Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is the tip of the spear, sitting in the north end of the Indian River Lagoon, one of Florida’s Natural Wonders. Here you’ll find 140,000 pristine acres snuggled right up against Canaveral National Seashore (another great place to visit — and we will), as well as Kennedy Space Center. It’s quite the contrast between natural lands that transport you to a time long past and the ultimate in human technology right next door. Fortunately, the only time the two worlds collide is during launches. I’m pretty sure even the wildlife stops to watch those.
With more than 500 species of fauna (16 endangered or threatened) and over 1,000 plant species residing within the refuge, you’re sure to get an eyeful. Alligators, otters, dolphins, sea turtles and manatees ply the waters. Bobcats, feral hogs and small game roam the land, including hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, scrub and coastal dunes. Scores of waterfowl and wading bird species feast in the shallows, while bald eagles and red-tailed hawks soar overhead. One visit and you just might think you’ve been transported to Eden…minus the whole apple tree (or fig or whatever) thing. Although, you may see a snake or two if they don’t see you first.
The refuge is also the northernmost point where you’ll find mangroves — red, white and black varieties. Mangroves are unique in their ability to deal with salt and brackish waters, which would kill most trees. The Red Mangroves are the most iconic, often called “walking trees” due to the appearance of their roots — they seem to be poised to walk across the water. They often clump together so tightly as to form islands in their own right and are the first ring in an important food chain that runs all the way up to humans. 50% of Florida’s east coast fishing harvest comes from the Indian River Lagoon.
Hiking, paddling, picnics and scenic drives are all great activities on the refuge. Note: It may take you longer to drive this 7 miles than any 7-mile road trip you’ve ever driven. With so many incredible sights, you’ll want to take advantage of every viewing point offered. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the narrow one-way hard-packed roadway…especially if there are other people in the car shouting, “Look at that!” But that’s only a small part of this amazing refuge, as you’ll see. Please check out our Photo Gallery, Video (below) and WonderMap (below). Then pull out your Bucket List and place this natural wonder near the top!
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WonderMap: Merritt Island Drive. Click on waypoint flags for location photos.
References and for more information: