St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Florida

(850) 925-6121

Map Directions

Things To Do

Overview

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, located 25 miles south of Tallahassee along the Gulf Coast of Florida, is a well-known oasis of natural Florida habitats for wildlife, especially birds. Natural salt marshes, freshwater swamps, pine forests and lakes provide a haven for wildlife and people. Fishing, hiking, birdwatching, butterfly-watching, hunting, and viewing the historic St. Marks lighthouse on beautiful Apalachee Bay attract visitors from around the world. Special events highlighting the refuge's coastal resources, monarch butterflies, wildflowers and migratory birds enhance visitors' opportunities to learn more about this special place. Established in 1931 for wintering migratory birds, St. Marks NWR has a long tradition of excellent birdwatching. There are over 300 species of birds recorded on the refuge, with 98 species nesting on-site. There are 19 species of ducks and many hawks, falcons, and shorebirds migrating through the refuge in the fall and winter. There are 14 active bald eagle nests and the endangered least tern and red-cockaded woodpecker also nest on the refuge. In the spring, the refuge is a showcase of colors as songbirds migrate north through coastal oaks and shrubs. Wildlife abounds on St. Marks NWR due to the wide diversity of habitats, ranging from wilderness saltmarshes, ribboned with tidal creeks, to rolling longleaf pine forests, with swamps, sinkholes, and palm/oak hammocks in between. Located in Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor counties, the refuge spans over 43 miles of coastline and supports 52 species of mammals such as the Florida black bear and bobcat; 40 species of amphibians such as the endangered flatwoods salamander, and 65 species of reptiles. Visitors may glimpse endangered loggerhead sea turtles and West Indian manatees offshore by the lighthouse. State-listed threatened and endangered plants are also found on the refuge. St. Marks NWR's location also makes it an ideal host for the natural marvel of the migrating monarch butterflies in October on their way to Mexico!

Map of St. Marks NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 30.099990, -84.198532

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Activities

  • Boating

    A user fee for the boat ramp is collected at the Aucilla River Unit. This launching point is for small boats, with a motor size limit of 10 horse power or less. Commercial boats, boats with air-thrust motors, and personal watercraft (such as jet skiis) are prohibited from launching at the lighthouse boat ramp. Boats with air-thrust motors and personal watercraft are prohibited from launching at the Wakulla Beach boat ramp. Boats with over 10 h.p. motors are prohibited on all the Panacea Unit of the Refuge.

  • Bird Watching

    St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1931 to provide extensive wintering habitat for migratory birds and waterfowl. It is one of the earliest such areas acquired by the Government for conservation purposes, and, today, is home to over 250 species of birds.

    Waterfowl are most easily seen on the refuge from mid-November through late December. Shore birds are most common during late spring and early fall. Songbirds arrive from their wintering areas in early spring (April) and brighten the refuge with their varied colors and song.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    A seven mile drive winds it way from the visitor center through fresh and brackish water impoundments and ends at the foot of the Apalachee Bay, near the historic St. Marks Lighthouse. A road-side auto tour booklet is available for purchase in the visitor center.

  • Fishing

    Fishing is allowed year-round in the refuge in accordance with state regulations. Fishing in the refuge lakes, impoundments and ponds is allowed during daylight hours. Taking frogs and turtles from the refuge is prohibited. Taking blue crabs from the impoundments or canals on the St. Marks Unit is prohibited. Bow fishing is prohibited on refuge lakes, ponds and impoundments. Gates (road 316) on Otter Lake Rd. will be opened for fishing access from March 15 hrough May 15 each year. Bank fishing is permitted year-round. All fish must remain in whole condition when being transported from the refuge. Fishing equipment must be attended at all times. Please observe all refuge signage and do not trespass in restricted areas.

  • Hiking

    There are nature trails that begin near the historic St. Marks lighthouse. In the Wakulla unit of the park, there are approximately 5.5 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail that are open for hiking. The Panacea Unit is largely dominated by uplands pine and oak forests, with several fresh water lakes interspersed. Primitive walking trails criss-cross through this unit. Uplands forests, forested swamps, fresh & brackish water marshes and a pristine salt water estuary ecosystem compose this area of Florida's Gulf Coast

  • Historic Sites

    Home to abundant and rare wildlife while providing many recreational opportunities, the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge also encompasses and manages many significant cultural resources. Encompassing much of the coastline of Apalachee Bay the refuge contains cultural sites that are significant in the history of Florida and the Untied States.

    The refuge is home to the St. Marks Lighthouse, which has a long and interestingly complicated construction history. Originally completed in 1829, the customs collector refused to accept the tower's hollow walls. In 1831, a second tower was completed but eventually was not strong enough to withstand erosion that would later be caused by hurricanes. By 1842 a third tower was completed at a location nearby. The historic lighthouse tower on this scenic migratory bird refuge once stood at the center of a Southern military base. From the 1842 lighthouse, Confederate soldiers watched for Union ships along the Gulf Coast. Badly damaged during the war, the tower was later rebuilt. Soldiers here boiled salt water to extract salt, valued for preserving meat.

  • Horseback Riding

    Some refuge trails are open to horseback riding.

  • Hunting

    Public hunting is permitted on approximately 32,000 acres. All hunters must possess identification, a Florida hunting license, and a valid refuge hunt permit for the hunt in which they are participating. State Management Area stamps are not required. A state archery stamp will be required for all archery hunts. A turkey stamp is required to hunt turkey. State and Federal waterfowl stamps are required to hunt waterfowl.

  • Picnicking

    Picnic areas are available throughout the refuge.

  • Wildlife Watching

    Refuge inland hardwood swamps support other birds as well as a broad range of mammals including the Florida Black Bear, white-tailed deer, otter and raccoon. The park is also home to birds, frogs, other mammals, snakes, alligators, butterflies and newts.

    Bring your binoculars. Start early and stay late. Mammals and birds are most active during the early morning and late afternoon, especially during the warm months. Bring your field guides. The gift shop has books to help identify birds, wildflowers, and wildlife. Observe carefully - look up in the trees for wildlife, in the sky, on power lines, as well as in roadside vegetation and pools. WARNING - bring bug repellent and drinking water to the refuge during the warm months!

Seasonality/Weather

Late fall through early spring the weather is usually cool, with some afternoon showers; Summes is hot and humid with a variety of biting insects.

Park Partners

St. Marks Refuge Association

The St. Marks Refuge Association, Inc. was formed in 1987. Profits from bookstore sales support refuge projects. Current pending federal legislation will soon transfer ownership of the St. Marks Lighthouse to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The association will spearhead efforts to restore and open the historic lighthouse. They expect to raise most of the funds through matching grants but donations are gratefully accepted.

Directions

Driving

St. Marks NWR is located 25 miles south of Tallahassee, Florida. Take State Hwy. 363 through Woodville to the intersection of State Hwy.363 and State Hwy. 267 (blinking light at this intersection). Turn left onto 267 and drive 4 miles to dead end into U.S.Hwy. 98 (Coastal Hwy). Turn left onto Coastal Hwy. and drive about 1/2 mile, cross over the St. Marks River, and take your first right on Co. Rd. 59 (Lighthouse Rd.).

The Visitor Center and most public usfacilities begin three miles down Lighthouse Rd. A 6.8-mile wildlife drive runs from the Visitor Center to the old historic St. Marks lighthouse on Apalachee Bay.

Phone Numbers

Primary

(850) 925-6121

Links