St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 70,000 acres along the coast of Florida and was established in 1931 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds. The refuge includes 43 miles of undeveloped coastline punctuated by a beautiful lighthouse completed in 1842.
Lighthouse Road connects the visitor center to the lighthouse on the coast, providing access to multiple ponds, marsh areas, and a popular boat launch. Birding from the road is spectacular in all seasons: waterfowl in the winter, wading birds in the summer, and hundreds of migratory shorebirds, songbirds, and more in the spring and fall.
The Florida National Scenic Trail runs through the refuge, winding over 49 miles before exiting on either side. Other short and long trails provide extensive hiking opportunities for visitors, from the quarter-mile Headquarters Pond Trail leading to a wooden observation deck to the 12-mile Deep Creek Trail. The refuge is fairly open about making your own trail too, opening the woodland roads and levees for walkers.
The boat launch provides access to the coastline and seagrass beds relatively close to shore. The area is popular for scalloping in the open season, and fishing is excellent year round.
The visitor center offers the perfect starting point for any refuge adventure. Dioramas depict the natural history of the refuge, staff are on-hand to answer questions, and the back door opens to a pond with a wooden observation deck to look for birds and other wildlife. The visitor center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. A small gift shop inside the center sells keepsakes, books, clothes, and more, with all proceeds benefiting the refuge.