Florida Trail: Thompson House Trailhead to Cathedral of Palms and Shepherd Spring, St. Marks, Florida
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most beautiful natural areas in Florida. Nearly 50 miles of the Florida Trail pass through the refuge, which has a mixture of wetlands, pine flatwoods, palm hammocks, creeks, and even springs and salt water views. Shepherd Spring is one of the major points of interest in St. Marks NWR, and the nearby Cathedral of Palms - a large patch of old growth cabbage palm forest - is a very unique sight. This hike on the Florida Trail visits both of these features using the long way through a variety of ecosystems east of Wakulla Beach Road. This hike occurred on Saturday, December 31st, 2016. My plan was to hike the Florida Trail from the Thompson House Trailhead near US 98 to Shepherd Spring, passing through the Cathedral of Palms. My return route would include much of the same trail, but to make a difference, I would use two high water routes on my way back.
One of two primitive trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Stoney Bayou Loop follows several old forest roads through several different ecosystems, including pine flatwoods, a cypress swamp, and an open marsh. On this hike, you will get the chance to see an alligator or two, and you will be presented with good birding opportunities near the open marshes. To top of this excellent hike, you will have a vista of Stoney Bayou Loop #1, a large lake that touches the trail. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. This was my final stop of the day, and I was going to hike the Stoney Bayou Loop, a primitive trail, clockwise.
The St. Marks Lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse in Florida. The lighthouse marks the mouth of the St. Marks River. The town of St. Marks just to the northwest used to be an important port back in the early 1800s. In 1831, construction of the St. Marks Lighthouse was completed to help guide boats to the port at St. Marks. On the Lighthouse Levee Trail, you will travel along a dike near Lighthouse Pond to a promontory extending out into the Gulf of Mexico, before reaching the historic St. Marks Lighthouse. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. I was planning to hike the Lighthouse Levee Nature Trail out and back from the boat ramp parking to the historic lighthouse.
A relatively new nature trail at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Cedar Point Trail follows a dike between a salt marsh and a dredged boating channel to a wild location where the waves of the Gulf of Mexico hit a pristine shoreline. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. This trail was my third stop of the day. Each trail just kept getting better - there are beautiful views to be seen from the Cedar Point Trail, despite its short length. My plan was to hike the trail out and back.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge: Tower Pond Nature Trail and Headqaurters Pond Nature Trail, St. Marks, Florida
Tower Pond and Headquarters Pond are two small ponds in the southern section of the St. Marks Unit of St. Marks NWR. Two nature trails visit these ponds. On the Tower Pond Nature Trail, you will visit an old fire tower before circling Tower Pond via a number of paths and forest roads. You will also see some salt marshes. Along the way, don't miss the photo blind for great birding opportunities. On the shorter Headquarters Pond Trail, which leaves the same trailhead, you will take a quick walk to an observation platform overlooking Headquarters Pond, a small body of water full of lily pads. If you're lucky, you might even spot an alligator. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. These two trails were my second stop of the day, after the Plum Orchard Nature Trail. I planned to hike the Tower Pond Trail clockwise, and then, I would hike the Headquarters Pond Trail out and back.
One of the shortest nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Orchard Nature Trail packs several interesting sights in its 0.7 miles, including a small pond that is good for birding, a boardwalk across a marsh, and a dense corridor of saw palmetto. This hike occurred on Friday, January 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike five nature trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on this day, as well as one of the primitive trails. The Plum Orchard Nature Trail was the first nature trail I hiked on this day. My plan was to hike the short loop clockwise.
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