Explore nature at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Brackish water estuaries are host to a variety of migratory birds. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Eighty-year-old refuge a step back into old Florida

Imagine…. 68,000 acres of pristine Florida shoreline preserved for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. Sounds to good to be true, then you should head over to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and step back time into the real Florida.

Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, St. Marks NWR was established back in 1931 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds. Located between the Ocholockonee and Aucilla Rivers along the Gulf coast of Northwest Florida, the refuge is home to abundant and rare wildlife that thrive within the coastal marshes, islands, tidal creeks, swamps and pristine upland forests.

The broad range of wildlife varies from month to month, for best viewing opportunities, click here.

The refuge has four geographical units:

Historic lighthouse built in 1832 at St. Marks. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

St. Marks is home to the headquarters and new education center. A seven-mile scenic drive through fresh and brackish water will lead you to a historic lighthouse built in 1832, which is still in use. The Florida Trail runs through this section offering hiking and birding opportunities. Boat ramps, picnic tables and scenery make for an extraordinary nature experience.

St. Marks is the winter home for the endangered whooping cranes. For the past few years, Operation Migration has been escorting the cranes every winter from Wisconsin.

Alligators call St. Marks NWR home. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Wakulla Unit offers upland forests, palm hammocks marshes and is open to quota-hunts during the fall and winter months. A boat ramp offers access to Apalachee Bay.

Panacea Unit is dominated by uplands pine and oak forest, with several fresh water lakes interspersed. Primitive walking trails criss cross through this unit, and like the Wakulla Unit, this unit is open to quota-hunts during the fall and winter months. Picnic shelters, restrooms and a launching point for small boats, with a motor size limit of 10 horse power or less are available. About 6.5 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail traverses this unit of the refuge.

Aucilla River Unit is along the banks of the Aucilla River, and features a boat ramp and fishing opportunities for visitors.


Refuge Information: ::MAP::

Telephone: (850) 925-6121
Email Address: saintmarks@fws.gov

Hours of operation:
The refuge is open year ’round, daylight hours. The Visitor Center is open Mondays – Fridays, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Closed most Federal holidays.

The St. Marks Unit and Otter Lake Recreation Area electronic gates are open from 6 am – 9 pm during Eastern Daylight Savings Time and 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. during Eastern Standard Time.

Fees, Costs, and Rates: A $5/car entrance fee is collected at the St. Marks Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge. Fees for bicyclists/pedestrians are $1/day. An annual pass into the St. Marks NWR can be purchased for $15/12 months. Federal passes such as the new $80 America the Beautiful pass, $10 Senior Pass, and the free Access Pass are accepted and are sold/issued at the Refuge Visitor Center. Federal Duck stamps can be purchased they are $15 and are good from July 1 thru June 30. Commercial Tour buses and/or van rates are as follows: Bus or Van: 20 visitors or less is $25.00 and 21 visitors or more is $50.00. Note: Charter tour bus companies need to make arrangements with Refuge management prior to bringing their tours to St. Marks NWR. A user fee for the boat ramp is collected at the Aucilla River Unit.

Recommended lodging:
Sweet Magnolia Inn, St. Marks: sweetmagnolia.com
Wakulla Lodge at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, Wakulla Springs: wakullaspringslodge.com

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One Response to Explore nature at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

  1. susan30AEATS says:

    What a wonderful and informational post! I will definitely make travel plans to visit this Florida