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Space Coast Birding
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Canaveral N.S. - Shipyard Island
Canaveral N.S. - Eddy Creek
Merritt Island N.W.R. - Haulover Canal
Merritt Island N.W.R. - Other Areas
Oars & Paddles Park
Mullet Creek & Honest John's Canals
Sebastian Inlet State Park
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Kayaking & Canoeing
Water Level Watch
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"Cold Light - Black Night" — Kayaking with Bioluminescent Creatures
Space Coast Paddlers
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Greenways & Trails
Geographically located between the temperate and subtropical climatic zones, with two different watersheds and numerous ecological systems, Florida's Space Coast is home to an amazing collection of flora and fauna. A unique mosaic of ancient coastal dunes and wetland environs spans the landscape, however, water resources are among its most significant assets; the enthusiastic paddler has an abundance of rivers, creeks, lakes, estuaries and coastlines to explore.
Sculpted by the sea, the Space Coast features more than 100 miles of high-energy beaches, two natural inlets and a man-made ocean entry, a national seashore, four national wildlife refuges, the nation's most biologically diverse estuary and Florida's longest freshwater river with its associated lakes and marshes.
Many species of wildlife found here are threatened or endangered; paddling a canoe or kayak offers the best chance to move silently on our waters to see them. On another note, the Space Coast also offers spectacular opportunities for viewing Olympic and collegiate sculling teams who visit this area for training sessions.
Brevard ZooFor something really out of the ordinary, join white rhinos, giraffes, antelopes or any number of passing birds at the new Expedition Africa exhibit at the Brevard Zoo. The new addition is a replication of the Nyami River Delta, constructed to raise awareness of Africa's magnificent animals and their rapidly disappearing habitat. The Nyami River meanders around a 10-acre African savannah built in lush, native Florida habitat that bears an uncanny resemblance to the African bush. Kayaking the Nyami River is the safari of a lifetime for novice or seasoned paddlers. Trips led by experienced river guides are available for $8.00. No bring your own kayaks. One of the country's most unique small zoos, the Brevard Zoo is the world's only zoo with on-site kayaking. General admission to the Zoo is $16.95 for adults.
Directions: Take Exit 191 (Wickham Road) off of I-95 and go east. Turn right on Murrell Road (first traffic light). For information visit www.brevardzoo.org or call 321-254-9453.
A natural blackwater stream, Spruce Creek enjoys an Outstanding Florida Waterways designation due to its relatively pristine condition. There are few examples of this type of river left undisturbed in Florida. The term "blackwater" refers to tannic acid staining caused by swampy vegetation in the low-lying upper reaches of the creek. The navigable portion of the creek itself begins in a shallow cypress swamp some 10 miles upstream from its confluence with the Halifax River. This swamp gives way to a narrow stream that very gradually broadens downstream into Strickland Bay. As the water courses toward the coast, the associated aquatic habitats gradually change from typical freshwater hardwood forest to freshwater marsh to mangrove shorelines and salt marsh in a classic estuarine ecosystem. The biological diversity and contrast between upstream and downstream habitats in the Spruce Creek watershed make this river an extremely unique natural area that supports a tremendous amount of wildlife. Historically, a large indigenous Native American habitation was nestled around the Spruce Creek basin. One of the largest prehistoric earthenworks in Florida, the Spruce Creek Mound, is located on the creek on a high bluff. The site functioned as a major ceremonial and political center for the Timucuan Indians. Lesser mounds are scattered throughout surrounding areas.
Directions: From the intersection of SR 44 and US 1 in New Smyrna, go north 4.8 miles on US 1. There is a sandy beach on the east side of US 1, just south of a bridge. From the launch area, go under the bridge and paddle west through Strickland Bay to enter Spruce Creek or south to enter Turnbull Bay, a large estuarine area. You can paddle east through the mangrove islands to reach the Halifax River, from which it is about a 1.5-mile paddle south to reach Ponce Inlet. Nestled under tall pines just northwest of the US 1 Bridge, Spruce Creek Park has rest rooms, picnic tables, nature trails and a camping area. There is a canoe launch next to the park's fishing pier, however boats must be dragged quite a distance and it is unusable at low tide (too much mud). It is much easier to launch from the sandy beach off of US 1. For information, call 386-322-5133. Website.
"Mosquito Lagoon is one of my favorite places to paddle. I love the salt water and all of the sensations that go along with breathing the salt air and feeling the warm sun on my face." Mike Mahan, A Day Away Outfitters
Canaveral National Seashore - Shipyard Island Canoe Trail
Mosquito Lagoon is truly one of Florida's treasures. Outside Magazine described it as "one of the top 10 places to paddle in the U.S." With plenty of parking, restrooms and a sandy beach, the boat ramp immediately past the north entrance of Canaveral National Seashore is a great place from which to launch into the Lagoon. The entrance to a marked canoe trail through Shipyard Island lies just to the west. Numerous waterways honeycomb this large island, leftovers from mosquito control efforts in the 1940s and '50s. Higher than surrounding mangrove islands, Shipyard Island is shaded with oak trees, red cedars and cabbage palms. Prickly pear cacti are covered with beautiful yellow flowers in late spring, followed by attractive purple pear-like fruits in summer. It is quite easy to see distinctive salt marsh vegetation along this trail. Sea oxeye daisy, mangrove, saltwort, glasswort and spartina grass are prevalent.
Along the trail, you'll paddle around and over oyster beds, and you can stop on islands with white, sandy beaches. These areas are protected because of shallow water. Motorboats are unable to negotiate them, leaving them virtually untouched. Numerous wading birds, including roseate spoonbills and wood storks, shorebirds, ospreys, cormorants, brown pelicans and, in winter, white pelicans should be seen. Bald eagles are a good possibility. Look for a stunningly handsome, black-and-white shorebird with a big reddish-orange bill; oyster bars in Mosquito Lagoon are likely places to see American oystercatchers. Look down in the water and you may see horseshoe crabs, redfish, mullet and stingrays. The deeper waters between the boat launch and Shipyard Island are a good place to see manatees and bottle-nosed dolphins.
Directions: To reach the north entrance of Canaveral National Seashore, take SR 44 east to A1A from I-95 or US 1 in New Smyrna Beach. Go south approximately seven miles on A1A. Entrance fee is $5.00 per vehicle. Limited backcountry camping in the Seashore is allowed on the beach November 1-April 30 and on designated islands all year, by permit only. For more information on Canaveral National Seashore, visit www.nbbd.com/godo/cns, www.nps.gov/cana ,or call 321- 267-1110.
At the southern end of Canaveral National Seashore, Eddy Creek provides access to the southernmost portion of Mosquito Lagoon, just four miles from the Space Shuttle launch pads. Eddy Creek is actually the site of an ancient inlet; the barrier island is very narrow here. When ocean surf is high, the sound of waves crashing on the other side of undisturbed dunes is a pleasurable complement to the peaceful tranquility of the lagoon's mangrove shorelines. Estuarine waters are usually crystal clear here, allowing great views of colorful sea grass beds and the marine life they support. Coastal birds are numerous and manatees, dolphins and alligators are commonly seen.
Canaveral NS - Eddy Creek
Directions: From US 1 in Titusville, take SR 406 east. Approximately 2 miles out, the road divides. Stay to the right and continue east on SR 402. When you reach the Seashore, turn left and travel north to the Eddy Creek boat launch area. There is a $5.00 fee to access the Seashore.
Ponce Inlet and Callalisa Creek are easily accessible from Callalisa Park. From the park it is a two-mile paddle north to reach Ponce Inlet. A beautifully restored lighthouse is located on the north side of the inlet. Completed in 1887, the old Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse, now known as the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, is a National Historic Landmark. At 175 feet, it is the second tallest lighthouse in the U.S. and the tallest lighthouse open to the public. A climb to the top reveals a breathtaking view of the inlet, estuary and beach. Low tide exposes large sandbars near the inlet, preferred loafing spots for impressive numbers of birds, especially in winter when brown pelicans, white pelicans, black skimmers and numerous species of gulls, terns and shorebirds take advantage of an opportunity to rest. In winter, endangered piping plovers, delicate small shorebirds, are occasionally seen scurrying along shorelines on the inlet's south side and baitfish activity at the inlet's mouth attracts numbers of large seabirds like northern gannets, which put on a spectacular aerial show as they crash into the waters near the inlet's mouth. From the park, paddle south and under the bridge to enter Callalisa Creek, a tidal stream that meanders through salt marsh and mangroves on the north end of Canaveral National Seashore. Wading birds are common, and encounters with manatees and dolphins are possible.
Directions: To reach Callalisa Park, take SR 44 east from either I-95 or US 1 in New Smyrna Beach. After you cross the high bridge, turn left at the first traffic light onto Peninsula Avenue. Callalisa Park is immediately on the left.
Caution: The areas around Ponce Inlet as well as inland waters in the north end of Mosquito Lagoon are tidal with sections that are exposed to wind and currents that can sometimes be rapid and dangerous. There is little, if any, tidal influence in the southern end of Mosquito Lagoon. Website.
Over on the mainland, Volusia County's River Breeze Park is the closest launch for access to dozens of islands that fill the waterway from Oak Hill northward to the New Smyrna Beach Causeway and beyond. From the boat ramp, paddle south to get around a large spoil island and into mangrove-lined backcountry waters. Low tide exposes mud flats and oyster bars that in fall, winter and spring attract a wide variety of wading birds and shorebirds; American oystercatchers are fairly easy to find. Dolphins and manatees are commonly seen in the deeper waters of the intra-coastal waterway. A compass is helpful as it is easy to become disoriented in the puzzling maze of waterways found here. This beautifully shaded park has bathrooms, picnic pavilions and several boat ramps. Camping is permitted.
River Breeze Park
Directions: To reach River Breeze Park, go north on US 1 two miles from the yellow caution light in Oak Hill. Look for a brown sign identifying the park. Go east to the park entrance on the left. Visit the website or call 386-345-5525 for information.
The best location on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge from which to view dolphins and manatees, Haulover Canal is a passageway between the Indian River Lagoon and Mosquito Lagoon. Just to the west lies one of the most significant colonial waterbird nesting islands in the state. Mullethead Island and its surrounding grass flats provide an excellent opportunity to view a variety of birds from the water's level. In late spring, there's a good chance you'll see roseate spoonbills and reddish egrets feeding their young. Other birds that nest on the island include great blue, little blue, tricolored and black-crowned night-herons; great and snowy egrets; white ibises; brown pelicans; and double-crested cormorants. Prime viewing time is March through July. In addition to wading birds in spectacular breeding plumage, look for numerous shorebirds, gulls and terns loafing on sandbars on the south side of the island. In winter, lesser scaups, white pelicans, common loons, red-breasted mergansers and horned grebes may also be seen on the open waters of the lagoon.
Merritt Island NWR - Haulover Canal
In addition to the birds, there's plenty to see in this area. Haulover Canal is part of the Intra-coastal Waterway; you never know what kind of interesting vessels may pass by – everything from shrimp-boats to tugs and huge barges to multi-million dollar yachts utilize the ICW. Bottle-nosed dolphins can often be seen frolicking near the canal's approaches, and the deeper waters of the canal provide shelter for manatees in warmer months; they can often be easily seen from a viewing platform near the drawbridge or in Bair's Cove boat launching area located southwest of the bridge. Stay at least 150 feet away from the Manatee Viewing Platform in order to avoid disturbing the manatees. From the east end of the canal, you can look toward the southern end of Mosquito Lagoon, where Space Shuttle launch pads and the massive Vehicle Assembly Building stand as monuments to space exploration against the background of a cerulean Florida sky. It is hard to top Mosquito Lagoon for great, unobstructed views of space launches.
Going north from the canal, a string of dredge-spoil islands parallels the Intra-coastal Waterway in Mosquito Lagoon. Created in the 1950's and 60's when the navigable channel was dredged through the lagoon's shallow waters, these islands have become wildlife havens; some, like Mullethead Island, are now important bird rookeries. With plenty of sandy beaches to explore, the spoil islands also provide shelter from easterly winds. It is possible to paddle from Haulover Canal 10 miles north to Oak Hill and stay in the lee of islands the entire way. There is virtually no development along this spectacular stretch of waterway. Wildlife is abundant along mangrove shorelines, and the shallow crystal clear water allows for great views of vibrant beds of colorful seagrasses and marine life. Watch for stingrays, horseshoe crabs, spotted sea trout, jumping mullet, and giant tailing redfish in the water and alligators, wild hogs, raccoons and river otters along the shores.
Directions: To get to Haulover Canal, go across the Titusville Bridge and head toward the Black Point Wildlife Drive. Go past the Drive to the stop sign at SR 3. Turn left and go 4.5 miles north, crossing the bridge over the Canal. Take the first left at the bottom of the bridge, across from the Manatee Viewing Platform sign. Follow the road around, turning right and passing through a gate at the ruins of the old Allenhurst Fish Camp. The road now parallels the canal; go all the way to the end, where you'll find a nice sandy beach for launching. For information, visit www.abouttitusville.com/outdoors, www.nbbd.com/godo/minwr, www.fws.gov/merrittisland, or call 321-861-0667.
Caution: Like many similar nesting islands in the state, Mullethead Island is protected and posted. Please stay offshore of the signs to avoid disturbing the birds. DO NOT go on the island. Paddling in the estuaries within Merritt Island NWR and Canaveral National Seashore is encouraged; however, due to disturbance to wading birds and waterfowl, paddling is not permitted within impound areas inside the dikes.
Merritt Island NWR has several other notable paddling areas worth visiting. The WSEG Boat Ramp, located 3.7 miles north of Haulover Canal, provides access to Mosquito Lagoon. From the ramp, a 2.5-mile paddle across the lagoon takes you to a collection of islands and waterways within the most remote area of Canaveral National Seashore, accessible only by boat. If you like fishing, large schools of redfish that congregate in this part of the lagoon are legendary. Check out Dummit Cove, located 2.1 miles south of Haulover Canal. Providing access to the Indian River Lagoon, Dummit Cove is somewhat sheltered and can be an interesting place to visit on windy days when paddling on the open waters of the lagoon becomes difficult. The east end of the Max Brewer Causeway in Titusville is another good place from which to launch. Put in on the south side of the causeway to access Gator Creek, Brock's Point and Peacock's Pocket near the mouth of Banana Creek. This is the closest area on the water from which to view Space Shuttles take off and land; the launch pads are just nine miles from the mouth of the creek, and the landing strip is 2.5 miles away. Banana Creek itself is closed to the public.
WSEG Boat Ramp, Dummit Cove and Max Brewer Causeway
Estuaries are unique bodies of water that consist of a mixture of salt water from the ocean and fresh water from creeks and rivers. The vast Turnbull Swamp Basin is the northernmost point for fresh water drainage into the Indian River Lagoon, emptying into the lagoon through Turnbull Creek, thus forming its headwaters. The navigable portion of the creek itself begins in a remote wilderness area southwest of Oak Hill. Impassable in low water, the swamp gives way to a narrow waterway that very gradually broadens as it moves downstream. As the water moves toward the estuary, associated aquatic habitats change from more typical freshwater vegetation beginning in the swamp with cypress, oaks and palm hammocks, then to wax myrtles, willows and cattails and, finally, to a seemingly endless sea of cord grass. This beautiful salt marsh is home to numerous coastal birds; when the water levels are low, every turn of the narrow winding creek offers a chance for close-up looks at a wide variety of egrets and herons.
Each turn of the winding creek reveals green herons skulking along the water's edge while white ibises probe its sandbars with their oddly decurved beaks. Snowy egrets dance in the shallows, their bright yellow feet flashing in the sun. Vultures circle lazily in warm thermals, joined by wood storks, majestic white pelicans, red-tailed hawks and an occasional bald eagle as they wind higher and higher. Red-shouldered hawks scream from the trees, and northern harriers glide over the marsh. Ospreys hover above while river otters frolic and alligators bask in the sun along the banks. Hundreds of great southern white butterflies flutter over salty vegetation; they migrate through these habitats each spring and fall. Fiddler crabs scurry into holes at the first sign of danger, males waving their menacing giant claws in the briny breeze. Turnbull Creek flows through pristine salt marsh, one of a very few areas surrounding the Indian River Lagoon that was never ditched and diked for mosquito control. The creek still looks the same way it did when pre-Columbian Indians plied its fertile waters.
Directions: Launch from the northeast side of the US 1 Bridge over Turnbull Creek, located approximately 12 miles north of Mims. If you go over a big overpass, you've gone too far. For information, visit www.abouttitusville.com/outdoors.
Protecting more than six miles of Lake Monroe and St. Johns River shoreline, the Lake Monroe Conservation Area between Geneva and Sanford contains 90 percent of the floodplain area for Lake Monroe. Wetlands make up 94 percent of the conservation area. Predominant natural communities here are floodplain marsh/wet prairie and floodplain swamp/forest. Years ago, Native Americans hunted and fished in this area, as evidenced by the number of shell middens found here. A five-mile paddle northward from Cameron Wight Park will cover Thornhill Lake and Brickyard Slough within the Lake Monroe Conservation Area.
Lake Monroe Conservation Area
Numerous wading birds and raptors can be expected. American bittern, black-crowned night-heron, wood stork, bald eagle, Cooper's hawk, short-tailed hawk, crested caracara, merlin, peregrine falcon, purple gallinule, king and Virginia rails, limpkin and sandhill crane are all possible. Sixty-seven species of birds were spotted on a kayak trip here during last year's Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, including 10 species of raptors. Alligators are a common sight, and you might see deer and river otters. A trail system within the conservation area, located off of CR 415 about two miles north of the St. Johns River bridge, passes through fields, marshes, hammocks, flatwoods and scrub. This site is good for marsh birds, raptors, warblers, wrens and sparrows; several families of Florida scrub-jays occupy territories within the scrub habitat.
Directions: Launch from Seminole County's Cameron Wight Park at SR 46 and the Lake Jessup Bridge. From I-95 and SR 46, go west on SR 46 for 21.1 miles. The park is on the northwest side of the bridge. For a map of the area, visit Lake Monroe Conservation Area or call 407-329-4404.
Caution: Airboat traffic is heavy on the St. Johns River, especially on weekends. It is recommended that paddlers use a bright, tall warning flag on boats in order to be more visible above tall grasses. Take along a loud horn. The river supports a HUGE alligator population. Avoid paddling in this area during alligator mating season in springtime, and don't bring small pets. Be sure to check the weather before attempting to cross any of the lakes you'll encounter along the St. Johns River. Violent thunderstorms can form rapidly over the lakes, and strong prevailing southeasterly winds kick up during summertime afternoons. It is a long hard paddle back to the east side of a lake in those conditions. It is recommended that paddlers leave early in the morning to be back to the east side of the lakes by very early afternoon.
If you want to see alligators, Lake Jessup is the place to be! A large, shallow water body in Seminole County, Lake Jessup and its floodplain extend over approximately 16,000 acres. Over 100,000 years old, the lake itself covers about 10,000 acres. Jessup is home to many eagles, ospreys, wading birds, bobcats and river otters as well as a large gathering of alligators. More than 10,000 strong, Lake Jessup has Florida's highest population of the ancient crocodilians. In fact, no other lake in North America claims more gators per acre. Where there are alligators present, you'll sometimes find bird rookeries (the birds know that gators keep predator populations in check) and Lake Jessup is no exception. Bird Island, a small island in the interior of Jessup is a significant wading bird rookery.
Directions: The north end of Lake Jessup is reached from Cameron Wight Park (see above). East Lake Jessup may be accessed from the Black Hammock Marina. Bird Island is located near the middle of the lake, about two miles northwest of Black Hammock. Go south from SR 46 at the traffic light in Geneva on CR 426 to Oviedo, 7.5 miles. Turn right on Broadway. Make an immediate right on Central Avenue (SR 434). Go 1.3 miles and turn right on Deleon Street. Go to Howard Avenue and turn left. Go to Black Hammock Road and turn right. The road ends at Black Hammock Fish Camp (407-365-1244). There is a modest fee to launch. For a map of the area, see directions for Lake Monroe CA. Info: 386-329-4044 or Lake Jesup Conservation Area
The Econlockhatchee River is exotic, unspoiled, wild and just a stone's throw from Orlando. Between that ever-expanding metropolis and the great Atlantic Ocean lies an area of Florida that is almost as undisturbed as it was centuries ago. Officially designated as part of Florida's Statewide System of Greenways and Trails and a Florida Outstanding Waterway, here visitors who tire of waiting in endless lines to see elaborate man-made attractions can escape to enjoy the stunning natural beauty of an area just 45 minutes away from Disney World. Born in a large area of swamps southeast of Orlando, the serpentine Econlockhatchee River winds eastward through pristine wetlands and ancient forests of giant oaks and cypress, eventually feeding into the north-flowing St. Johns River. Wildlife is abundant; gray squirrels, river otters and white-tailed deer are often seen. With luck, you might see gray fox, wild hog or swamp cottontail.
Birds of prey are common; there's a good chance of seeing turkey and black vultures, bald eagles, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, American kestrels in winter and, in summer, swallow-tailed kites. The forests teem with birds -- the Econ is a corridor during songbird migration. Pileated, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers are prolific; northern flickers are occasionally seen and, in winter, yellow-bellied sapsuckers can appear. Wood ducks, barred owls, great horned owls and wild turkey are possible. You'll see plenty of wading birds; in winter, kingfishers chatter and dart in front of the boats. Alligators are possible, and you'll see numerous turtles perched on logs, basking in the sun. November, December and January bring a show of red, gold, purple, yellow and orange as maple, sweet gum, turkey oak and hickory trees change colors and drop their leaves. Spring brings on a blaze of red buds and fluorescent green leaves when the same trees bloom again. There are three distinct sections of the Econ available for paddling. Water levels can vary significantly with seasonal rainfall, and dry spells occur in spring, making parts of the Econ impassable. INFORMATION
SR 50/Hidden River Campground to CR 419: This section of the Econlockhatchee River will bring paddling force to the fore as sharp turns, cypress knees, deadfalls and moderately swift currents present a challenge. Check on stream conditions before attempting this trip. During low water the river twists and turns in a narrow channel, and the number of carry-overs can become intolerable. The river can be dangerous after major rainstorms. In times of high water, the river leaves its banks, providing a unique chance to paddle through the woods. Towering cypress trees, blanketed in bromeliads and occasionally orchids, keep this part of the Econ in perpetual shade, which makes it attractive for summer paddling. The beauty of the cypress swamp and the lack of development provide a memorable trip; sights and sounds of civilization are few.
Upper Econlockhatchee River
Directions: Paddlers can launch from Hidden River Park, $5 per boat. Hidden River Park no longer rents canoes, provides shuttle service nor can they provide river conditions. Water levels vary and they no longer cut obstructions in the river so the window of opportunity to do a trip to 419 is limited to high water. CR 419 to snowhill is usually a very nice trip. From the intersection of SR 50 and I-95 in Titusville, go west on SR 50 about 20 miles. Hidden River Park is on the right immediately after crossing the Econlockhatchee River, west of the town of Bithlo. Take-out is at CR 419, approximately eight miles downstream (* see directions to CR 419 bridge below).
CR 419 to Snow Hill Road: This section of the Econ River is characterized by narrow, high-banked, riverine channels that alternate with broader river sections that flow through dense woods. Seasonal wildflowers add color and interest. Ancient cypress trees and hydric hammocks near the beginning of this stretch give way to mesic hammocks of live oaks and cabbage palms, then sand pines and xeric oaks on high sandy bluffs, remnants of ancient beach dunes that date back to the Pleistocene Era. Ancient scrub habitats atop the relic sand dunes are among the oldest habitats in Florida. Home to desert-like animals such as gopher tortoises, indigo snakes and Florida scrub-jays, Florida scrub is rapidly disappearing due to developmental pressures. During low to medium water levels, plenty of inviting snow-white sandbars are available for rest stops where the river's current has sliced through the dunes, depositing piles of fine old beach sand downstream. A historic narrow-gage railroad bridge, which is part of the Florida Trail System, crosses the river; the Florida Trail actually runs parallel to the Econ for several miles along this stretch.
Middle Econlockhatchee River
* Directions: Launch from the CR 419 Bridge. From the intersection of I-95 and SR 50 in Titusville, take SR 50 west about 18 miles to CR 419 (Chuluota Road). Follow Chuluota Road north until just before the Econ Bridge. From the dirt parking area on the right, you can unload boats and drag them to the river. Take-out is at Snow Hill Road, approximately 10 miles downstream (see directions to Snow Hill Road below).
Snow Hill Road to SR 46/C.S. Lee Park: The paddling is easy on this 12-mile section from Snow Hill Road to SR 46 on the St. Johns River. The current is slow and no carry-overs are required. The riverbanks are high, sandy and shaded by oaks during the first part of the trip. Eventually the banks become lower and the oak trees are replaced first by cabbage palms and then by grassy prairie as the St. Johns River floodplain is entered. The final two miles are on the open waters of the St. Johns River.
Lower Econlockhatchee River
Directions: You can launch either from the Snow Hill Road Bridge or the Little-Big Econ State Forest recreation facility. From the intersection of SR 50 and I-95 in Titusville, go west on SR 50 about 18 miles to CR 419 (Chuluota Road). Turn right on Chuluota Road and go north through Chuluota. On the north side of Chuluota, the road makes a big sweeping curve to the west. Just beyond the curve, look for Snow Hill Road on the right. Turn right on Snow Hill Road and follow it to the Econ River. The Little-Big Econ State Forest recreation facility is on the left about a half-mile after you cross the bridge. Take-out is at C.S. Lee Park, where the St Johns River crosses under SR 46, 11 miles west of the intersection of I-95 and SR 46.
The Pine Island Conservation Area is a dynamic landscape supporting a diverse plant community and abundant wildlife. Adjoining the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the 879-acre conservation area is jointly owned by the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL Program) and the St. Johns River Water Management District. Two hiking trails accessed from a trailhead 0.5 miles from the entrance parking area offer moderate 1.0 mile and 1.5 mile walks through pine flatwoods and hydric hammock habitats. Each trail features overlooks providing visitors with panoramic vistas of shallow water feeding habitat of wading birds, shorebirds and waterfowl. Biking is allowed on established trails.
Pine Island Conservation Area
Two canoe trails, a 2.3-mile loop run and a 3.0-mile run, offer a relaxing way for visitors to observe area wildlife. Canoes may be launched from the Marsh Pond or Sam's Creek launch sites. During low water periods a natural channel connecting the north marsh ponds is impassable. A depth gauge located at the Marsh Pond canoe launch indicates when water depths in the ponds hamper navigation. Boating is restricted in the south end of South Borrow Lake. This area provides critical nesting habitat to a variety of wading and diving birds. Human disturbances, although unintentional, can result in the loss of young hatchlings. The coastal location and diversity of habitat types provide many opportunities for viewing wildlife that are enhanced by permanent blinds accessible by foot or canoe. Wading birds are common, with fall migration bringing numerous species of waterfowl and shorebirds, as well as white pelicans that feed and rest in shallow waters of the marsh pond and the Indian River Lagoon. Pine flatwoods provide habitat for resident and migratory songbirds. Red-tailed hawks, ospreys, and black vultures are often sighted, and occasionally bald eagles are seen soaring over the conservation lands. Alligators and aquatic turtles are also common inhabitants of the marshes and expansive open waters. Endangered manatees frequently seek refuge in the peaceful waters of Sam's Creek/Rinker Canal. They are often observed resting at the north end of the canal, particularly during winter and early spring months.
Directions: From the intersection of SR 528 and SR 3 (North Courtney Pkwy) on Merritt Island, go north on SR 3 for five miles to Pine Island Road. Turn left and go west on Pine Island Rd. and follow it 2.5 miles to the parking lot at the end. A kiosk with a map shows the canoe trails. For information, visit www.eelbrevard.com, or call 321-255-4466.
Kaboord Sanctuary is another one of the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program properties. Central Florida is unique in that, geographically, it lies in an area where temperate and subtropical climatic zones meet. This site represents one of the best examples of the mixture of tropical and temperate species of plants for which Merritt Island is famous. The tidal creeks of Kaboord were once part of the Sykes Creek system before they were impounded. These beautiful wetlands are reminiscent of what much of Merritt Island used to look like, a "savannah" of salt grasses and low mangroves. The paddling route is down the main creek channel, with detours along side creek channels along the way, terminating at the dike at Canaveral Barge Canal. The return trip will retrace the same route, but don't worry -- wildlife moves around, the angle of the sun changes perspectives, and you won't be bored paddling back. This wetland is known for numerous birds -- raptors, waders, shorebirds, gulls and terns and some early-arriving waterfowl. There is no motorboat access to this site, so be prepared for a peaceful ride!
Directions: To get to Kaboord Sanctuary from the intersection of Highway 528 and SR 3 (Courtenay Parkway), proceed north on SR 3 for about two miles. Make a right on Hall Road at the Circle K. You'll see a sign for NASA's KARS Park. Go east on Hall Road to where the tree line ends at the western edge of the open marsh.
