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Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge lets you taste the classic Florida. It allows experiencing the state before modern buildings, giant billboards, and electricity came!

Florida is home to an extensive array of wildlife. It boasts as many as 29 wildlife refuges. Also, behind only California and North Dakota, it’s the third most recognized reserve in the US. Among those wildlife sanctuaries, folks identify Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge as remarkable.

Located east of Titusville and Black Point Drive, the natural preserve is vast. It occupies more than 140,000 acres (about 220 sq. miles). Also, it is home to more than 300 species of wild birds and an array of fascinating wildlife.

Also, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge east of Titusville has diverse attractions. It’s suitable for folks who appreciate space programs and catching glimpses of animals. Besides the area’s abundant wildlife, the refuge is a treat for history lovers. After all, it offers a flashback to the early days of America’s space program.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

1987 Scrub Jay Way, 32782 Titusville, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is expansive. It spans over 140,000 acres of land, water, and marshes. The refuge also has two attractions on the Atlantic Coast of Florida’s barrier island. It’s where guests can access NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and visitor complex. Besides America’s first space program, the national wildlife refuge has different attractions. After all, it houses more than 1,000 species of plants and over 300 species of wild birds. Still, it holds 117 species of fish, 31 mammal species, and more.

The place is east of Titusville on Merritt Island in Brevard County. Also, the Canaveral National Seashore borders the north of the refuge. While to the south, it encompasses public-restricted portions of the Kennedy Space Center. Visitors can also explore Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River there. Please take note that they run through the refuge.


Rockets on Display at the Kennedy Space Center

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was created as an afterthought, as the area was initially reserved for the Kennedy Space Center. During the establishment of the space center, the authorities built a launch complex and other facilities on the land. However, most of the land was still unused even after completing the space center development.

In 1963, US Fish and Wildlife Services came up with an agreement to build a wildlife refuge. Also, in 1975, people signed another agreement to establish Canaveral National Seashore. Today, the Department of Interior manages a large, unused part of the Kennedy Space. It takes advantage of it as a Wildlife Refuge.

Visiting Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge



On Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the National Wildlife Refuge is accessible to visitors. Also, millions of residents can access it. Taking a short drive to visit makes an exciting day trip from Orlando and Daytona Beach. For those looking for a weekend getaway, it is about a two-three hour drive from Tampa.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a perfect destination for birdwatchers, whereas those with a casual interest in birds will find tons of excitement. The wetlands see a vast range of colorful wild birds, especially in winter. In addition, there is Seminole Rest, which is a historic spot that history enthusiasts will love to explore.

Moreover, the national wildlife refuge is a must-visit destination for nature lovers with limited mobility. For instance, Black Point Wildlife Drive offers the best birding for those with limited mobility. In addition, a quarter-mile gorgeous boardwalk behind the visitor center lets visitors breathe in the fresh air and interact with nature.

Moreover, the national wildlife refuge is a must-visit destination for nature lovers with limited mobility. For instance, Black Point Wildlife Drive offers the best birding for those with limited mobility. In addition, a quarter-mile gorgeous boardwalk behind the visitor center lets visitors breathe in the fresh air and interact with nature.

That said, there are tons of things to do, and it is hard to decide where to start. We have explored the refuge a couple of times and managed to come up with an intelligent game plan. Whether you want to enjoy fishing, hiking, or paddling, you are guaranteed to experience some magical and picturesque sights.

Best Time to Visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

October to March is the peak season for wildlife, and it’s when the weather will be comfortable. Hence, it’s the ideal season to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Still, prepare when passing Mosquito Lagoon, which borders Merritt Island. After all, it gets infested with blood-sucking pests. Hence, you may want to bring an insect-repellent during your journey.

Moreover, when planning your visit, try to arrive early in the morning. It’s the perfect time to beat the crowds and get more opportunities to view wildlife.


Things to See and Do at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Enjoying the Mesmerizing Black Point Wildlife Drive


The 7.7-mile-long Black Point Wildlife Drive is a one-way single dirt road. It runs along the water areas of the refuge. If you are there in winter, you may see it full of slow-moving cars. Also, this slow pace visitors to get up close to the wildlife. Still, to enjoy views while driving, you can also exit your vehicle. After that, you can see fascinating bird species in the wetlands. Yet, walking or biking is not allowed due to heavy traffic.

Black Point Drive
Moreover, if this is your first visit, you can get a self-guided tour brochure from the drive entrance. This pamphlet costs $10. The booklet also allows visitors to explore many accessible refuge areas. Likewise, it includes boat ramps.
Again, the best time to venture out is early morning or at least within an hour of sunrise. By then, there will be fewer crowds and less noise. Also, such timing allows many opportunities for sightseeing local critters.


Furthermore, good birding points along the drive have folks with equipment. The place has cameras, binoculars, and tripods. Even if you are still determining what you are watching, birders there will help you identify species.

Still, seeing a lot of different bird species thrilled us. The visible creatures included the pintail duck and cinnamon teal. Also within the area was a flock of hooded mergansers.

Besides, while visitors can stop at any point along the drive, it has two parking lots and walks. There is Stop No.4 or the “Bird Trail” for sightseeing birds. Moreover, there’s Stop No.9 with a 5-mile loop trailhead for the Allan D. Cruickshank Trail. It also has a tower for wetland sights.


Scenic Hiking Trails


There are other routes apart from the 5-mile Cruickshank Trail. These pathways in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge are short and easy. Also, the one-mile looping Scrub Ridge is a beautiful trail home to charming Scrub Jays. People consider these bird species threatened in Florida. Their treatment is due to their rarity and disappearing habitat.



Moreover, Florida Scrub Jay is one of the most friendly bird species. During our visit, we had the opportunity to witness a couple of charismatic vivid bluebirds landing a few feet away from us. As we were preparing to take photography, they hopped ever closer. Scrub Jay Ridge Trail at Merritt Island is a beautiful spot to see Florida scrub jays. In addition, we were also lucky enough to spot a giant gopher tortoise and a snuffling armadillo.

Other scenic hiking trails include:

Oak Hammock Trail

Oak Hammock Trail at National Wildlife Refuge lets guests have a calming walk in the woods. It persuades people to go through thickets of ferns under the shade of live oaks. Likewise, the trail outlines one of the most charming habitats without effort. It brings folks to “the hammock” at the island’s north tip.

Moreover, this 0.7-mile interpretive trail loop offers a beautiful boardwalk. The place allows travelers to spot dozens of armadillos roaming around.

The Pine Flatwoods Trail

Scenic Hikes at Merritt Island

Scenic Hikes at Merritt Island

The Pine Flatwoods Trail offers visitors the chance to explore its fascinating history. It also the area allows for appreciating nature’s beauty. You will be meandering along the trail, searching for vivid blue violets. Also, you may view patches of carnivorous small bluish butterworts.

Moreover, looking up into the tall, long-leaf pines may give you a dramatic moment. It could show you a glimpse of a red-headed woodpecker. Also, you may please your ears there. After all, the staccato-like tune “Klee-Klee-Klee” of a Southeastern American Kestrel is audible.

Furthermore, head to Fort King Road if you are willing to exchange nature for history. Here you will find a replica log parapet and trail pointers. It reveals the 1835 Seminole Indian war against the US. Also, history enthusiasts can wander back to the ancient oak tree. It’s to witness a majestic 250 years old live oak standing tall.

Visit the Historic Seminole Rest Site

Seminole Rest is not a part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. But it is a lovely place to explore. It lies outside the Canaveral National Seashore. Also, it’s on the Mosquito Lagoon’s western shore at 210 River Road. The authorities acquired the site after establishing it as a national seashore.

The place is open to the public from sunrise to sunset, and Instone House has specific opening times. So, check the latest schedule from their website before making your travel plans.

