Every time we revisit Turkey Creek Sanctuary, we find a different way to enjoy it.
With more than three miles of marked trails snaking through 130 acres, there are so many different ways to take a hike here.
The description below focuses on the best views along the trail system, found along the boardwalks on the bluffs above Turkey Creek. It tallies 1.6 miles.
In our third edition of 50 Hikes in Central Florida, we describe a longer route that gets to the far corners of the preserve.
On the opposite side of the creek from this trail system, the rugged Turkey Creek Trails invite mountain bikers to challenge singletrack with some serious grades.
Hikers are welcome, too, to explore the loops and boardwalk across Fern Creek, a highlight of the east side of the Sanctuary.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Palm Bay
Length: 3.4 mile network of hiking trails (west side) plus 1.5 miles of singletrack (east side)
Trailhead: 28.016912, -80.604775
Address: 1502 Port Malabar Blvd, Palm Bay
Land manager: Brevard County
Open daily 7 AM to sunset. Neither pets or bicycles are permitted. No smoking.
All of the boardwalk trails are accessible, but some do have some grades where they lead down towards the canoe landing.
Restrooms are inside the Margaret Hames Nature Center, open 9 AM to 4 PM daily when staffed by volunteers. Otherwise visit the adjacent public library.
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 to the right. Passing the library on the right, reach a gated entrance to the sanctuary.
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.
The boardwalk provides viewing platforms for you to watch for turtles and manatees. The canoe landing, at 0.5 mile, is an excellent perch for wildlife watching.
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.
The boardwalk leads 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 atop high bluffs, 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. It’s surprising just how high up it is.
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 into the canopy above 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 a 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.
Passing a side trail that leads down the bluff to a marsh on the creek, 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.
See our video of Turkey Creek Sanctuary
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Discover a deeply folded landscape of basins and bluffs at the edge of the scrub forest along the eastern rim of Turkey Creek, with a beautiful boardwalk across the Fern Creek floodplain at its heart.
With loop trails showing off scrub, pine flatwoods, and the floodplain of Fern Creek, Malabar Scrub West provides miles to roam southeast of Turkey Creek.
A chance meeting of old friends leads to my first paddling trip down Turkey Creek and the opportunity to connect with our local paddling club, the Space Coast Paddlers, by talking about our most recent guidebook.