At Port Canaveral, you can enjoy the activity of North America's busiest port (second largest cruise ship terminal in the world) along with outstanding wildlife. Two different boat ramps offer plenty of access to this exciting recreational area. Within the Port itself, large ships to be seen include some of the world's most elegant cruise ships, freighters and tankers from many countries, fishing boats of all types and a wide variety of U.S. Naval vessels. The northeast quadrant of the Port is a Trident submarine base, and the west turning basin is home to the U.S. Coast Guard Station. Military ships are common as Canaveral is a favorite port of call for captains as well as a popular transfer locale. Port Canaveral is the world's only quadri-modal port, utilizing transportation by water, land, air and space. Following a Space Shuttle launch, you might be fortunate to see a recovery ship bringing the Shuttle's rocket booster engines through the Port on their return to the Kennedy Space Center.
Wildlife is abundant, with manatees, dolphins and plenty of birds to see, especially in and around the locks, which connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Banana River estuary. Please observe security rules while in or near Port Canaveral. Stay 25 feet away from docks, and 100 feet away from moored vessels. Keep a 300-foot distance from all ships in transit. There is no access to the west turning basin when any cruise ships are in port. Canoes and kayaks may use the locks; however, the lockmaster will not open on demand for them. Paddlers must wait until a motor vessel approaches for the locks to open. Primitive camping is available on spoil islands west of the locks. A full service campground is available at Jetty Park. A new, 1500-foot pier along the south jetty provides for both day and night fishing.
Directions: There are two boat ramps at the Port. Both are on the south side. From north Cocoa, go east on SR 528 from I-95 or U.S. 1. After you cross the Banana River, follow the signs for the South Docks and go into the south entrance to the Port (George King Blvd). To reach Freddie Patrick Park, go east on George King Blvd to its intersection with Flounder Road. Turn left on Flounder Road on go to the end. The park with boat ramps is on the right when you reach the water. To get to Port's End Park, near the Canaveral Locks, turn left off of George King Blvd onto Dave Nisbett Drive. Turn left again onto Mullet Road and follow it around to the park. You will reach the locks if you continue going west on Mullet Road. Info: 321-321-783-7111 or visit www.portcanaveral.org.
"The Thousand Islands, which was finally purchased for preservation by the people of Brevard County, is a top 10 place to paddle in Florida." - Jim Durocher, Space Coast Kayaking. The Friends of the Thousand Islands (FOTTIS) is formed to help the Brevard Environmentally Endangered Lands program to manage the islands. Soon there will be a boat landing on one of the islands and a hiking trail is almost done (June, 2011).
Cocoa Beach's Thousand Islands are a flood-tide delta deposit, formed in the past by a breach in the barrier island by a strong storm surge. The natural movement of beach sand has since closed the inlet, but the islands remain. During the early 1970s, ditching by dragline was used in an effort to eliminate salt marsh in order to control mosquitoes. Most of the productive salt marshes that once rimmed the Indian River Lagoon were degraded in a similar manner. One side effect of this dredging was the creation of a maze of narrow trails through mangrove islands and hidden hammocks that are spectacular for kayaking. The canals provide shelter for manatees, dolphins and a wide variety of coastal birds.
This area is rich in both tropical and temperate plant species, some of which are found not much farther north than the Thousand Islands. The vegetation communities of the Thousand Islands include three habitat types: natural marsh, dredge-spoil and tropical hammock associated with shell middens. Middens are trash piles of clam and oyster shells; all that remains of Florida's original inhabitants -- pre-Columbian Native American Indians. These unique tropical hammocks, in particular, provide resting space and feeding areas for neotropical migrant bird species; the wetlands and ponds are a haven for many wading birds and migratory waterfowl. Salt marsh in the Thousand Islands is somewhat different than salt marsh found in other areas of the Banana River Lagoon. Instead of the typical temperate cord grass/needle rush plant community found on Merritt Island (a good example is Kaboord Sanctuary), Thousand Islands salt marsh is dominated by tropical salt marsh plant species such as glasswort and saltwort and is fringed by all three species of mangrove. An informative website.
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Directions: Launch from the end of Ramp Road in Cocoa Beach. From the intersection of SR 520 and Highway A1A, go south on A1A for several miles. Just past the Minuteman Causeway, turn right on 5th Street South. Go one block west to North Brevard Avenue and turn left. Take the first right on Ramp Road and go to the park. WEBSITE.
This brand new facility is home of the Space Coast Crew Rowing Club (www.spacecoastcrew.org) as well as a popular area for non-motorized recreational activities including canoeing, rowing, and paddling. Amenities at this site include a boathouse, pavilion, restrooms, pedway, improved parking, picnic tables and a long sloping dock providing access to the water. The nearby Grand Canal is a popular training location for Olympic and collegiate sculling teams. The four-mile long canal is bordered on the west by a long strip of spoil deposit, which is divided into three islands. The central island is a nature sanctuary known as Samson's Island. Some of the area's finest homes border parts of the Grand Canal. The Canal is a great place to paddle when it is too windy to paddle on the open waters of the lagoon. Access from the park to the Banana River is through Whiting Waterway. To reach the Grand Canal, go north in the Banana River and under Mathers Bridge. Entrance to the Grand Canal is on the right a few hundred yards beyond Mathers Bridge. Watching sculling teams practice in the Grand Canal pretty much requires some kind of a boat, unless you're lucky enough to view them leaving the park or passing under Mathers Bridge on their way to the Grand Canal. The best place for viewing collegiate sculling teams from land is from locations along Crane Creek in Downtown Melbourne.
Oars & Paddles Park
Directions: From I-95 or US 1 in Melbourne, go east on Eau Gallie Causeway (SR 518). Just after crossing the bridge over the Indian River, turn left and proceed north on South Patrick Drive (SR 513) for .9-mile. Turn west on Banana River Drive. For information, visit www.brevardparks.com, or call 321-255-4400.
