourth 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; watch for wasps here.
Emerging on an old jeep trail, continue straight for a bit until the trail makes a sharp left, completing 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. When you return to your car, you’ve completed your 1.6-mile walk.