St. Marks NWR

Sunset over the pines, St. Marks NWR (Bart Smith)The Florida Trail through the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge traverses a greater variety of forest types and wildlife zones than any other north Florida section of the trail. Besides its rich forests of longleaf pine and turkey oak, the refuge shelters old growth mesic and hydric hardwood forests, cypress and gum swamps, beech-magnolia groves, cabbage palm/live oak hammocks, and the seemingly endless expanses of salt marshes along the coastal fringe. For about seven miles on the east side of the refuge, the trail follows a series of dikes built to impound freshwater for the thousands of waterfowl which winter here, Southern bald eagles, ospreys, otters, alligators, turkeys, fox squirrels, raccoons and white-tailed deer can be seen. More than 300 species of birds have been counted at the refuge and 98 of these have nested there.

St. Marks Coastal Hammock & lighthouse (Bob Coveney)In addition to its rich natural history this area abounds in the human record. Indian mounds dating back more than 2,000 years are scattered along the coastline and up the Aucilla River. Fort San Marcos de Apalache in St. Marks town was established by the Spanish in 1679 and has been occupied by pirates, British, Confederate and Federal forces since. Learn about this rich history at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park, 0.2 miles west of the trail in the town of St. Marks. It is well worth a visit. Remnants of Confederate salt evaporation kettles can be found at several points in the salt marshes. There are small isolated mounds in the salt marshes covered with red cedar and cabbage palms; on the mound you may find evidence of bricks used to construct the kilns and perhaps fragments of iron from the kettles used to evaporate the water. Several segments of the trail follow abandoned railroad beds or “tram road,” built shortly after the turn of the century for the purpose of logging the virgin cypress and pine forests still found along the Florida coast. The trail, upon entering the refuge on the east, follows a spur and then the main line of the Aucilla Tram Road; in most places, however, these old railroad beds have been converted into refuge roads and are no longer distinguishable.

The trail in the St. Marks Refuge also passes through two federally designated wilderness areas: along the west side of the Aucilla River and continuing along the south side of the trail along the dikes; and along the east side of the St. Marks River where the trail follows the old railroad bed north form Port Leon. Old Port Leon was the site of a town and deepwater port that was built in 1842 and abandoned in 1848 after a devastating hurricane. In 1936 old Port Leon became the site for the first headquarters of the newly created St. Marks Refuge. The fire tower still stands south of this spot.

Port Leon was once connected to Tallahassee by the first chartered and second built railroad in Florida’s history. The railroad segment between Port Leon and the town of St. Marks was also abandoned after the 1848 hurricane. The remaining twenty-mile segment stayed in use until it was abandoned in 1984. Florida then purchased 16 miles of the old railroad to construct the stat’es first hiker-biker recreation trail, The trail follows this route for 2.6 miles to US 98. At the Wakulla River and US 98, there is a canoe rental. Several days spent paddling these rivers and exploring the salt marshes are well worth the layover time, The best trail access points for day hikes are the trail head off US 319, Wakulla Beach Road or Lighthouse road (SR 59). The Florida Trail through the St. Marks Refuge was among the first sections designated in 1981 as a  National Scenic Trial.

Summary Sheets

CLICK HERE for a Summary Sheet for the EAST SECTION — from the east boundary, off of US 98 west of the Aucilla River, west to the St. Marks River — with map, mileage points and other information for hiking this section.

CLICK HERE for a Summary Sheet for the WEST SECTION — from the St. Marks River west to US 319 between Medart and Sopchoppy — with map, mileage points and other information for hiking this section.

Location
The trail is mostly within the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles south east of Tallahassee. The west terminus in on US 319, 1.1 miles west of Medart, The east terminus is on US 98, 0.7 mile west of the Aucilla River bridge, marked by an FTA triangle at Small Game Road into the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area . For trail maps of the refuge, click on Local Hiking Trail Mapsand scroll down to “St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.”

Type of Hiking
Hiking is dry over most of the trail except during periods of heavy rain.  For about 15 miles, the trail follows refuge roads which are closed to vehicles and offer easy hiking.  Several blue-blazed spur and loop trails extend off the main trail.

Between Wakulla Beach Road and Spring Creek Highway (CR 365), the trail passes through a scenic area known as the Cathedral of Palms, with a short side trail to beautiful Shepherd Spring.  Hikers can enjoy this section as a loop trail from either Wakulla Beach Road or CR 365 by following the orange-blazed FNST and a blue-blazed (high water route) SMNWR road.  For an AUDIO TOUR with a map and pictures of this loop from CR 365, click here. This podcast was created by Adam Smith, an Eagle Scout from Troop 115 at Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee.

To cross the St. Marks River at the town of St. Marks, hikers must get boat passage (see below, or ask locally).  From the town of St. Marks to US 98, the trail follows the old Tallahassee-St. Marks railroad corridor on the St. Marks Historic State Trail.

Parking
Park at your own risk. Leave nothing visible in your car. There are three designated parking areas: at the west (Carraway Cutoff) trailhead, at Wakulla Beach Road, and at the refuge Visitor Center.

Water
There is potable water at the Refuge Visitor Center (follow blue blazes from trail), the canoe rental on the east side of Wakulla River bridge, and in the towns of St. Marks, Spring Creek, and Medart. Boil, filter or treat all surface water.

Conveniences
Supplies:  St. Marks, Spring Creek, Medart, Panacea
Mail:  St. Marks 32355, Sopchoppy 32358

Lodging:  Wakulla Springs Park (Lodge).   St. Marks:  Sweet Magnolia B&B, Shell Island Fish Camp.  West of St. Marks: The Inn at Wildwood Resort, US 98.
Public Campgrounds:  Newport Park 850-925-4530, Shell Island Fish Camp 850-925-6226, Ochlockonee River SP 850-962-2771.

Assistance
Wakulla County Sheriff:  850-745-7100 (non-emergency, 24 hrs., 7 days a week) or 911.
Refuge Headquarters:  850-925-6121

Precautions
The Newport campground is crowded during hunting season. Insects can be serious. Use repellents for ticks and chiggers. Wear safety orange during general hunting season and refuge special hunts. The visitor center is opened for 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, and from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The St. Marks River is deep and broad. To cross it, hail a boat from the south bank of the trail or contact Shell Island Fish Camp, 850-925-6226 or
Danny Sellers, 850-925-5626.

Restrictions
Check with the refuge office. The refuge is open during daylight hours only, but campsites are available by reservation for anyone hiking the entire 43 miles. All campers must secure permits from the Refuge Office:  P.O. Box 68, St. Marks, Fl 32355.   No vehicles are permitted on refuge roads, except on hunting weekends.  Campfires are not permitted in the refuge or the adjacent area.  Plant and live animal collecting, and gathering or digging of historical artifacts are not permitted in the refuge.  Freshwater fishing and crabbing are permitted in the refuge during daylight hours.  Parts of the trail may be closed to hikers during refuge hunting weekends.  Write or call the refuge for dates and restrictions.

For current advisories and changes to the maps, see the Florida Trail website.