Turkey Creek features spectacular wildlife and scenery with a tropical setting as well as some of the highest bluffs to be seen along a Florida stream and the opportunity to explore a nature sanctuary. The trip begins in a wide estuary, a no-wake manatee zone, where the gentle creatures are often seen peacefully munching on aquatic vegetation. Upstream from the wide mouth of the creek, the waterway moves through a broad region of braided channels. Central channels through Willow Swamp are recommended to avoid residential development on the north and south banks. The character of the creek changes dramatically upstream as residential development and salt-water influence is left behind. The channel narrows and the flow quickens as the creek winds through dimly lit, lush hardwood forest. Precipitous sandy bluffs, the remnants of an ancient coastal ridge, are encountered at the upper reach of the creek. From the tops of the relic beach dunes -- leftovers from the Pleistocene Era of mastodons, giant tree sloths and saber-toothed cats -- classic scrub habitat descends into lush hydric hammock that surrounds the dark waters of the creek. Desert inhabitants like gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake and scrub lizards are right at home in the sandy xeric habitat found on the ancient dunes.
A network of interpretive nature trails leads from Turkey Creek Sanctuary's canoe landing to the Margaret Hames Nature Center, where restrooms are located. For birders, Turkey Creek is perhaps the best migrant stop on the East Coast of Florida. Warbler watching can be outstanding, with more than 20 species possible. Wildlife that may be encountered includes alligators, turtles, river otters, ospreys, bald eagles and other raptors, pileated, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, northern flickers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, anhingas, cormorants, brown and, in winter, white pelicans, kingfishers, wood storks, white ibises and numerous egrets and herons. Turkey Creek is not a long trip, but paddlers will be working against some current near the upper reaches.
Directions: Launch from Alex Goode Park in Port Malabar. From the intersection of US 1 and US 192 in Melbourne, go south on US 1 for about 5.5 miles to Port Malabar Boulevard. Turn right and go over the railroad tracks to Bianca Drive. Turn right on Bianca Drive and follow it to the park. WEBSITE.
Mullet Creek and Honest John's Canals offer an opportunity to experience a true old-Florida fish camp, one of the last ones remaining, complete with an 1890s Florida pioneer home. A visit to Honest John's really is like traveling back in time. The mile-long drive into the camp winds through old citrus groves and into a beautiful tropical hammock where the fish camp settles into the shore of Mullet Creek. Peacocks, guineahens, ducks, chickens and dogs are likely to greet you upon your arrival. The Smith Home rests under centuries-old oaks and orchid-laden red cedars; the old Malabar train depot serves as a storage shed nearby. Never one to be wasteful, decades ago Honest John Smith floated the depot across the Indian River on a barge to save it from being torn down and replaced. Like the Thousand Islands in Cocoa Beach, Honest John's Canals are the product of dredging of historic salt marsh areas for mosquito control in the 1940s and '50s, resulting in a myriad of winding canals and dozens of mangrove-lined islands that have become a haven for wildlife. The canals provide shelter for manatees, dolphins and a wide variety of coastal birds.
Mullet Creek & Honest John's Canals
Enormous trout, snook, redfish and tarpon likewise are partial to Mullet Creek and the neighboring canals. Needless to say, the fishing here is legendary, as is Honest John, fondly known as the "Cracker of All Crackers." Holder of the camp record of 13 lbs 4 oz for the gator-sized spotted seatrout he pulled from right in front of the baithouse, Honest John was best known for his fanatical aversion to wearing shoes. In fact, upon his death, Honest John was buried without his shoes, and all six pallbearers attended the funeral in their bare feet. Over the years, tall Australian pines have taken over Honest John's islands, providing shade during hot summer days and resting places for brown pelicans, anhingas and ospreys. There is no other sound like the gentle whoosh of the wind whispering through those pines. Honest John's has easy access to the Indian River Lagoon, with scenic views of mangrove shorelines.
Directions: Go south from Melbourne Beach on Highway A1A for about 10 miles. Turn right in the driveway one half-mile south of the yellow caution light in Floridana Beach. Look for the Honest John's Fish Camp sign. Canoe and kayak rentals are available. Launch fee is $5.00. For information, visit www.honestjohns.net, or call 321-727-2923. MAP.
Florida's #1 State Park, Sebastian Inlet offers access to the Indian River Lagoon as well as the Atlantic Ocean. The park includes three miles of beautiful ocean beach, unspoiled dunes, coastal hammocks, world-class fishing and plenty of wildlife. Watch for manatees and green and loggerhead sea turtles feeding on sea grass in the lagoon's shallow waters and dolphins frolicking as they pursue baitfish. Paddle north to experience beautiful mangrove shorelines and small islands. Pelican Island is approximately three miles to the south.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
Directions: Sebastian Inlet is located on Highway A1A, 17.5 miles south of the U.S. 192/A1A intersection in Melbourne Beach. From the CR 512/Sebastian/Fellsmere exit on I-95 (Exit 156), go east 2.5 miles and turn right on CR 510 which goes through Wabasso and crosses the Indian River. Go all the way to Highway A1A and then go north. You will pass the entrance to Pelican Island NWR on the left before you get to Sebastian Inlet. There is a $5.00 entrance fee. For more information, visit www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet, or call 321-984-4852.
Caution: The areas around Sebastian Inlet, as well as nearby inland waters in the Indian River Lagoon, are tidal with sections that are exposed to wind and currents that can sometimes be rapid and dangerous.
Sebastian RiverThe Sebastian River is a three-prong system. The North Prong and South Prong share a common mouth into a wide bay that empties into the Indian River Lagoon. Aside from sharing a common mouth, the two natural prongs are distinct in character. A favorite stopover for manatees, the Sebastian River is one of the last major waterways on Florida's lower East Coast that has not been heavily developed. In addition to manatees, you can expect to see alligators, turtles, gars, hogs, river otters, kingfishers, anhingas, ospreys, bald eagles and other raptors, brown pelicans, cormorants and numerous herons and egrets.
The Sebastian River North Prong flows out of St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. The intimate nature of the North Prong is a welcome contrast to the open expanse of Sebastian Bay. Along the way, vegetation changes from salt-water mangrove habitat to scrubby pine and oak flatwoods to freshwater marsh. The narrow stream meanders through dense vegetation with a wide variety of water birds that take advantage of the many perches. At its upper extreme, the North Prong is like a tunnel through vegetation. There are several choke points where paddlers must negotiate tree branches. Interesting tropical bromeliads and other epiphytes cover the limbs. Paddlers will eventually reach a point where the water is too low and vegetation too thick for further upstream travel. On the way back, stop at the Buffer Preserve's canoe dock to enjoy a break and explore the many hiking trails available.
