It is the New Year. Time for new opportunities, new experiences, new sights and sounds and feels, right? If you’re a nature lover and part of your “New Year, New You” resolution is to hit the gym, yet you can’t quite force yourself to, how about hit the trails?
Hiking trails, that is. And locally, there’s a wide array to choose from. Whether it’s you and a group (there are hiking/meetup groups available through Facebook), you and your four-legged hiking partner, or a nature experience for taking the kids, the following locations have sights for everyone, and it’s a great opportunity to become one with the environment. Plus, a way to get your heart rate up and work off all those holiday cookies you ate, if the need be. Be sure to check each of the parks’ rules before marching on.
Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail
The first 1.6-acre parcel to become part of the Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail was purchased by Indian River Land Trust in 2009. Two additional purchases totaling 37 acres and a generous gift of 11.6 acres from the Schwerin family in 2014 expanded the conservation area to more than 50 acres. The property contains oak trees, scrub forest, mangrove swamp, and beautiful views of the Indian River Lagoon. The one-mile trail comprises a half-mile walk through an open canopy scrub habitat and oak forest to the mangroves. A half-mile loop walk on an impoundment trail includes a boardwalk through the mangroves with a dock that extends into the lagoon with a bench. The parking area is located on 79th Street, east off U.S. Highway 1
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Two five-mile loops offer superb birding along mangrove-lined pools on the Indian River Lagoon, while the short family-friendly Centennial Trail and an observation tower offer a view of the pelican nesting area on Pelican Island.
From the junction of CR 510 and A1A, follow A1A north 3.5 miles to the park sign on left; turn left onto “Jungle Trail” and follow it to the trailheads.
Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area
This conservation area is comprised of 3.5 miles of trails through this jungle-like preserve lead to fun discoveries like the Old Quarry, the Awesome Pine, and an observation deck above the mangroves. Bring the kids and expect to get a little muddy.
From 1-95 exit 147, follow SR 60 east to US 1 in downtown Vero Beach. Turn right and drive south 3.8 miles to CR 606 (Oslo Road). Turn left onto the dead-end road; the parking area is immediately on the left.
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park
The trails here are primarily for equestrians, so footing can be a bit uneven. Learn about scrub habitats on the interpretive trails at the visitor center. Further into the preserve, white blazes lead you into forests of long-leaf pine and wire grass savanna the red-blazed loop circles a colony of red-cockade woodpeckers, where trees with nests are ringed with white paint. The sandhill area supports about 25 breeding pairs of Florida scrub-jays as well as gopher tortoises and indigo snakes. Forty miles of trails offer plenty of opportunity for visitors to enjoy the diversity of this large wild property.
From 1-95 exit 173 (Palm Bay), go east on Malabar Rd 0.25 miles to Babcock Street (CR 507) and turn right. Go south for 11 miles. Turn left on Buffer Preserve Road just before crossing the C-54 Canal. A visitor center is on-site. Their phone number is (321) 953-5004.
This 187-acre property is located at the corner of 8th Street and Indian River Boulevard. It consists of an ecologically-diverse three-mile trail system for hiking, jogging or bike riding. Leashed dogs are welcome. This area is an example of a public/private cooperative developed by the Land Trust, in collaboration with Indian River County Commissioners, The Mosquito Control District and F.I.N.D. (Florida Inland Navigation District).
Fellsmere Trailhead Preserve
This conservation area is 54,458 acres in size and extends from the Fellsmere Grade along C-54 Canal at the top of the Stick Marsh southward to State Road 60 west of Vero Beach in Indian River County. The area contains virtually all of the wetlands that eventually feed the St. Johns River. Like the Three Forks Conservation Area the bird-watching here is done from hiking and biking trails built upon the levees constructed by the St. John’s River Water Management District in order to improve water quality of the headwaters and restore the river to its natural state after years of draining the wetlands for agricultural use.
The water management impoundments provide great opportunities for seeing waterfowl, wading birds, raptors, deer, alligators, river otters, and many other species.
Historic Jungle Trail
The Historic Jungle trail goes for nearly eight miles along a sandy road through the hammock habitat of Florida’s barrier islands north of Vero Beach, considered part of Orchid Island. The trail — which is actually a road — is on the National Register of Historic Places and was built in the 1920s so that citrus growers could haul their produce up and down the barrier island. Although cars do drive along the road, it’s mostly used by bicyclists, walkers, and joggers. The road mostly hard-packed sand and is easy going for wide-tire bicycles. Some places can get soft at times.
From the intersection of Wabasso Road (CR 510) and SR A1A, drive north 3.7 miles on A1A; you will see a sign on the right indicating Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge; turn left onto the road marked Historic Jungle Trail. To reach the southern access point (no parking): From the intersection of Wabasso Road (CR 510) and SR A1A, drive south 2.4 miles on A1A to Old Winter Beach Road and turn right. Drive a short distance to the bend in the road. The trail starts on the right when the road becomes gravel/sand.
Route A1A Trail
The Route A1A Trail runs along the west side of Route A1A in Indian River County, linking the barrier islands along the coast of Vero Beach. There are numerous driveway and road crossings, and in some spots the trail gets narrow, so use caution. Sand on the trail and wind are other factors for cyclists to watch out for. The Route A1A Trail connects to the Historic Jungle Trail.
Parking is available at Sebastian Inlet State Park, Wabasso Beach Park (1820 CR 510), and Round Island Riverside Park (2201 Highway A1A).
Osprey Acres Stormwater Park & Nature Preserve
Osprey Acres Preserve is located at 925 5th Street Southwest. The dual-purpose sanctuary serves as a water treatment area for the Indian River Lagoon and a recreational resource to the public for the purpose of hiking, jogging, bird-watching, and other nature-loving intents. There are nearly four miles of dedicated hiking trails to enjoy.
The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., not including weekends. Dogs are not allowed, and the trails are designed for only hiking or jogging, no bikes or off-road utility vehicles aside from dedicated maintenance vehicles. Service animals are permitted.
Read more about Osprey Park.