Its most notable feature includes the home of the Hatton Tumor family. It also has a guest cottage – the Caretaker’s House.

Enjoy a Clear Kayak Tour

Kayaking at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a popular activity. You will love clear kayak tours floating you through the picturesque wildlife refuge. Also, these kayak tours are perfect for getting up-close glimpses of animals. The site has manatees, dolphins, colorful wild birds, and other creatures. Kayaking at Merritt Island is a relaxing way to paddle. The activity offers charming opportunities to witness a place brimming with life.

Indian River Lagoon

Part of the National Wildlife Refuge, Indian River Lagoon is home to a blanket of flora and fauna. Due to its distinctive geographical position, temperate and tropical ecosystems thrive here. The shallow 156-mile estuary hosts fish species, marine mammals, and birds dwell. These creatures rely on immense grasslands and mangroves.

Tricolor Herone at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Tricolor Herone at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge



It’s also where you can pick your favorite fishing venue. After all, it has mangrove shorelines to sand potholes and channel edges. Besides fishing, kayak anglers can camp on designated islands too. Take note that the place features grills and picnic tables.


Enjoy Bioluminescent Kayak Tours

merritt island national wildlife refuge

The Indian River Lagoon has salty water. Hence, its environment is ideal for dinoflagellates emitting natural light (bioluminescence) for protection. Natural light (bioluminescence) is a beautiful sight to behold. It results from the emission of a living organism due to self-preservation.

Bioluminescent kayak tours in IRL at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge are fantastic. After all, it will let you witness water lighting up as luminous sea word surrounds your kayak. These tours are “the best vacation activities to do in Florida.”

Camp at Manatee Hammock County Park

Manatee Hammock County Park welcomes guests too. Visitors with multi-day Merritt Island trip plans can camp there. Spanning over 27 acres, it is a shady campground where you can tent or enjoy RV camping. Yet, remember that it is usually packed due to the demand for reaching the Kennedy Space Center.

merritt island national wildlife refuge

The place provides travelers with a fishing pier. An excellent view of rocket launches is also available. Still, there you can explore Disney World and Universal Studios. After all, they are only an hour from the park.

Moreover, camping at the Manatee Hammock County Park costs $26 per night. Of its 186 RV sites, 166 have electric and sewer hookups, hot showers, and restrooms.

Know Before You Go

Here are a few tips that will make your trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge an unforgettable experience:

  • The national wildlife refuge is open daily to the public from sunrise to sunset.
  • Visiting the island is free, except for several fee requirements. There’s a $10 pass to access Black Point Drive. Also, it’s $20 to explore the beaches of the Canaveral National Seashore.
  • October through March is the perfect time for traveling here. Also, the best time to see wildlife is early morning or late afternoon.
  • Guests can bring kayaks, boats, canoes, and paddleboards. They can also launch from many spots.
  • The refuge offers free maps. So remember to get one for planning your itinerary.

Wrapping Up

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge offers an enthralling nature experience. We haven’t seen as many colorful bird species as we did during our hikes around the reserve. But, after exploration, we know why it’s a perfect spot for travelers of all ages and abilities. After all, it’s where everyone can enjoy immersive walks, hikes, drives, and more. The place provides natural beauty, scenic atmospheres, and stimulating pathways.


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What animals are in the wildlife refuge?
Guests may see critters at random in the nature reserve. Often, visitors see plenty of birds. Yet, from time to time, other animals surface. For instance, people reported seeing alligators and otters. Some saw black bears in the area. Other than them, pesky bugs are available. Hence, it’s best to have some protection during your trip there. Due to the various shrubs, trees, and other plants there, it provides ideal animal habitats.
What shouldn’t you do there?
It’s a place that guarantees the safety of wild animals. Hence, it’s an area that prohibits hunting. There’s even a write-up that discusses the law for that. Yet some areas allow fishing. So consult the designated caretakers of the place before doing things to the animals.

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