From Dale Wimbrow Park, the Sebastian River South Prong starts out several hundred feet wide. The very steep north bank ranges from 5 to 15 feet high, with sandy bluffs that are all that remains of relic sand dunes along an ancient shoreline. As you paddle upstream, the waterway narrows considerably and vegetation changes dramatically as you leave brackish waters near the river's mouth. Banks become low and accessible with cabbage palms and oaks leaning out to provide roosts for anhingas and wading birds. Some parts of the waterway are covered over by trees, creating green tunnels. Numerous dead-end false channels await unwary paddlers. A compass and topographic maps are helpful for avoiding these cul-de-sacs. Near the southern extreme, the meanders become tortuous and, in some places, the stream nearly doubles back on itself. Paddlers should watch for submerged deadfalls, especially while negotiating the switchbacks.
Directions: Both Prongs as well as Sebastian Bay can be reached from Dale Wimbrow Park on Roseland Road (CR 505). The park is accessed from either I-95 or US 1. Take the CR 512 exit (Exit 156) when coming by I-95. Drive east on CR 512 to Roseland Road. Turn left on Roseland Road and follow it to the park, which is on the left. If coming by US 1, turn west on CR 505 at the town of Roseland (just north of the city of Sebastian after you cross the Sebastian River) and drive to the park, which is on the right. Camping is available at nearby Donald McDonald Park.
Pelican Island can be accessed via a 2.5-mile paddle from the Wabasso Causeway. Along the way you'll pass beautiful mangrove shorelines and small islands. The waters around the island are shallow and clear; it is not uncommon to see dolphins frolicking and gentle manatees loafing. The area between Sebastian Inlet and Pelican Island is a nursery ground for juvenile green sea turtles. You might get lucky and see one of these colorful, endangered turtles feeding on sea grasses. At the turn of the twentieth century, the island became the last known nesting site for brown pelicans on Florida's East Coast. Paul Kroegel, a German immigrant, defended the last pelican outpost and convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to declare the island a federal bird sanctuary. In 1903, President Roosevelt established Pelican Island as the first National Wildlife Refuge, using the tiny island to inspire the nation's wildlife conservation movement. In spring and summer, hundreds of brown pelicans nest on the island, as well as endangered wood storks, several species of threatened wading birds, anhingas, cormorants and American oystercatchers. Sunset brings on a spectacular show as hundreds of birds fly in to the island to roost.
Directions: Launch from the east end of the Wabasso Causeway. The Wabasso Causeway may be reached from I-95 by taking CR 512 (Exit 156). Go east 2.5 miles and turn right on CR 510, which goes through Wabasso and crosses the Indian River. CR 510 crosses US 1 south of the town of Sebastian. Look for a boat ramp on the south side of the road, near the east- end of the causeway. Launch from the boat ramp and then go under the relief bridge to head north. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/pelicanisland/, or call 772-562-3909.
Caution: Like many similar nesting islands in the state, Pelican Island is protected and posted. Please stay offshore of the signs to avoid disturbing the birds. DO NOT go on the island.
Located near the headwaters of the St. Johns River, the Stick Marsh and Farm 13 Reservoirs are world renowned for their trophy bass. Since they opened in 1991, more 10-pound bass have been caught in these two impoundments than in any other lake in the world. Over 6500 acres of stump-filled shallows hold what may be the largest average weight largemouth bass population available to anglers fishing in public waters. An east-west levee splits the waters with the Stick Marsh to the north and Farm 13 on the south. A small canal connects the two lakes. Bass fishing here is limited to catch and release only. Hydrilla prairies in the nutrient -rich waters of the impound areas support not only a world-class fishery; they are also home to a gamut of ducks in late fall and winter.
Stick Marsh & Farm 13 Reservoirs
Directions: From I-95 in Palm Bay, take Exit 173 (Malabar Road) and go 0.25 miles east to Babcock Street (CR 507). Turn right and go south on Babcock for approximately 11 miles. Turn right onto Fellsmere Grade Road just after crossing the C-54 Canal. From the intersection of 1-95 and CR 512 (Exit 156), head west for three miles to CR 507 (Babcock Street). Turn right (north) and, after five miles, turn left (west) onto Fellsmere Grade Road, just south of the C-54 Canal. Go all the way to the end of the dirt road (about six miles). MAP.
Another great place for fishing and exceptional wildlife viewing, the Blue Cypress Water Management Area is a rectangular impounded marsh area designed to filter agricultural run-off before being released into the pristine headwaters of the St. Johns River. The southern end of the management area is off limits to airboats and boats with motors greater than 10 HP. The area supports several wading bird rookeries and the eastern portion contains foraging and nesting habitat for the endangered snail kite. Other wetland dependant species found here include all of the egrets and herons (including both night herons), glossy and white ibises, purple gallinules, limpkins and wood storks. Wood ducks and Florida mottled ducks are found year-round and the marshes are used extensively in fall and winter by migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. Bald eagles, hawks, vultures, anhingas, ospreys and crested cara cara are commonly seen. In addition to previously mentioned wildlife, American and least bitterns, king rails, soras and fulvous whistling ducks may be viewed here. Primitive camping is allowed at designated sites.
Blue Cypress Water Management Area
Directions: Public access to the water management area is at the Blue Cypress Recreation Area, which can be reached from the CR 512 and SR 60 exits off I-95. From I-95, take Exit 156 (CR 512) and go west. Go through the town of Fellsmere and continue south on CR 512. The recreation area is 2 miles north of SR 60. You can also take the SR 60 (Vero Beach) exit from I-95. Go west on SR 60 for 7.5 miles. Turn right onto CR 512, then go north 2 miles. For more information, visit Blue Cypress Conservation Area, www.marshbunny.com, or call 386-329-4404.